In the framework of the current VET Reform, the Hon Ian Macfarlane, Minister of Industry intends to put the VET Sector in the driver’s seat. “The era of training for training’s sake is over” the minister stated.
The announcements to update the VET Quality Framework and regulatory structures to a more industry-responsive system have been widely welcomed in the sector.
However, we must avoid fundamental errors if we are to steer clear of a car crash in the near future. The VET sector is not a single car, but a dynamic range of diverse vehicles with different qualitative characteristics. The government must ensure all players have their representatives on the roads, to ensure effective strategic planning, development, and transfer of skills that Australian society needs to achieve its objectives. Traffic jams or accidents must be avoided, as usually the more disadvantaged passengers are the ones to lose the most.
Let’s start with the industry’s responsiveness.
Industry must drive the “business issues” that training helps to solve. The industry must determine the business needs that will become the “impact objectives” for the training to be delivered.
RTOs must involve the industry in the evaluation of those impact objectives, because that is the real outcome for the industry. But evaluation is a process that starts long before training is delivered.
Evaluation must be considered at the early stages of training design, during the initial development of the training and assessment strategies. RTOs must engage the industry at that stage to ensure impact objectives are aligned with relevant business needs.
What happens next? We change the driver. Once impact objectives are established, we need the expertise of human performance practitioners to lead the process of identifying performance needs and skills gaps that will define the application objectives for the training to be delivered.
Finally, a set of learning objectives is formulated to guide an industry-relevant training experience that needs to consider the students’ current skills levels, motivations and needs.
The current regulatory framework is unable to regulate training quality because it doesn’t consider either the impact or the application of training. The current standards only regulate the learning objectives and their evaluation: the assessments.
That is our first fundamental error; we want to call this an outcome-based training system but, in fact, we are dealing with an activity-based system instead.
An outcome-based (results-based) system requires consideration at higher levels of evaluation. To include those higher levels into the standards, the regulator must adopt indicators to measure the impact of training to meet business needs. That means including the industry in the regulatory framework. We could achieve this, for example, by including reports from employers as part of evidence considered by regulators in quality audits. We will not achieve this if the data collected from the industry is not at evaluation levels 3 (application), and 4 (impact).
The proposed standards maintain a conceptual mistake using data from the industry at level 2 (assessment). The industry must be involved, but we can only use their expertise about business issues, we cannot expect the industry to validate instructional design processes that RTOs must be accountable for.
A separate problem is the funding arrangements. Government funding accounts for around 80% of all vocational training enrolments in Australia. During a speech to VET practitioners, the minister stated “…the current ‘sign- up’ culture has seen a churning of people through the system and often left without support once the initial training contract is lodged”. What benefit does this training produce for those 1.5 million enrolments that the government funds every year?
Government funding has promoted a distorted market. The inappropriate regulatory framework has permitted a massive pool of unscrupulous RTOs who are negligent and exploit the business opportunities generated through government funding arrangements. Many RTOs live on government funding alone. Taxpayers’ dollars have bought inputs (contracts, certificates, training seats) but not enough outcomes.
Improving the RTO’s regulatory framework will not be enough to solve the market’s disjointed and immature approach. Government funding must adopt new indicators to measure the return on the taxpayer’s investment. These indicators must consider the learner’s improvements, as an individual (skills learnt, employment status, social variables, etc.). But in any case, these indicators must be used to measure the benefits of the funded training. Funding must be available to address the skills needed in industry, but again together with a set of indicators to evaluate the ROI benefit obtained.
Finally, to maintain the quality of training we must maintain the quality of the training packages. Training packages are a macro level interpretation of the performance needs of Australian business in a particular industry. The outcome of this interpretation is the description of standard work outcomes that serve as benchmarks for training organisations. Again the process of developing and updating training packages must be reviewed, and mechanisms to evaluate industry-relevance of training packages, and ROI studies must be incorporated to improve the current situation.