Why focus on trainers and assessors’ capabilities?

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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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