Seven Reasons Why Australian Vocational Education Must Change

The Federal Government is currently formulating policy for the VET sector – here are some controversial points for them to consider.

Changing Market Need

Australian businesses need to be export focused as the national market is relatively small market and dispersed population.  To compete globally businesses need to be innovative and focused on a niche of value adding in the global supply chain, read article.

To be competitive in that niche, Australian companies need to be innovative in releasing new products to the global market, yet Australian business has fallen behind significantly.  For example 30% of European companies, even 20% of New Zealand companies release new products to the global market – Australia only 2% – that is woeful – read article.

The doom and gloom as Australia loses multiple large scale value adding industries such as the Car Industry and the Aluminium Smelters at Gove and Geelong masks the underlying success of many small to medium businesses that are growing.  For example the Australian Manufacturing sector has over 50,000 small to medium businesses employing less than 200 people.  Whilst not all are succeeding, there are gems that are – read article for more information.

One characteristic is common amongst the small to medium sized companies -“we employ people for their heads as much as their hands”.

That characteristic is extremely insightful as it infers that they want trained and educated people able to add knowledge or skills to their business.

The question is does the VET sector support this need?  Does the VET sector provide the level of training and education to support small to medium enterprise growth?

Devalued Training

The Australian Car industry – major manufacturers died a slow and painful death, despite billions being poured in by the Government.  The focus of public debate was on more Government bail outs – debate did not focus on why don’t Australians buy Australian made cars?  That was the truth – Australians simply increasingly did not buy Australian made cars.

The same question needs to be posed of the VET sector.  Why is it that unless the VET qualification course is Government funded – i.e. it costs the employer and employee nothing – they won’t do the qualification course?  The reason is that people both business and students increasingly just don’t see that value in them.  The vast majority of training qualifications in Australia, over two thirds, are for compliance courses.  Courses that people must undertake to do their job, rather than courses that add broader application knowledge.

If something costs me nothing – that is what I value it at!

RTO’s have Devalued Training

I made a decision early in my career to invest in myself by undertaking post graduate education.  I made the decision to pay for it myself (both in time and money) and commit to learning and getting the best results I could, in order to gain a return through improved employment prospects.

The other day driving in the Car I heard a radio advertisement for a Diploma in 12 weeks, then around two days later a fax arrives in the Office announcing a Diploma with nothing down – and the government will pay!

Think about it – not one mention of what you will learn.  How that learning will help you or help your business!  Just a simple focus on cheap and quick – effectively devaluing training.

These RTO cowboys need to be driven out of the market.  They undermine the value of training for all, so much so that whether it’s a Company or Individuals the basis of inquiries are how quick and does the Government pay for it all.  The low cost business model they operate on is more often than not based on “tick and flick” – the objective being churning people through not teaching people.

Businesses Want Knowledge

Inquiries particularly from companies are we have a training need and can you help?  Yes we can if it’s in the area of Logistics Risk our subject matter expertise – here is the qualification content but it may not attract a subsidy.  The majority of companies will respond we don’t care about the qualification or government subsidy – we want our people to know something and be able to apply it.  We see it as adding value to our business.

So like my point early I invested in myself by in time and money because I saw it as delivering a return through better employment prospects.  Companies are prepared to do the same, pay for their people to be trained – it is just that the VET qualifications don’t line up with the Companies expectations of value.

VET Qualifications Missing the Value

I am aware of an RTO, who was pinged on their RTO accreditation audit for not having the labels on the spines of their folders around the right way.  Serious that is not a joke.  But did you know – the auditors did not check what they actually taught, the content of their teaching!

So we have a situation in Australia where the focus for RTO accreditation is administrative compliance – not what they teach?

Hmm, I thought the purpose of training was to teach people?

Subject Matter Expertise

I recently attended a DG course taught by another organisation.  Even though it was over the weekend, the instructor was brilliant.  Why because he was like a walking talking authority on the subject, he knew it, knew the practical examples and applications in the industry.  Now to me that was real VET training.

The RTO’s and TAFE’s that have real subject matter expertise – add value to the students, their employer’s and ultimately the nation.  Subject Matter Expertise comes from being engaged in the industry, focusing on the area and its practical application and then transferring that knowledge and passion to students.  It’s not about cheap and nasty – it’s about education.  The University sector wants their Lecturers to publish or perish, in other words be actively researching and engaging with the target industries.

The VET sector needs it’s trainers from RTO’s and TAFE to do the same, but with a greater focus on practicality.

I.e. Universities teach why – the VET sector teaches how.

Lift Standards

Social inclusion has been a key theme of VET training.  I.e. how do we allow people with say poor literacy or numeracy skills to have the same access to a qualification?  Ok, in principal that is fair, but the application has been wrong.   We have lowered the bar rather than invest in helping people to rise up to the standards.

Here is a real example.  An RTO that was teaching management – had a requirement that student’s research and idea and then present it to the group.  The auditors went to town; you cannot make people present because some people don’t feel comfortable doing it.

Ok – go back to basics – managers have to present to their teams, peers or bosses on ideas – its standard management 101.  So why shouldn’t the RTO include presenting their idea to the syndicate, its helps increase their skills.  If a person can’t well there are remedial things that can be done to help them, let’s do that rather than dumb down the value of the training.

Bring Back Competition

In today’s world every kid’s a winner in sport; we don’t want competition because some kids might lose.  I think we have all shed a tear for seeing a disappointed child’s face at some point in our lives.  But the answer isn’t cutting out competition.  Winning and losing in life and business is just part of life, and the longer they are sheltered from it the harder it is for them to cope with the reality of life.

It is the same with training, competition needs to be re-introduced, and presently it’s either Competent or Not Yet Competent.

This merely encourages mediocrity, do the bare minimum to get the Competent – as no incentive to do more.

Bringing back grades – A to E (fail) is needed to create an incentive for trainees to strive to do their best.  To obtain a sense of pride and achievement in what they have done.

The Future of the VET

The Government should consider the VET sector as a vital part of the nation’s productivity investment, and:

  • Focus on lifting standards;
  • Making the qualifications really valued by students and organisations;
  • Funding TAFE’s to deliver generalised training, and
  • And focusing RTO’s on areas of specialist subject matter expertise.

It’s time for the VET sector to become a valued part of Australian education.

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Mike Wood

Mike is qualified in both Civil and Mechanical Engineering, with Post Graduate qualifications in Logistics and Business Administration and is a qualified RABQSA/Exemplar auditor. The initial phase of his career involved public roads and transportation authorities in technical and management roles with both VicRoads and the Victorian Ministry of Transport and designed Melbourne’s time public transport system Mike then moved into private industry and over several years, held General Manager positions with major logistics service providers with turnovers in excess of $500 million. As his expertise and knowledge grew he moved into consulting and became Principal Consultant with Dawson Consulting, one of the largest Supply Chain and Logistics consulting companies in Australia Mike is now Managing Director of LATUS Business Solutions, which is a highly regarded Business Improvement practice, operating in 3 major area; • Supply Chain & Logistics design; • Compliance implementation & management; • Risk analysis& Safety management • Leading training provider (RTO) in the area of Lean Logistics & Business He has been a Director of transport and logistics industry associations in Queensland and Victoria.

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