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For several years, I have been alerting colleagues and leaders of RTOs about the need for better and more relevant training and professional development opportunities for trainers and assessors. I must admit, my presentations in conferences, meetings and networking events have attracted no attention or produced the resonance required to deal with this issue as a sector.

ASQA, the national VET regulator, has recently turned the compliance alarms on around the same issue, and defined trainers and assessors’ capabilities as a priority target for their regulatory work (Target Area 1 for ASQA’s Regulatory Strategy 2019-2021). According to the regulator the “... shortage in supply of appropriately skilled trainers and assessors and the need to upgrade the knowledge, skills and industry currency of the current workforce.” represents a major risk for the Australian VET system.

The gap between compliance and capabilities

For RTOs, regulatory compliance is about achieving results aligned with the rules, specifications and standards established in the VET Quality Framework, and other relevant contracts that the RTO may have entered into with government bodies. The focus of a regulatory audit is the results – the outcomes achieved by the RTO.

What are these outcomes?

In fact, competent graduates are the only outcome that matters to the VET sector. RTOs must transfer the skills and knowledge students require to perform the tasks listed in the certificate or statement of attainment issued, to the current standard industry expectations.

How do trainers’ capabilities affect this outcome?

Trainers are the most critical factor for the success of training and assessment, simply because they execute training and assessment activities, and are accountable for competency judgements.

Let’s analyse why and how trainers’ capabilities can affect the way competent graduates are produced, based on our definitions above.

The first concept is about “transferring skills and knowledge” to learners. Trainers and assessors need the capabilities to design and deliver relevant training. Trainers need to be equipped with skills and knowledge in instructional design, adult learning principles, VET models (Training Packages), delivery methods to create participant-centred and work-based learning models that can turn VET training into an innovative experience.

The integrity of our qualifications rests on the assessment of competencies. To make such judgement, trainers must apply skills and knowledge in competency-based assessments, principles of assessment, rules of evidence, use of assessment tools and assessment validations.

Vocational education and training history has evolved hand-in-hand with the use of innovative processes and technology. From Charles Allen’s “Show, Tell, Do, and Check” method, the use of Benjamin Blooms Taxonomy of learning, implementing Learning Management Systems (LMS), and the increasing use of mobile and virtual learning in more recent times, technology has been a critical tool to support learning.

Trainers and assessors must be competent in these complex and technical skills and knowledge in the areas of instructional design, training delivery, competency assessment and learning technologies.

Are the current trainers and assessors’ credentials a guarantee for these competencies?

Definitively no.

Based on my personal experience working with trainers, there are significant gaps in the understanding of training packages, instructional design model, delivery modes and competency-based assessment principles. If we were required to do a risk assessment for the VET sector, these gaps in trainers’ capabilities would represent the highest risks to be managed.

According to ASQA, most of the non-compliances identified in audit are a direct result of the lack of these capabilities. The main issues are related to using inappropriate assessment processes, not providing sufficient training to support learning, using inappropriate delivery modes and inability to interpret training packages.

Relevant professional development activities can contribute to address these gaps, to update and upskill trainers and assessors in knowledge and skills of competency-based training and assessment.

The only force that can defeat the current inertia and confusion around the compliance cloud is a better prepared workforce and, therefore, we must invest in the capabilities of trainers and assessors.

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mentoringWe all know how difficult it is to find the time for our daily work duties, managing compliance, and running a business in a very competitive market, so when are we going to find time to mentor others within the RTO? Why do people mentor? And more importantly, how do they do it?

The answers to these questions are as unique as people themselves, yet there are some common factors. People become involved in mentoring so they can learn a new skill, advance their career, share their experiences and knowledge, and expand their personal networks, just to name a few examples.

A mentoring program could support an RTO's staff members to develop further skills and knowledge in areas such as: adult learning, competency-based assessment, quality and compliance, and create a framework to promote continuous professional development.

It is human nature to want to improve. Our ongoing need for knowledge drives us to engage in relationships that can support our growth. Mentoring programs could contribute to create an integrated approach to learning within an RTO's workplace that effectively addresses the staff's skills and knowledge needs.

How do successful organisations implement mentoring?
The answer comes down to commitment. People who are committed to mentoring make time for it because of the value it holds for them. They make the relationship work by making it a high priority, giving it the attention it needs and deserves. Mentoring requires successful relationships between mentors and mentees, and therefore teamwork to make sure the goals for the relationship are realised.

Establishing clear goals and scope for mentoring relationships are vital to help the RTO assess the contribution of the mentoring program to the performance objectives and the business bottom line.

The following questions can help you determine the scope of the mentoring program and estimate how much time and resources it will require:
• What are the priorities for mentoring programs?
• How can workplace tasks be blended in mentoring relationships within the RTO?
• What are the reporting lines for mentoring programs?
• How can time constraints be accommodated for mentoring relationships?
• How can mentoring programs support staff's professional development needs?
• Do senior staff members have the skills, knowledge, and motivation to engage in a mentoring program?

To get started, identify and assess how your staff members perceive the value of mentoring relationships to support performance and achieve the RTO's objectives today and in the future. Depending upon what you discover, consider starting with mentoring programs to address specific and measurable performance issues. Evaluate the success of those programs, and share the evaluation results with all staff members, before you promote further mentoring programs.

Mentoring is a two-way relationship. If you successfully engage mentors, who have honest enthusiasm, in relationships with mentees, you will promote accountability in professional development within all staff members.

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