Vocational Voices: Season 3, Episode 1
Training packages: meeting student needs?
Craig Robertson: (00:03)
TAFE would say that they are pretty tired of having to really teach, not to the curriculum, but to the minutiae requirements that are specified within a training package and almost local flexibility to design really courses that meets the needs of students, which was the original intent of our standards based approach. Now there is no doubt that competency works in some areas of training, but in other areas I don't think that level of specification works.
Steve Davis: (00:34)
Competency based training or CBT is the model of curriculum at the heart of the VET system and for some it's a shorthand way of referring to the system of VET training packages, but critics are arguing that the VET sector's reliance upon training packages, is failing to meet the real world needs of students and industry because of the way it defines and therefore teaches competency. With me today to discuss this issue. I have Simon Walker managing director NCVER. Welcome Simon.
Simon Walker: (01:05)
Steve Davis: (01:06)
And Craig Robertson, CEO of TAFE Directors Australia. Hello Craig.
Craig Robertson: (01:10)
Good day Steve.
Steve Davis: (01:11)
It seems to me this discussion is going to hinge on our definition of the term competency. So I'll start by asking what it means to both of you, on your various roles within the VET system. Craig, I'll start with you.
Craig Robertson: (01:24)
All right, thank you. I sort of try to think about this when we come to think about qualifications and curriculum and they are really the instrument of governments. So for me, and governments then basically say those qualifications are legitimate through accreditation arrangements. So from my view point, sort of governments need to think about. Why do they need these qualifications and in what shape and form. And that's then where we get to competency. What I'd argue is, that the nature of work and even the nature of the way that we work and even the world is changing substantially and that really competencies don't work for a modern world. And I think what we need to be able to do is to start from a broader construct of what we're trying to achieve. Competency may be part of that, but not the full answer is my position.
Steve Davis: (02:31)
Simon Walker: (02:33)
Yeah, look, broadly speaking, I agree with Craig, particularly as we look at the future world of work. The other issue here is that we are teaching a narrow range of competencies that are considered to be aligned to an occupation or an occupational need and that probably isn't as enduring as it could be, particularly as we are telling ourselves that the world of work's changing quite rapidly and we'll have multiple jobs and the nature and attributes of the skills required are going to continue to have to adapt including the individuals having to adapt and in which case that can be quickly redundant and our utilization of what's already out there is already skewed towards a very few qualifications which have high volumes and some that have virtually nothing.
Steve Davis: (03:19)
Just before we move any further, if I threw that question out across the VET sector, would I get a fairly consistent response in lines with what you two gentlemen said or is there likely to be quite a discrepancy across the VET sector system, when we talk about what is meant by competency?
Simon Walker: (03:37)
I think the core definition of competency would be okay, but whether it's the right tool for educating and training people, you'll get a very diverse range of views.
Craig Robertson: (03:52)
And I think some people would immediately go. Competency works if we take the German Swiss concept of it, which is a far broader and deeper definition of a competency as opposed to how countries like Australia and England have defined competencies.
Steve Davis: (04:09)
Can you go a bit further into that for us?
Craig Robertson: (04:11)
So the general sense in the German model and in the Swiss model and of course we've got to remember, they have a very different sort of cultural background to how they particularly train people. But they make sure that within their sort of course design and curriculum construct. That one competency is really, really quite broad and it's really what many of us in Australia would call capability. You'd learn the full range and scope of doing a particular skill. Whereas we tend to segment our competencies down to quite a lower level and that's exactly what's occurred in England as well. Because, in the end we inherited the competency system from the UK back in the mid 1980s.
Steve Davis: (05:02)
We're going to come back to that sort of thinking towards the end of our chat, but Craig, I'd like to turn now and look at the world through the eyes of TAFE. There must be something valuable about structuring training packages within a competency based system because such a system clearly spells out what has to be taught and how that is assessed. Now if that's right, will that make this conversation we're having uncomfortable for people who are enjoying the clarity of their roles as VET trainers and assessors at the moment?
Craig Robertson: (05:36)
It's a really good question. I would argue that most people within TAFE would say that they are pretty tired of having to really teach not to the curriculum but to the minutiae of requirements that are specified within a training package and almost local flexibility to design really courses. And teach in a way that meets the needs of students, which was the original intent of our standards based approach.
Craig Robertson: (06:06)
Has sort of being washed out of the system. Now, there is no doubt that competency works in some areas of training and we'll always go to the trade areas. We would need to be able to make sure that people can actually do the specific technical tasks that are required, but in other areas where there is not defined occupational outcomes and in fact you can fulfill quite a range of roles when you get into the workplace. I don't think that level of specification works.
Craig Robertson: (06:42)
It's all up, in terms of how do we think TAFE would respond. Most of the feedback I receive from TAFE. Admittedly this is from TAFE leaders. Is sort of their lack of flexibility to be able to respond at the local level. And in fact they really want to be known to be good educators. And what they'd like to be able to have is to have that trust put in them to design good educational experiences for students.
Simon Walker: (07:13)
Craig, are you talking about self accreditation here?
Craig Robertson: (07:18)
I'm not overly. But what I'm talking about in the first instance is if you follow through training packages and I can give you sort of the figures that I'm trying to think about. One competency can give rise to at least about a dozen performance criteria and each performance criteria, can then give rise to a sort of a.
Craig Robertson: (07:46)
Can't quite remember the term, but assessment evidence and the like. So if you think about a qualification with 12 units of competency, it becomes just specification overload. We have to take some of that load off our trainers. Then when we think about some occupations that are really quite nebulous, quite wide ranging, occupational outcomes, even entrepreneurship, I think we need a bit more flexibility at the TAFE level. And if that is self-accreditation, then that's what I would be arguing for as well.
Steve Davis: (08:24)
Is the creation of all those assessment criteria for each competency crafted in a way that tries to cover every situation, which that competency might be called upon or is it actually because particular competencies are exposed to a whole lot of nuance and complexity when they're being. When someone needs to have such a competency.
Craig Robertson: (08:49)
You can never achieve that. It's like saying I'm going to become a perfect ballerina one day, which is sort of you are like you can never get to that particular point. What you have to be able to do is to trust in your educators to be able to deal with all of those circumstances. I suspect what's happened within training packages is as the sector has always had this concern about quality, it is a natural tendency for all players in the sector to say. Oh, I'll deal with complexity by creating more specification. And what we've done is just create too much specifications, has taken away the spark, of that whole educational experience, which would really underpin vocational education.
Steve Davis: (09:36)
So there's this elaborate framework that then develops in a well meaning way over time, but now we have the criticism that VET training package framework just can't keep up with the pace of change happening in the workplace landscape. So how do you see a way forward here Craig. How do we dismantle some of these or modify the model at the base of how we pulled these packages together?
Craig Robertson: (10:01)
Okay, so let's look at the world of work or the world that we're wanting to prepare people for. I think the first order is we have to accept that not every outcome is an industry outcome. There's a lot of outcomes that are for the individual, which therefore means there has to be a shared arrangement for development of qualifications. That said, there is no doubt we don't want to go to the situation where providers are defining sort of content of qualifications that bears no resemblance to what industry needs.
Craig Robertson: (10:31)
So we need to be able to make sure, particularly for some occupations like the trades for example, that there is very clear and robust competencies that we are going towards. Then I think we can come back to some broader curriculum that gives people broader capabilities. One thing is I've always failed to understand in the vocational education and training system. Recognizing that a fair number of people who come through into the sector would have literacy and numeracy problems or would not have the right level for a modern workplace that we consider that as an add-on. That's not part of a core training or educational experience that we should offer.
Craig Robertson: (11:18)
So I do think we could look at a fundamental restructuring of how we define our qualifications and I reckon we could bring them down to quite a significant reduced number.
Simon Walker: (11:29)
Yeah. I think just on the literacy and numeracy stuff, there are a range of programs that do exist where they do teach those core foundation skills as part of another program of study. Often though they are a different product and are co-taught or taught in tandem with the core qualification. So I think you can get around some of those literacy and numeracy issues. I absolutely support Craig's argument for the utilization of the product that we have out there. We just have way too many qualifications that are either under utilized or totally not utilized. And that tells the story for me.
Craig Robertson: (12:08)
And also there's an economic and efficiency argument out of what I'm saying as well. Part of the problem that we have at the moment is we have an assumption that we have a qualification that defines competencies, which in Australia has got ourselves to the point where we really defined tasks associated with a particular job and we'd moved away from a whole pile of process type jobs in the Australian economy.
Craig Robertson: (12:37)
We talk to a lot of jobs now that are in the service's sector where you need inter-personal skills, knowledge and all that sort of stuff. And so you're not following preset routine. So what we need to be able to do is to say, why don't we turn that on its head a bit. Why don't we go. Well, let's look at learning outcomes across a particular set of fields. And it could be particular industries and the like. Do that first, which would then make quite clear the underpinning procedural knowledge and even the scientific knowledge that you would require to do a job that's trained by the VET sector. And we all acknowledge that there are a lot of people that are qualified. Good qualified VET workers that have the know how. And so how we deliver that Know how. Then if they've exhaust that no how. Imagine all the competencies that you could define from that.
Craig Robertson: (13:33)
So what I'm saying is let's start with the learning outcomes first. Let's make sure they line up with broad industry underpinning knowledge. Both scientific and procedural and then you could have a bucket load of competencies that would make somebody far more transferable across a whole range of jobs in the economy. Including into self employment.
Steve Davis: (14:00)
This gets close to another area that I saw as I was reading some of the research papers before our chat today. And there was talk about the inclusion of theoretical knowledge as a core part of the units of competency. But it does seem that where there is theoretical knowledge, it is related to specific tasks rather than the sort of theory that can equip the student to apply that thinking in broader context. Is that something we're capable of addressing or should be addressing the inclusion of more theory and theoretical elements within the VET system?
Craig Robertson: (14:36)
It would certainly be a challenge in the system at the moment. Because we've created a training workforce that is quite used to becoming a following and compliant with training packages, but that shouldn't be an excuse for not trying it. If you think about all the reports that are coming out, including the latest report from Deloitte, which is really saying the future is going to be sort of a knowledge work across most areas of the economy. We need to do it, we have to do it. Otherwise we are really marooning a whole pile of people out of the VET system into jobs that won't be there.
Steve Davis: (15:21)
It sounds like we've got a big job ahead of us if we really want to make this system more attuned to where things are changing in the workplace. And you might've touched on some of this, but the process of isolating some common competencies that apply across sectors. So that students can learn these skills. That a bit like the Swiss army knife set of skills that can be applied in different situations. Is that something that we could start with as a stepping stone towards reform?
Simon Walker: (15:56)
Yeah. Look, that's something that is already being thought through and the notion of having, I think they call it banks of units that can be transferable across a whole range of different qualifications is already sort of on the way. I think in terms of taking this forward, we know what sectors we're talking about. So if you take Craig's analogy, there are some of the traditional trades which are still competency based format.
Simon Walker: (16:22)
And the way we do it now is probably reasonably applicable going forward. But there are clearly sectors, not the least the tech sector or the IT sector where we are going to need a different approach. And in which case we shouldn't be bound by the standards we currently have. We should try and look at how we can flex up those standards to enable in specific areas, pilots or a different approach to the way we construct qualifications because we know that they are different from those that have been created in the past for specific occupations and tasks. We have the wit to do that if we have the will.
Craig Robertson: (17:02)
Correct. Another point I'd like to add in that is that we now have the circumstances where we have the current federal government and indeed premiers and first ministers that are saying, look, we want vocational education and training to have the same standing as higher education. Well, the problem that we've got, if we define a qualification to a particular job, most people are pretty savvy about what's involved in that job, whether it could be low paid, insecure work, et cetera, et cetera. It's no wonder that people jumped into the higher education system all be it, they're not sure about their job outcomes at the end of it, but are probably saying, well, I've got a better chance to pick up a broader range of jobs rather than this one for one sort of philosophy that we have in vocational education and training and they know full well what sort of level of pay and security is at the end of it.
Craig Robertson: (18:02)
We have to really fundamentally look at what we offer in terms of aspiration and career growth through the qualifications that we give. So it's not a surprise that there are a lot of people who naturally go to the trades, particularly males unfortunately. But they can see, well, I need to get through this apprenticeship once I'm qualified, once I've got my ticket, I've got a pretty good life ahead of me in terms of whether I can start up my own business or I can actually generate a reasonable salary return from it. So a lot of the other qualifications that lead to jobs. You can't really say that.
Steve Davis: (18:43)
Craig, when you talked about the comparisons there between tertiary and VET sector, there's another set of comparisons that I've seen in some of the reading I've done and it relates to the delivery of VET for secondary school students. And I wonder whether what is being delivered in that approach at the moment is thought of on par with VET training that happens outside of the secondary school system. Is the secondary one seen as the poor cousin to the other or are they both viewed with some degree of equity at the moment? Simon.
Simon Walker: (19:19)
This is an interesting debate. Because, there was a change to the nomenclature of what we used to call VET in schools to now calling it VET for secondary school students. And it was fundamentally predicated on the perception that the VET that was done in a school was a different type of VET from done outside of school.
Simon Walker: (19:41)
Having said that, changing the name doesn't change much. And certainly my experience is there are all sorts of models for how VET is delivered in a school and some are clearly not as good as others. And because of the massive growth in school-based VET, there's generally a propensity to have that taught within a school by a school teacher and in quality assured by a registered training organization. And that is not the same necessarily as going to a registered training organization externally or to a TAFE college. Who are steeped in the fundamentals of vocational education. So the different pedagogies, the different missions of the schools, that do give rise to differences in the way VET is delivered. And, one is more expensive than the other and that is another barrier to this, but I think there's a valid argument that there is some VET delivered in schools that is of a lesser quality than mainstream vet delivered by registered training organizations.
Craig Robertson: (20:50)
And unfortunately despite the real sort of. What would you call it? The really good intention of establishing our comprehensive schooling movements when we basically merged technical schools with high schools to give people a broad range of options going forward. Unfortunately sometimes within the school system, because they tend to be directed towards getting people into university, they can sometimes view those VET programs as second rate or for those people aren't going to be heading towards university. I would not accuse all schools of that, but it can be a natural thing that can play out. And we always have to bear in mind that there are some brilliant schools that are doing some really great VET programs and they're the ones that we should be trying to emulate. And I think the important thing that from the VET in schools or however, what other term that Simon used. Is the underpinning thing of what we would call, what I call situational learning.
Craig Robertson: (22:01)
We know there's a whole range of young people who do not learn well out of books. It doesn't mean they're dumb. It just means they will learn a different way. And sometimes that's from a situational perspective sort of doing things, applying things and then learning from that particular point. And I think it is that pedagogical approach that we'd need to be able to focus on and then look at down the track. Because, part of the problem that people complain about VET in schools about. Is they end up with a part qualification or a qualification. That they expect we'll get full credit when they go into the formal workplace or into further training in VET. And it's often not recognized. So we do need to somehow work out, to make sure that that stuff is recognized. If it's legitimate training.
Steve Davis: (22:53)
And I'm hoping the VET for secondary school students is connected or hitched to the rest of the VET sector. If we're talking about being agile and responding to changes in the workplace that there are resources afoot and aplenty to make sure that what is being taught in the schools is keeping pace with the changes that are happening elsewhere in the VET sector. Am I being overly optimistic, Simon?
Simon Walker: (23:16)
Oh no. I think if anything, you're probably looking at an issue that doesn't exist. They do use the same products. They still use training packages. In the main. They do sometimes have their local versions of VET. But accredited VET is accredited VET. So they are using the same product. But the way that they are taught, the facilities that they're taught in, the industry links of the teachers are quite different from a dedicated vocational education provider and that can manifest itself in the quality of the outcomes.
Simon Walker: (23:47)
Craig touched upon a good point. Industry has a very, very clear view about the differences in between what can come out of a school based VET program and what can come out of a traditional VET provider program. And they think VET in schools is wonderful. They like the idea that people are encouraged to go into a work based learning programs, but quality is of paramount importance to them. Because there's an expectation that someone who's done a VET course will have some direct applicability straight into the workforce and that's not always the case.
Craig Robertson: (24:25)
And this is a hot issue at the moment because the education council, which is a meeting of state and territory schools ministers. Have commissioned a review into post secondary pathways. And that's due to report I think in the middle of 2020. So all those issues will need to be considered by that review.
Steve Davis: (24:49)
And I believe there's an opening for people to contribute to that review isn't there?
Craig Robertson: (24:53)
Exactly right. They've gotten till about the middle of December I think.
Steve Davis: (24:57)
I want to leave on a forward looking note. As we look at the future, what changes do we need to embrace or further explore in relation to VET training packages including whether or not we need to move away from thinking in terms of packages, gentlemen?
Simon Walker: (25:13)
Well you are getting into the world of other forms of credentialing because that's what a qualification is. And you're already seeing it in some sectors. The reality is that if you're a high level IT application developer, having a certificate from Microsoft is probably as good a credential as you need. You don't need a certificate for an IT. I'm being a bit glib when I say that. But, where industry sees recognition in other types of credential they will. And they are not wedded necessarily to the formal accredited vocational education system.
Steve Davis: (25:51)
Craig Robertson: (25:52)
So from my viewpoint, there'll be a lot of industry players who would say, we've caused a real problem by using the term training packages. Because people make assumptions that they entail the curriculum assessments and everything like that. There'd be a number of people that would be turning around saying, why don't we just call them industry occupational standards and I would tend to agree with that.
Craig Robertson: (26:15)
So we defined the outcome and let the system head to that way. My only word of caution in that. Is this notion of trying to think that we create a one-to-one relationship for any qualification and an occupation. I just don't think the world of work is like that anymore and as Simon said earlier on, we've got to be big enough, brave enough. As a sector to say we need to really look at this seriously and set up some trials to actually see how it goes and I'm convinced. I'm totally, totally convinced. That there would be a return, particularly of school leavers back to the VET system. Because I could see that it's a learning model that suits them and gives them a broad range of options once they graduate.
Craig Robertson: (27:08)
It's also got an economic return of course, because you can then establish the capability within TAFEs and RTOs to deliver on those capabilities rather than have to think about how am I going to deliver differently across a thousand qualifications that in some cases some RTOs, particularly TAFE can have on their scope. So I just think it gives us great potential to really simplify the system and then really, really make sure that we can focus on quality through the teachers, through better curriculum and then a slightly different less a handle by regulation over the top of it.
Steve Davis: (27:50)
Craig, I'm an optimist at heart, so I've got to temper my expectations. I imagine TAFE itself as a big ship to turn around the whole VET sector is a big ship. What sort of patience do we need to be starting to expect some of what you're talking about to actually grip and and take effect?
Craig Robertson: (28:11)
It will need a bit of thinking. Part of our challenge at the moment is people can't think outside of our current training package and competency based model, but heck, in the mid 1980s when we were worried about industry restructuring and bringing down trade barriers and alike and we were worried about workers losing their jobs. We changed the approach. It's now 30 odd years on and I think we're big enough and balanced enough as a country that we can look about changing that again and so we've got to seriously look at where the entrenched interests in the model. And see how, will we try to break some of those interests down. And it's not about the interests of TAFE, it's not about the interest of providers, it's not about the interests of industry. In the end, we're competing in a global marketplace for skills and if we don't do something. I do worry that we will become a little bit marooned in a global marketplace for skills.
Simon Walker: (29:17)
Yeah, and I think the way to do that is to partner with people and stakeholders in specific areas where everybody wants to make the change. If you've got industry on side, if you've got training providers on side, then there's already the imperative to make some change and you just got to get the early adopters out there and trial this and pilot this and you'll get less resistance.
Steve Davis: (29:43)
Simon Walker. Thank you.
Simon Walker: (29:44)
Steve Davis: (29:45)
Craig Robertson. Thank you.
Craig Robertson: (29:46)
Steve Davis: (29:48)
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