Transcript of Past informing the future

12 August 2021

Vocational Voices: Season 6 Episode 4

Past informing the future

John Buchanan (00:04)
You cannot win the education argument on its own politically, it's got to be part of a broader mix. And there's very interesting insights you can get from looking at those societies which are more equal compared to those which are more unequal. And in those societies which are more equal like Denmark and Norway, there is a huge valuation for education, but all sorts of education. It's not just academic learning, vocational learning is respected in Norway and Denmark. And so, if we're keen to elevate the status of education, it's got to be part of a broader strategy of equality. Education on its own can't do it but equally, a strategy of equality without a strong education agenda wouldn't really be worth pursuing.

Steve Davis (00:47)
Hello, I'm Steve Davis, and welcome to Vocational Voices, the official podcast of the National Centre for Vocational Education Research, or NCVER, for short. In July 2021, the 30th annual 'No Frills' conference was held, but for the second year running, it was delivered as a virtual online event due to COVID-19 restrictions. Along with a series of standalone presentations, three live Q&A sessions were held, and, in this episode, we will share a sampling of these three events. The VET landscape has changed a lot over the past 30 years. More recently, COVID-19 has radically affected, not just our conference, but how we learn, work and live.

Steve Davis (01:33)
While many have felt the negative impacts, we've also become more flexible and connected, as we've adjusted to new modes of learning and working. Hence, the conference theme was Past informing the future. And it prompted presenters to consider how VET's past might inform its future and to reflect on the lessons and achievements that have the potential to inform progress. So, let's begin. And let's start with a snippet from the first of the three Q&A sessions, which featured Megan Lilly from the Australian Industry Group, and John Buchanan, University of Sydney, whom we heard at the beginning of this episode. Let's hear a little more of what John had to say before we turn to some of the questions and answers. This is an excerpt from his presentation, The Futures of Work, what education can and can't do, in which he addresses the key labour market problem that needs to be overcome.

John Buchanan (02:31)
We think if we're thinking about that question, what's the key labour market problem needs to be overcome? It's a shortage of jobs. We've got high levels of unemployment and underemployment. We've had these kinds of mantra rammed down our throats by the financial sector and the political class for the last 20 years. So, we've had, what is it, 20 or 30 years of uninterrupted growth, the envy of the Western world? Well, if you look at Australia's unemployment rate and its underemployment rate over the last three decades, you'll notice that around 12 to 15% of the population has been either unemployed or underemployed, looking for more hours of work. So, it's time to devote more attention to the problem of job scarcity and not ravel on about skills shortages.

Steve Davis (03:20)
Let's also hear a sampling now from Megan Lilly's presentation. It was entitled, Can we deliver future focused education and training with and in industry? In this excerpt, she flags the urgent issue of skills gaps.

Megan Lilly (03:35)
Skills shortages had been emerging as an issue, and it's a very, very significant issue now. But skill gaps isn't just not being able to get the right person, you actually might have the right number of people in your company and might not have the right skill combination. So how do we actually up-skill, re-skill, fill those gaps and develop solutions and strategies around that? So that then I actually think is going to be an enduring issue that we need to pretty much tackle quite urgently and frankly over the next decade.

Steve Davis (04:05)
And now to some of the Q&A session. One quick apology in this time of COVID, please ignore my voice. It's a bit croaky at the moment but we'll get through with a little bit of lemon sip. Megan Lilly, I'd like to put my first question to you because your presentation was based on the skills urgency report, in which the AI Group surveyed Australian CEOs, late in 2020. And in particular, I want to drill down into the slide about strategies for increasing employees' skill levels. Why do you think 75% of the CEOs are happy to forge ahead with training and re-skilling existing employees with or without government support, but only 40% of them are happy to do that when it comes to employing TAFE or university graduates? Do you think that's because existing employees already have a proven cultural fit and the CEOs see value in that?

Megan Lilly (05:02)
In a way I think you've already pointed to the answer of that question. Is that, I think people are very conscious that the workers they've got are part of the workforce they'll have going into the future. And so, the most sensible thing to do is to keep developing that workforce, building the capability of that workforce in multiple ways. And I think that the imperative around that, it's just continues to increase. And most employers that I talked to openly talk about if you don't invest in the people you've got, their skills will become redundant or out of date. That you need this continuous up-skilling part thing. Now, bear in mind that we're in extreme skill shortages at the moment. So, there is a great premier of bringing young people or recent graduates into the workplace. I think these survey results point to that there's more effort required there to help them on that transition.

Steve Davis (06:00)
Megan, I just want to pick up on that. You mentioned that with just one other follow up question that leads into this skill shortage issue. A bit able to talk about soft skills. In your report you know that positive attitude is one of the most important entry level recruiting factors. And that seems to be self-evident these days. Sir Richard Branson has made it popular, the concept of employing for attitude first, and then teaching skills later. But from a neuro diversity perspective, not everybody has an innate ability to present themselves as warm and sociable in a conventional manner. Which means with that criteria, we could be excluding a portion of the potential workforce at a time of this scarcity. Do you think that term positive attitude needs some extra definition?

Megan Lilly (06:50)
Well, I think if you're talking about soft skills, I think you need extra definition all the way through including the definition around soft skills, I might say. It's a contested term in and of itself. And it's frankly just a label. And in a way, bearing in mind, surveys, you've we got a very limited capacity with words. So, I do accept that neuro diversity is an issue at recruitment. But I don't actually accept the premise that if you are neuro diverse, you don't or are not able to exhibit positivity. And positivity can play out in many different ways and it isn't just the engaging interpersonal thing, it can be a much deeper engagement around issues and topics and interests.

Megan Lilly (07:36)
So I challenge back the definition around how neuro diversity presents itself. And I look around every workplace I've ever worked in and I think there's been many neuro diverse people that may or may not have been identified, because I'm a bit old and there's you know, a lot of people there. And many of them are very positive. So, I think it's much more than that. But I do agree that we need diverse, open and inclusive recruitment practices.

Steve Davis (08:01)
Thank you, Megan. John, in your report, you argue that our society, especially in the VET sector, looks at education as an instrument in relation to employment in the economy, rather than hold up the educated population as the hallmark of a civilized society. Help us grasp that vision. Is it possible to point to a golden age when we did have educated masses or a society that that is, or has gotten that right?

John Buchanan (08:30)
First of all, there hasn't been a golden age. It's not like I'm harking back to somewhere that's perfect we're going to get back to. I think the best way of answering is that some societies at certain points of time have done better than most of their peers. And probably the best example I can think of here is Scotland in the 17th and 18th centuries. At that time, Scottish boys and girls were the most literate children in Europe as a result of the theology of that time which was basically saying people had to have a direct relationship with God, which they could only get if they could read the Bible. And so the literacy rates were through the roof.

John Buchanan (09:12)
And as a kind of a footnote to that story, that's one of the reasons attributed to why the Scottish had an enlightenment way superior to most other places in Europe at the time. Because with the onset of free trade with England in the early 19th century, you had a fusion of economic liberalization combined with a highly intelligent population or highly literate population, which meant there was a big domain of ideas and this is what generated the Adam Smiths and the David Humes and the like.

John Buchanan (09:40)
So the second example I can cite is Korea today. Korea has very high levels of educational attainment. But once again, that's because it's got such a weak welfare state. Parents put a huge amount of investment in education because they're trying to help their children get forward and so both of those examples show that the educated society is a function of other factors in society. So, education on its own can't function, you've got to look at a broader cultural context or broader economic context.

Steve Davis (10:10)
Stay on board because Calida has a question for you. I think this goes into one of your happy spaces. Given all the limitations of micro credentialing, are there any advantages to them?

John Buchanan (10:24)
Well, don't get me wrong, I'm not 100% opposed to micro credentials. It's the settings within which they are developed. And what worries me if you look at work that comes out of the World Economic Forum, if you look at some of the looser language from the Business Council of Australia, for example, there is a... I don't know if it's a deliberate or unintentional passing over of thinking about domains of expertise. There is an interesting meeting the immediate. There's an interesting meeting short run problems. Everyone wants to solve problems in the short run but it's highly possible to solve an immediate problem and create a deeper problem further down the line.

John Buchanan (11:08)
So my deep expertise, I did my PhD around the metal and engineering trades and the transformation of them in the 80s and 90s. And it was really interesting looking at the data on that. The ABS used to have a very useful survey which was where the trades people end up? What are the career paths of trades people? And metal and engineering trades headed the pack of people who were not working in their trade but were using the deep analytical and collaborative skills they'd learnt as highly skilled metalworkers in other domains. And that's my point of view. When I'm talking about getting a domain of expertise, I'm not saying you've got to be trapped in that for life. But if you don't have a domain of expertise, then you just end up with an incoherent blancmange and that's my concern with micro credentials.

Megan Lilly (11:59)
Can I just had a quick comment there?

Steve Davis (12:01)

Megan Lilly (12:02)
So we had a webinar on micro credentials this morning. And I think they've got a great place and there's a whole lot of co-design issues and all that sort of stuff. But I don't think we should have a conversation about micro credentials without actually talking about macro credentials, if I can use that phrase for a moment. And I do think we need to understand the qualifications when they're well designed to have a really strong organizing principle and develop a very important foundation for someone on their journey in life. And micro credentials to me, then add to that they don't replace it.

Steve Davis (12:35)
Do you have any comments about the importance of workforce planning in VET, in attracting workers to jobs?

John Buchanan (12:41)
Yeah, I've done a lot of work on workforce planning. And I think the big thing that's paralysing the way we do this in Australia is that there's a deep linear and a deep attachment to linear thinking and gap analysis where we say, "This is what we expect the projected demand to be. This is what we've got on the supply side. What's the gap? How do we fill it?" The history of workforce planning is the history of the failure of that way of thinking, let's be quite clear. It's just essentially, you can do it okay in the short run you might be able to predict stuff out for six months, 12 months or so. I think if we're interested in taking these ideas forward in the workforce planning space, I think it's better to think about planning for workforce development. It's about building up the institutions that give you the capacity to adapt.

John Buchanan (13:38)
So you've got to take a step back, what are the underlying capabilities that you've got to develop a stock of as you move into the future? And so, for me, the planning question is, what are those underlying capabilities? And that's why people like Leesa Wheelahan and myself have looked at this idea of vocational streams. Now, the problem isn't just about aged care or about disability support. There's a broader care health domain, how do we think about the underlying capabilities you develop there? So, for me, the workforce planning piece is actually thinking differently about how you build planning for workforce development, not this gap analysis.

Steve Davis (14:19)
Let's turn now to day two of 'No Frills' 2021.

Kaye Bowman (14:22)
Now, there's a lot of vocational educational and training reform going on in the national recognized VET system, I'm very aware of most of this. I have yet to read and digest it all in detail. We know that skill sets, I prefer that term in VET, skill sets. But then we know that within that there's capital S skill sets, those that are identified in training packages and then there's small S skill sets as we call, have come to call them, which are combinations of units of competency which individuals put together and decide to do. Both the small S and the capital S skill sets, of course, lead to a statement of attainment, a clear certification that we've had in the VET system for some time which is nationally recognized because they're doing parts of, if not a full nationally recognized qualification.

Steve Davis (15:24)
That was Kaye Bowman from the Callan Consulting Group from her presentation on day two entitled, Understanding employers' training choices, implications for the accredited VET system. Her fellow presenter in the Q&A session was Michael Hartman from Skills Impact, whose presentation was The ties that bind: A vision for skilling Australia. Before we hear from Michael and the Q&A, let's hear a little more of Kaye's presentation in which he addresses the increasing use of nationally recognized VET by employers.

Kaye Bowman (15:59)
If we want nationally recognized VET to be used by employers, then we need to be clear about how it relates to these specific needs. And we need to provide them carefully individualized training information. They do not want to hear about the complexities of the terminology inside VET or any of those sorts of things. And they generally are not very agreeable to having an RTO come along and try to sell them a product, even if it's nationally recognized training. They would prefer for the promotions to be responsive to their needs. And they're looking first to see whether that provider understands their needs.

Steve Davis (16:50)
And now let's turn to some of the Q&A discussions. Kaye Bowman, I'd like to put my first question to you to get us underway. Your presentation was based on understanding employers' training choices, and the implications for the accredited VET system. In it you reported on the different ways employers have been using training. But then you finished with what I dub a cliff-hanger. Your suggestion was that leading edge non-recognized training might need to be brought into the nationally recognized VET system. Now I imagine there'll be some mixed reactions to this recommendation but would it be fair to describe this suggestion as the embracing of the position if you can't beat them, join them?

Kaye Bowman (17:37)
Right. Thank you very much that question. I'm hoping it's not seen as competition here. This has been the problem. We're actually skilling workforces, and as you know, we bought in a competitive market system. But the idea of non-accredited somehow being brought into the accredited VET system is not necessarily my recommendation at this stage. But it's certainly what I interpret the Australian Qualifications Framework review suggesting when it talks about micro credentials and gives them a very broad definition that potentially would bring them into the system.

Kaye Bowman (18:18)
But if you talk to employers, they see both as complementary not as competing, as complementary. And if you think about enterprise, registered training organizations, so employers that are also an RTO, they somehow managed to combine accredited training with the non-accredited in very good ways, so it's worth a look. And we know that we have examples of Microsoft combining with TAFE to get the best of both worlds in TAFE training with placements in Microsoft. So I think there's room to think about it, but with our cautions we need to have.

Steve Davis (18:59)
Michael Hartman, you mentioned in your presentation that units of competency have turned into a Swiss army knife for VET, making the point that units are skill standards and not training standards. And there are problems when we use them for regulation. However, as you unpack that Swiss army knife analogy, you made the point that with these devices, they have a number of tools cobbled together, but none of them are as good as the standalone tools they're replacing. So, I'd like to hold that thought and compare it to your suggestion that 152 units, courses, and modules that all have the word communicate in their title can be reduced to just a few if RTOs were given contextualization statements when they're teaching communication in specific contexts such as hair salons or construction sites. But how is this not a Swiss army knife approach?

Michael Hartman (19:57)
Good question, Steve. I was referring to units of competency being... And that analogy was borrowed from somewhere else. They're trying to do too many things and they're not doing any of those things very well. They started off as being occupational standards, as I talked about in the presentation, and then they ended up with a whole range of things being shoehorned into them. What I'm proposing is that we rewrite them, so they are pure occupational standards, if you like. They become the knife, the standalone knife and they're supported by a range of standalone tools like screwdrivers, hammers or whatever.

Michael Hartman (20:37)
And contextualization statements at the moment are buried within a unit of competency and they describe how that unit, the application of that unit of competency and the context. And because they're stuck within that unit, it means when it comes to communicate in the workplace, there are more than 100 versions of that because it's communicate in a boating situation, communicate in a hospital, communicate in a construction site. So, the proposal would be each of those contextualization statements rather than being shoehorned into the unit and then capturing that whole unit is that there would be a few units and there would be multiple contextualization statements that are the screwdrivers, if you like. Each individual screwdriver able to do the job properly.

Michael Hartman (21:23)
So if a TAFE is going out of a building site, they would pull down the contextualization statement and deliver a national unit that is transferable across all industries but in the context of this statement. And that statement could be a page and a half long, rather than a few lines jammed within a unit of competency.

Steve Davis (21:40)
I relate to the Swiss army knife effect. My question is, how can we at TAFE meet industry needs better with our current restrictions?

Michael Hartman (21:49)
With the current restrictions?

Steve Davis (21:51)
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Michael Hartman (21:51)
Well, I think that is a question really, for what Kaye was talking about, is through partnership with industry. And what I find is frustrating in the current system is the regulator use units of competency to regulate as though they're training standards and they describe work. And that's why industry gets to write them because they describe work. If we had genuine training standards, they wouldn't be written by industry, they'd be written by training professionals that currently most of them are employed by RTOs, including TAFE. So as a skill service organization under the current system, we have industry reference committees, we would also like to have a role that we had RTO or learn or trainer reference committees that would help us develop curriculum that the RTOs say, "Yes, this describes what we have to do to manage a student journey so that they become competent because industry are not training professionals in the main."

Steve Davis (22:53)
You're calling for a fresh reform of training so that we have industry work skill standards and national skills and training materials. To help inform people as to what's required so that evidence of competency is relevant to workplace practice, after bold attempts of reform floundered in 2001 and left us with the term training package, which was not actually a training package, what would make your currently suggested reforms more likely to succeed?

Michael Hartman (23:23)
Well, at the moment, we are in a reform environment. And if you go on to the Department of Education Skills and Employment website and click on skills and training, click on reform, there are the proposals there right now for qualifications reform. So, the state and federal ministers have agreed that we need to reform the way qualifications actually operate in Australia. So, we've got an environment now and we've got an opportunity. And in that opportunity, the website also states that one of the ambitions of this reform, a priority, is to streamline and simplify and reduce duplication. And I've worked with industry and I've experienced their resistance to duplication because they say, "Someone communicating in a hospital and deemed competent cannot communicate on a building site. So we want our own unit."

Michael Hartman (24:15)
And so it'll run into resistance from industry, but that resistance can be completely removed if we create a new tool and that's contextualization statements owned by industry, where industry says, "Yes, you can train that unit and when it comes to our industry, providing you're following these guidelines in your curriculum, we're completely fine with that." And so we will be able to reduce those 152 units down to 15 or so, providing industry gets their slice of the action which is a contextualization statement so that they can see their industry in that generic communication unit.

Steve Davis (24:52)
The question is, how is industry responding to your proposition because the model could make industry reps redundant?

Michael Hartman (25:00)
That's a misunderstanding. I think we still need industry setting the end result of what a training program should deliver, and that's a competent worker. But the big missing part of the current VET sector is that we don't have documented what is the student journey to get someone to make them so the end result of them is that they're competent. And that's the domain of learning professionals. So, when we write an industry outcome that says this is what a person working well will look like, every RTO who wants to deliver that unit or that qualification across Australia gets to decide their own view of what is the appropriate student journey for that person to undertake. And of course, they all come up with different examples.

Michael Hartman (25:48)
And the lean end of the end is someone saying, "Oh, we can teach that unit or that skill set in four hours." And then we come up with very diligent training organizations and say, "This is ridiculous. It takes three days to deliver this properly." And so, then there's been a core we need minimum training hours documented and I don't think it's about how many hours is spent, it's about reaching national consensus with training and learning professionals about what a student journey looks like to make someone competent, because that is the domain of learning and development professionals, which are not the people we talk to when we write occupational standards. We write them based on job experts and their understanding of what a job performed properly looks like.

Michael Hartman (26:33)
So what I'm actually proposing is an existing role for industry, but a new role for training providers in coming up with national statements that say, "This is what our training providers should do," and the regulator to regulate against those training standards, not against occupational standards. Because one of the realities in the real world is a training provider, there are some things that can be trained and there are some things that can only be learned in the workplace. And when a training provider has been asked to deliver an outcome of something that can only be done in a real live working environment, it results in some very significant challenges.

Steve Davis (27:10)
Finally, it's time for some highlights from day three of 'No Frills' 2021.

Martha Kinsman (27:15)
An open knowledge based curriculum paradigm cannot exist as a subset of the national skill system, however configured. Rather, that skill system which might continue in part to follow the principles of CBT would be just one component of a broader further education sector, within which it would coexist with a range of other educational purposes and curriculum approaches consistent with the broad objectives and standards set out in the Australian Qualifications Framework.

Steve Davis (27:50)
That was Martha Kinsman from the Australian National University, from her presentation entitled 30 years on: re-imagining competence in a post-COVID world. Her co-presenter on that day was Stephen Billet from Griffith University, who delivered a presentation entitled, VET and work life learning pathways. Let's hear a little of Stephen's presentation now, before turning to the Q&A segments.

Stephen Billett (28:17)
So personal curriculums then are essentially pathways of experiences individuals have across their lives, including, and perhaps centrally their working lives. These are shaped by the educative experiences I've mentioned in schools, workplaces, and community, and how individuals elect to engage with these experiences and learn from them. It's important to always remember that educational experiences are nothing more or less than an opportunity, an invitation to change. And it's how people take up that invitation which is central to the learning outcomes.

Steve Davis (28:55)
And now let's listen in to some of the Q&A session. Martha Kinsman, firstly to you. In your presentation, you argue that the competency-based training system is no longer fit for purpose as the sole and universal curriculum model for Australian VET for a host of reasons. In your discussion, you highlight the porosity of the system for learners due to the fact that they're restricted to low level knowledge such as what and how, rather than higher level knowledge like why and what if. And you shared Gamble's unpacking of these types of knowledge. And it made me wonder if industry will resist your calls for change, and this is because these procedural competencies the what and the how lead to certain outcomes. How to cut hair a certain way that's repeatable, whereas principled competencies, the why and what if, they mean learners are equipped to reach new or unknown outcomes. Are all industries ready for such unleashing of thought and creativity?

Martha Kinsman (29:59)
Well first of all, Steve, thank you very much for understanding what I was trying to say so very well. I guess the critical question is not whether all industries are ready for or indeed have unleashed such creativity because they clearly have, I can't think of any industry that has not unleashed and encouraged thought and creativity. Possibly some very small religious fundamentalists don't like it. But most industries have encouraged it, they've encouraged it in higher education and in universities.

Martha Kinsman (30:41)
So the critical question is, are they all ready for this to occur in VET? And I think the answer to that is no, they're not. There's a level of resistance because competency-based training has worked very well in terms of regarding individuals as a factor input to production. And the idea of compliance is the minimum necessary, the minimum costs necessary, what one person is called speed to market. All of those sorts of values are dominant. If the question, however, was, are all occupations or occupational streams ready for a greater unleashing, as your word, a greater scope for more complex, I'd rather call it complex than higher level, more complex thinking, and conceptual development, then I can't think of an occupational stream that would not welcome that. And I can't think of some individuals in each occupational stream in VET, who would not welcome being given access to it. Other individuals may not want it. So the whole purpose of what I'm arguing is horses for courses.

Steve Davis (31:57)
Stephen, your concept of viewing our working lives as personal curriculums, I find very novel. In my case, though, if you look at the bizarre combination of things I've done, my curriculum director would be held with great suspicion by their peers. But that said, I can see my personal curriculum making sense in retrospect. Or to put it another way, in your terminology, my experienced curriculum can teach me things through reflection. However, some of the fundamentally transformative milestones I've achieved in my journey, they've come about by accident or even by malicious actions on the parts of others.

Steve Davis (32:39)
And given it's unlikely anyone would deliberately plan to have tragedies for the sake of enriching a personal curriculum, is this model largely one that looks back rather than looks forward?

Stephen Billett (32:51)
No. And you would be a good informant for our project but by the way, so would most of the people listening into this program because what we're finding is all of these things across people's life history. We're talking about, in some sense, refugee migrants who were forced at gunpoint to leave their countries. And they didn't want that to happen, that had to happen. So, one thing that's come through is this thing called happened chance. When I came to Australia, in 1976, I hitchhiked up from Sydney to Brisbane, I didn't know anybody in Brisbane and began looking for work. I used to do work in cooking work when I was traveling, but my skills were in clothing design.

Stephen Billett (33:30)
And I was walking through Fortitude Valley, there was a phone booth, remember phone booths. And I went inside one and had a phone book, remember phone books? I looked down clothing manufacturing, said Friedman and Co. And I realized I just seen that name and the phone booth was outside a clothing company called Freedman and Co. I went inside and said, "Do you have a need for a designer?" And they said, "We've just been advertising in Europe for one, because we can't get one here." So even if I'd gone to CES, the Commonwealth Employment Service, there wouldn't have been a vacancy because they hadn't been bothered in that.

Stephen Billett (34:04)
So here's a happened chance and that then led to permanent work, me staying in Brisbane and lots of changes, including eventually becoming a TAFE teacher in clothing that came from that moment. So yes, happened chances, I think, is important. And lots of the things we encounter are not really intentional. We muddle our way through. Bit like parenthood, we sort of muddle our way through these things. But what we're trying to do here is really describe and explain the learning trajectory of adults across changing working lives. And the concepts of curriculum we're dealing with tend to only relate to when there's educational programs being offered. And even the concept of the experience curriculum, it only relates to the experiences of the educational program.

Stephen Billett (34:58)
But of course in adulthood perhaps unlike childhood, the vast majority of the time of learning, isn't actually associated with engagement in particular educational programs. So, we want to know how people made these transitions, and then perhaps rethink the ways in which support can be provided. So, going back, ACFE for instance, about probably 10 years might be longer than that now, ACFE is the agency in Victoria which looks at further education. They found that over 92% of Australians only engaged in one or two modules within courses yet the entire structure is based around programs, and 92% of people participating in vocational education, according to that data, only engaged in one or two modules. Yet we have structure based around courses, and yet the adult population, working age population in Australia is saying something different.

Stephen Billett (35:59)
So we might, for instance, think about changing the AQF rather than a hierarchical arrangement, knock it down, have it horizontal and see how people progress across there. So, what we're trying to do is... Because I think it's important because so much of the data that's gathered. For instance, when we have this organization called Skills Australia, their remit was only to look at the learning that occurred within AQF recognized programs, all of the learning that you've had, Steven, across your work life and people listening, would sit outside of that. So, what we're trying to do is capture that. And a way of explaining it, I think, is this concept of the personal curriculum, our own personal yellow brick roads. And just like Dorothy we meet interesting characters along the way. But unfortunately, Emerald City changes and it's, maybe we don't get there, maybe we do for some.

Steve Davis (36:57)
I've got a couple more steps along that yellow brick road with you right now, before we turn to the other questions because you mention that if VET providers took this model of personal curriculum into account during training, it would lead to a much more customized experience and in effect, apply degree of RPL into the mix. And this customization that would spell the end of any notion of one size fits all models of VET delivery and quite likely lead to extra costs. Now, if that's the case, and if so do you think potentially more valuable outcomes for learners and industry would justify that cost?

Stephen Billett (37:35)
I'm not sure. I'm not quite sure if I put it quite like that. But I'm quite happy to engage in that argument. We need the courses, don't get me wrong, they're the platforms that we work on. But a lot of it is how people come to engage with them and the kind of experiences they are provided and the degrees by which they're relevant to working age Australians. And whether, for instance, the AQF offers the most appropriate framework for that to happen in, the compulsory elements of AQF registered courses. So, in Singapore, for instance, they have one level of diplomas for school leavers but adults into engaging in a different set of diplomas do a far shorter program. There are sensible arrangements like that which are, in some sense, inhibited by the AQF. So it's really about opening up things, it's really about making things accessible in different ways.

Stephen Billett (38:27)
The Dutch system, for instance, is far more horizontal than hierarchical and there's lots of movements across and you can progress across different levels of tertiary education from early levels of education through to the academic programs within the academic universities, they have applied and academic universities. They have pathways that are very horizontal, you can move across whereas ours are hierarchical. So, it's some of these structures which allow movement and mobility, but also, as you're saying, recognition of prior learning is important. However, we often find that the recognition of prior learning is problematic, because there's very rarely a good fit between people's experience and the requirements of courses. It's never quite a meet like that. But there can be an openness to how some of these arrangements can be undertaken. And I think one of the ways in which we can achieve that is having more locally based decision making, so less top-down, more decisions made at your local level to support it.

Steve Davis (39:38)
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