40 multi-discipline ways to fix the Australian Voc. EDUCATION and TRAINING system

Copyright 2015

For Private individual use. All rights reserved. Work in progress.

Updated version, originally published as Really reforming VET – February 2015

Intellectual Property of Dr. Bruce D. Watson, DEd Melbourne and attributed authors as noted.

Published: http://www.academia.edu

In an astonishingly frank article, Robin Ryan (2008: 11) who was involved in the development of marketisation policies in VET, argues that these policies were developed on the basis of little evidence. ( Evidence free policy, Campus Review, 17 November 2008, 11)
Whoever opened the voc. ed. and training market up in the way demonstrated, needs to take responsibility for this mess. [Bruce D. Watson, 2015]
The truth is the reforms so far are not in education but in economics. [Bruce D. Watson, 2015]

The greatest frustration for those of us in Voc. Ed/TAFE at the time of the introduction of privatisation knew the current issues were predictable when privatisation of education was first mooted. Education and learning is not a product. The trainees/learners have direct input to achieve the outcomes – it can’t be purchased. [Bruce D. Watson, 2015]

Vocational education and training has been around since the Mechanics Institutes and Technical Schools System – back in the 1800s. Though the name changed, it is the more recent market model and privatisation of the last decades that stopped VET working. Publicly, we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg in terms of what is destroying voc. ed. & training. [Bruce D. Watson, 2015]

We need an education system that is equitable – not necessarily equal. It must be devoid of silos, rich in partnerships that bring together the corporate, academic, research, not-for-profit, community and education sectors to design a model that best suits the students in their care. [Dan Haesler]

Q. How should a vocational education and training system be (really) reformed?

A. By using good evidence, rather than political and corporate/business spin doctoring and individuals’ subjective opinions (who have a clear conflict of interest – such as making a profit).

1. Fundamental changes urgently required at multiple levels

* In the next 10 – 15 years, Training Packages will be the least of our and industry’s concerns; they will largely be so outdated and irrelevant, and so will other related Australian voc. ed. and training products. Meaningless archives of a bygone era when voc. EDUCATION and TRAINING was “industry-led”.

* The “industry-led”; largely status quo approach and more band-aid fixes are not going to allow Australia even to aspire to being a world class voc. ed. and training system, let alone actually be one.

* From a broader developmental perspective, due to the close relationship between voc. ed. and training and society, economics and employment, the “interdisciplinary” research field relating to voc. ed. and training should have been expanding day by day, beyond the “industry-led” conceptualisation.

* There needs to be change at multiple levels, it is irresponsible to simply shift responsibility resting with RTOs to ASQA and allow RTOs to pretend that there is no major, systemic problem. Members and beneficiaries of the industry-led “Vocational EDUCATION and Training Industry” system need to take self responsibility for monitoring too. It is about membership and ownership of the “industry” that they belong to.

* Policies to improve the education and training must focus on building a more comprehensive system that maximises the return on public and private investments in work-force development.

2. Adopt a multi-disciplinary, evidence-based approach

*Reject self-professed, subjective “VET experts” (especially those with conflicts of interest such as profit making), and adopt a multi-disciplinary, evidence-based approach. No-one knows everything.

* Employers often lack effective strategies for acquiring and developing skilled workers—they lack information about skill needs, face hiring constraints, fail to invest in training, and do not view the education system as a potential resource.

3. New Philosophy of VET

* There is evidence then that we need to review the philosophies, the people and the processes of national V.E.T. reform to ensure that we are all on the same track and that resources are allocated to the right kinds of community based projects and programs not just industry and government based programs. V.E.T. reform must now be seen within the broader context of urban, regional and rural community development.

4. Change the policy development context

* The Australian public policy context tends to address social issues through government policies rather than collective action and business involvement. Where social issues are managed by governments, business involvement in community development is allowed in codified form and enforced through mandatory legislated provisions. The wisdom of the community always exceeds the knowledge of the experts.

* Policies to broaden and develop social protection coverage are needed in light of the changing nature of work.

* Teaching, learning, achievement and feedback in vocational education have become synonymous in the eyes of everyone in colleges, including teachers, learners, managers and inspectors. Assessment has replaced learning as the major function of vocational education. As a result, students are “achieving” more but learning less.

* The Australian pattern of innovation is, arguably, more dependent on VET skills than other OECD nations. It has a low share of R&D to GDP, especially business R&D and it has a much higher share of low-medium technology manufacturing industry. Conversely, its innovation expenditures are heavily weighted to investment in equipment and software.The dominant form of innovation is incremental and particularly oriented to the adoption and adaptation of products, processes and services developed locally by other firms and industries or sourced from overseas. That has to change.

* Labour regulation must be adapted to new diverse forms of employment that are inevitable in the next 10 to 15 years.

5. Responsible business community role

* Responsible business behaviour in Australia is primarily seen as a legal obligation in compulsory areas, such as workplace health and safety provisions. This perspective has narrowed Australia’s approach to responsible business practice and appears to have exacerbated a lack of interest in the role of business in community development.

* Companies that have big impacts on communities and their quality of life increasingly recognise that there is both an ethical imperative and a sound business case for focusing on sustainable community development. Implement policy that businesses must embrace concerning social responsibilities and not be solely focused on maximizing profits.

*Introduce a formal “Social Licence” to operate a VET business.

6. Agreed definition of “industry”

* Determine and Apply an agreed System-wide definition/conception of “industry”, however, consider all of the beneficiaries and stakeholders – not just industry.

7. Definition of VET consistent with international view

* Determine and Apply an agreed System-wide definition/conception of “vocational education and training” or rename it altogether.

8. Better and all encompassing System engagement and thinking

* Lift the standard of opinion, comment and debate in the VET System by engaging with all stakeholders and beneficiaries (e.g., trainees, trainers/educationists) – not just “industry” and employers.

* Decouple the institutional and programmatic constructions of VET identity. This gives VET institutions a broader role and it would greatly improve access to higher education for people distant from a comprehensive higher education campus. It also it has the potential to improve access to senior higher education institutions.

9. Collaborative – led VET System

* Establish a Collaborative-led VTE System – including ways to determine and predict as best as possible, what employment opportunities exist post training, not just market-determined spin and propaganda.

* Some of the most common traits of existing closed ideology echo chambers include lack of plurality, lack of debate, tribalism (” us and them” mentalities), censorship and the punishment of heretical thoughts or actions.

* Appoint a Chief VTE Educationist (not ombudsman) to start drawing the current factions together from across all jurisdictions.

10. Institutes of TAFE front and centre

* Repair the damage and rebuild Institutes of TAFE to ensure people in rural and and more remote areas have equal opportunity for VET training and qualifications, together with a recognition of the important role they take with respect to community engagement and community development – rarely a role taken up by private providers accept some not-for- profit private RTOs.

* Private RTOs are not well placed to fill holes in provision created by the withdrawal of TAFE from both certain activities and localities. In many cases, private providers lack the relevant capacity and the vagaries of the funding system, as governments struggle to contain costs, are not conducive to long term planning and investment.

* Under current settings, many TAFEs risk becoming residualised, needing “special assistance” to cover declining revenues. This runs counter to the logic of “marketisation” and it runs counter to Australia’s economic and social interests.

The capability and reach of the VET system is being rundown and what is now a diverse and polychromatic system will be reduced to a disturbingly homogenous and monochromatic system.

11. Establish and fund Centres of Vocational Excellence (CoVE)

* CoVEs must offer specialist higher vocational education based on skills needs set up and set up to address the need to compete in a global economy and tackle social inclusion. The aim is to replace competition between training providers with strategic planning based on partnerships between public and private providers and between colleges and schools, guided by a collaborative stakeholder voice – not just ‘industry’!

12. New vocationalism

* Old Vocationalism is that which is orientated towards the expressed needs of graduate employers/’industry’. It typically involves listening to employers’/’industry’ words about what they want most to see in new graduates and then making room for that in the curriculum. At the heart of the Old Vocationalism is the development of employability skills.

* Establish and implement a New Vocationalism – approach graduate employability focused on the capacity and disposition of graduates to learn – differentiated it from the ‘old vocationalism’ of specific workforce skills.

13. Change the name

* Drop the VET (“animals”, “war veterans”) “brand” – change it to VTE (or something else to avoid misleading and confusing acronyms

14. Drop the open market, privatisation and marketisation model overall

* Drop the marketing and privatisation model for voc. ed. and training and return to a community service model. A service delivery model relates to the range of services the voc. ed. and training system might deliver to the community and how things are organised to deliver those services.

* An open market puts the needs of companies above the needs of consumers. Lack of ideal conditions makes the open market mechanism ineffective. the perfect conditions required are possible only in theory.

* A laser focus on profits is threatening the very underpinnings and viability of VET.

* Not everyone ascribes to the winner takes all philosophy. Germany, for example, has taken a much more circumspect approach. Over the last 25 years, the social market economy has offered a genuine alternative to the Anglo-centric infatuation with liberalisation. Reunification provided Germany with a real-life experiment in the balancing of social and economic goals; and Enquete Commission’s study on growth, prosperity and quality of life (to be published later this year) betrays a genuine desire to engage in alternative visions of social progress.

15. Expect employers to contribute financially to Vocational Educational Education and training

* A very different approach is needed: one where employers are not just consumers of skills, but are part of the system, including funding contribution, for producing them – not just in telling the System ‘what they want’ but in providing some funding, opportunities for new grads to get work experience and learn the relevant expertise.

* Even if it can be shown that an occupation is in skill shortage at a national or sectoral level, the onus should still always be on each individual employer to provide evidence of what they have done to fill a position from Australian.

16. Level playing field funding model

* Take into account the different training and education needs of rural and metropolitan contexts. Increasingly local /regional relationships based on partnership and collaboration are central elements in VET program planning and delivery. Social policy objectives remain important elements in VET provision.

17. Drop the corporatised/industry model of education

* Implement community service management practices. Education and trainees are not commodities or products.

18. Stop funding free enterprise profits with public monies

* Stop funding free enterprise profits with public monies.

* Determine and adopt funding models that take into account Private and Public RTOs Legislative responsibilities – not one-size-fits-all.

19. Require Private RTOs to be not-for-profit organisations and utilise the existing Laws, Standards, Financial Auditing, etc. that apply to not-for-profit incorporated associations.

* By Law, any (modest) surplus/profit must be put back into the organisation, not the pockets of Directors.

20. Apply higher governance standards to RTOs so that the commercial interests of owners are separated from educational decisions which are made by an academic board.

* This governance model already applies to private colleges which offer university-level courses.

21. Deal with increasing complexity while finding a balance

* Using funding to alter the behaviour of users (encouraging individuals and companies to invest into learning) increases significantly the complexity of funding mechanisms, as well as the task of those who “play” on these mechanisms.

* Reducing complexity for employers can often be achieved at the price of increasing it significantly for training providers. Implementation of improved coordination and regulatory or governance mechanisms (“coordinated flexibility”) that allow higher level flexibility while preserving social control.

22. Restructure VET- Fee Help to protect learners/trainees from public debt not agreed to.

23. Reduce the number of Private RTOs

* Reduce the number of Private RTOs – Allow each provider to develop its own qualifications and require them to be accredited by a qualifications authority. This is the model used in higher education to accredit qualifications offered by non-self accrediting higher education institutions. This will quickly reduce the number of VET providers by a couple of thousand. Only providers that are serious and have the necessary resources and capacity would develop their own qualifications. It would create a system in qualifications, rather than a market for the price charged for qualifications, which only drives down fees and quality.

* Smaller Private RTOs need to amalgamate or enter into specialist contracts with Institutes of TAFE – this is necessary by the business concept/fact of economy of scale. Why have 5,000 Private RTOs with individual administration and reporting systems to be checked for compliance?

* If too small to be viable according to economy of scale, Private RTOs should get out of the voc. ed. and training “business”.

24. The re-establishment of training opportunities directly linked to employment opportunities

* As per business supply and demand models, continue to provide no guarantee of continued subsidised training simply based on ‘market forces’ and what students want to do – particularly high profit low investment courses. The ‘market forces’ apply to what people want to do, not necessarily what is actually needed.

* All courses can still be available subject to normal administrative requirements as full fee courses.

* Many employers want a cheap employee (‘cheapie’). Where analysis indicates there is not a supply deficiency, the occupations should be taken off skill supply.

* The development of more sophisticated forecasting and skills analysis capacities should be used to complement labour market testing; they are not a substitute for labour market testing.

25. Utilise and adapt existing structures for provision of VET

* Consider using existing Statewide and Nationwide community assets and organisations, such as Neighbourhood Houses (not-for-profit organisations), as accredited and funded as RTOs as “the norm” for delivering a range of locally relevant (not just market-led) VET courses – e.g., Aged Care in Upper Yarra Valley with e-learning innovation.

* Transition and recurrent funding to ensure Neighbourhood Houses can easily meet ASQA Standards

* Develop shared roles, such as Compliance Managers, for groups of Neighbourhood Houses to reduce duplication of costs and ensure consistency

*Actively fund collaborative ventures between Neighbourhood Houses and Institutes of TAFE

26. Drop Training Packages (including Train the Trainer)

* The significance of both behavioural psychology and systems theory
for the development of Competency Based Training is explicitly acknowledged by McDonald (1974: 17), – behavioural education concepts and systems theory both take a one-size-fits all view. That makes CBT dubious especially when restricted to specific work tasks. It is a self perpetuating problem because VET Trainers are trained (train the trainer) using CBT too.

* Replace Training Packages with Capabilities Frameworks (or something else that reduces the bureaucratic and administrative load so documentation can be kept up to date) to achieve broader transferable outcomes for trainers/learners/trainers.

* Documenting and understanding capabilities may inform the development of units of competency but the two are not interchangeable. The relationship between competency and capability can be observed in a competency model adapted from the work of Trichet and Leclere as shown in Diagram 1.


[The model focuses] on how to represent competency as a rich data structure. The heart of this model is to treat knowledge, not as possession, but as a contextualised multidimensional space of capability either actual or potential. The …model…involves three important elements: an orientation towards and focus upon activity-based teaching and learning
the identification and integration of appropriate subject matter content within a broader teaching and learning context represented by a hierarchy of competencies
the straightforward identification of the assessment that would demonstrate successful teaching and learning

Competency Competence: describes what individuals know or are able to do in terms of knowledge, skills and attitudes at a particular point in time

Source: In this context, a person who provides “the competency”, for instance a healthcare worker.

Proficiency level: Degree of mastery of a skill or area of knowledge

Capability: The sum of expertise and capacity. Describes the extent to which an individual can apply, adapt and synthesise new knowledge from experience and continue to improve his or her performance

Subject matter content:  Knowledge, skills, attitudes, attributes

Taxonomy: In this competency model taxonomy is a classification hierarchy of capabilities; a framework for correlating educational attainment with evidence of qualities that relate to abilities relevant to the performance of work roles.

Evidence: In this context, evidence may be thought of as successful teaching and learning outcomes including summative assessment.

Tool: In this context, it may be thought of as formative assessment and teaching methodologies

Situation: Context

27. Deliberately implement requirements of well-being policy and procedures for managers, trainers, support staff and trainees in public and private RTOs.

* Just feeling good is not good enough for a good life. There are several theories of well-being which try to co-exist together under a relatively broad concept of eudaimonia: a Greek word, which refers to a state of having a good indwelling spirit or being in a contented state of being healthy, happy and prosperous. In moral philosophy, it is used to refer to the right actions as those that result in the well-being of an individual.

28. Do not implement contestable models maintenance

* Do not tender for development of “Competencies/Capabilities” development and maintenance – involve highly skilled people, including educationists, broad networks of VET System stakeholders/beneficiaries and direct consultation, not just invitations to comment or complete a survey.

29. Reduce the number of VET qualifications

* Reduce the number of qualifications. There are too many, too specialised (narrow) courses with low enrolments.

30. Drop “under-pinning” knowledge, deliberately include “knowledge”

* accept and implement a balance of theory and experience – ‘real’ knowledge not “under-pinning knowledge” (interpreted as not directly to be taught).

* Get over the “Theory” versus “Experience” argument. Both are needed.

* The displacement of theoretical knowledge from training packages in VET reinforces the second-class status of VET and contributes to de-professionalising and deskilling teachers’ work.


31. Recognise that Education and VET are expertise in their own right

* Get over the “Academic” versus “Practitioner” argument. Both are needed.

* Recognition by all that “education” is an expertise in itself.

* Recognition by all that “vocational education and training” is an expertise in itself.

* Dump the TAE Certificate IV in Assessment and Workplace Training – Educate and Train VTE Trainers beyond the current minimum compliance level – they must be educationists with knowledge and expertise in education, training and assessment concepts and practice.

32. Make vocational education andragogy/heutagogy part of the VET System

andragogy: the method and practice of teaching adult learners; adult education.

heutagogy: it is the learner who should be at the centre of their own learning, and hence that ‘learning’ should not be seen as teacher-centric or curriculum-centric, but learner-centric. (1) Since the theory was first launched in 2000 it has become accepted as a practical proposition with its approach being particularly suitable in e-learning environments. Recent (post-2010) research into brain plasticity indicates that the approach can be useful in increasing learning capability.

33. Make VET System deliberately multicultural friendly

* Multicultural education is not a discrete learning area, or simply the provision of Languages and English as an Additional Language (EAL).

* Multicultural education makes sure that all students have access to inclusive teaching and learning experiences. These experiences will allow students to successfully take part in a rapidly changing world where cross-cultural understanding and intercultural communication skills are essential.

34. Make whole VET System (public and private RTOs) deliberately Learners with disability friendly

* Learners with disability should learn in inclusive environments to get the skills they need to successfully participate in the workforce and the wider community through a range of programs.

35. Make whole VET System (public and private RTOs) deliberately race, asylum seeker and refugee friendly

* Build in understanding of the lack of support and flexibility around VET provision for refugees in capitalist societies as potentially related to structures and discourses of white privilege which shape notions of work and workers in Europe, as it has been convincingly argued they do in countries such as the US and Australia.

36. Professional Development and Professional Learning by Trainers/Educationists

* PD strategies are needed to assist with the processes of energising teaching and training approaches applied in the VET sector.

* Without continual enlightenment of educators’ skills and knowledge in both the technical competency of their chosen discipline and in their teaching competencies, educators will become stagnant and fall behind in their professional practice.

* These concerns need to be taken into consideration when developing future PD strategies at a local and national level.

37. Make increasing learning capability an overall part of the VET System

* Teaching approaches that aim to develop pupils’ learning capabilities and show evidence of improved learning of trainees.

* There is a tension between approaches to learning skills which emphasise content – in terms of mastery of specific skills – and process – in terms of locating skills within an overall understanding of learning approaches. So that, in the short term the most effective means to improve performance where the assessment focuses on content knowledge is likely to be direct instruction. In the longer term, or where assessment focuses on conceptual understanding, metacognitive or strategic approaches are likely to be more effective.

* Effective approaches are those which explicitly develop awareness of learning strategies and techniques, particularly when these are targeted at the meta-cognitive level. The characteristics of these approaches identified by the review include:

* Structured tasks which focus on specific and explicit strategies in the subject context;

* Capacity in lessons for more effective exchanges between the learner and the teacher concerning the purpose of the activity;

* Small group interactions promoting articulation about the use of learning strategies;

* Mechanisms built into learning tasks to promote checking for mutual understanding of learning goals by peers and with the teacher;

* Enhanced opportunities for the learner to receive diagnostic feedback linked directly to the content of the task.
We can also identify some necessary conditions for these approaches to be successful:

* The teacher needs to have good understanding of the subject, of different approaches to learning and be sensitive to the demands of different types of learners;

* Teachers should have a repertoire of practical tools and strategies to guide the learner and enhance opportunities for feedback about learning;

* Both teachers and learners should have an orientation towards learning characterised by a willingness to engage in dialogue and negotiation regarding the intent and purpose of a particular teaching and learning activity;

* The focus of learning should be on how to succeed through effort rather than ability and through the selection of appropriate strategies by the learner. (Reference on request).

38. Regulation and Quality in the VET System

* Anyone can make a complaint to ASQA about a provider’s delivery of training and assessment. This page explains the complaints process for non-student complainants. http://bit.ly/1D3Oq6S

* Phrasing such as ‘the adoption and roll-out of national competency standards, training packages, and a new emphasis on assessment’ together with ‘the adoption of the New Apprenticeships system’ and ‘the development and roll-out of a quality framework’ implies a juggernaut of regulatory processes aimed at producing conformity of output standards – a production-line quality assurance system. It is notable that excellence of teaching does not feature here.

* In discussing an intangible asset, vocational teaching, learning and assessment, it can be observed that there is a stronger emphasis on ‘certain business outcomes – economy, efficiency, “value for money” and quantitative performance measurement – than on the purpose, organisation, quality or outcomes of the work being undertaken’ .

* Recent cases of ‘doggy’ RTOs should renew the importance of learning and knowledge creation and bring teaching, learning and assessment to a new, primary importance.

* To rely on ‘market mechanisms through informed consumer choice’ assumes that informed consumers will choose to enroll with quality providers, meaning the rogue provider will fail to attract customers and go out of business. This is a bald assumption and no evidence of where or how this has happened to date.

* Only when there is some consistency, and some agreement about conceptions of quality in VET, can we expect quality assurance mechanisms to be truly effective. The most obvious response is that they are intended to improve quality, where quality first needs to be defined.

* But often quality systems are developed for purposes of accountability, to recognise which institutions or programs are strong or weak, and then to reward the strong or punish the weak perhaps through reduced or cancelled funding.

* Measures designed for accountability may not be appropriate for improvement, since they may not be detailed enough, or timely enough, or encouraging enough to lead to improvement. In quality systems driven by accountability, or in systems with punitive cultures surrounding them (as in the U.K. and the U.S.), institutions and instructors may spend more time ―gaming the system than they do on improvement.

* Implement social reporting and triple bottom line reporting.

* Allow individual States to continue their own Regulatory Authorities until they are satisfied that the National Regulator is up to speed and not going to cause a drop in overall quality at the State level. States must have input to National Regulation directly and not as tokenism.

39. Review Vocational Education and Training Legislation and Standards in line with above

* Making Laws – http://bit.ly/1bfKcDk

40. During the transition to “NEW VET”, reinvigorate the global provision of Australian VET programs off-shore with direct Government investment.


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