When my kids were small, I had a roster of the jobs they had to do each day. They would record their completion, get a gold star and, if their jobs were done for the week, they received their pocket money. However, I used to also have a bonus scheme. If you did more than was asked of you, demonstrated initiative, or went above and beyond simply completing the job, I gave a bonus. Sometimes it was more money, sometimes it was a special treat – but the point was to demonstrate that there were advantages to doing more than the bare minimum.
What saddens me about what I see happening in the VET system is that a compliance culture has led to a focus on just ‘doing the minimum’. There is no desire to reach for that ‘bonus’. SkillsIQ has a training package team that answers queries from training providers, and the most common focus of those queries is “Do we have to do (this or that) to be compliant?’’ In the companion volumes for training packages there are industry recommendations on things like duration and delivery modes, and this information exists to describe industry’s expectations and what it defines as ‘best practice’.
Why is this not mandated in the training packages themselves? Well, it’s a recognition that there is a national competency-based system and that not every circumstance is the same. For instance, sometimes people are already working in roles with high existing skills levels and are simply looking to obtain formal recognition of their skills. Unfortunately, this flexibility within the system is what often gets abused.
In the Certificate III in Individual Support Worker qualification, for example, we see training providers who work closely with employers, packaging the qualification to deliver training in the skills that employers want and that employees need, and helping employers to support the 120 hours of work experience that the employees require to obtain the qualification. As a result, many of their students end up with jobs at the end – and if not for that same employer then for one who has similar needs. In this scenario, everyone wins, because the employer wants to continue working with the provider; the provider is able to advertise its success in supporting real employment outcomes; and the students are winners as they now have jobs they have been well trained to do!
However, what we see much more of are the providers that do the minimum. They spend a fortune on advertising, incentives and web optimisation in order to get as many students as they can on the premise that there are “lots of jobs in this sector”. They then deliver a package made up of the most easily-delivered elective units combined with the core and delivered as cheaply as possible, often online. So the electives that were designed to give flexibility to industry (to be responsive to what individual employers need most) are instead packaged at the lowest possible cost to deliver, and are invariably not a cohesive mix. Couple this with a requirement for the poor student to go and source 120 hours of work experience off their own bat (sometimes having to actually pay for that experience) and it’s not hard to recognise that these are the same providers who are calling us and asking us to tell them what the minimum requirement is to get a ‘compliance tick’!
Imagine if the leadership of these organisations instead did what good providers do and spent their money on quality delivery, working with employers and delivering great training outcomes instead of sales leads. We know it can be done, because there are great examples of both public and private providers who do it. What we need to do is educate both learners and employers on what ‘good’ looks like, and that it’s not necessarily what’s on the side of a bus, or a train station billboard, or on your Facebook feed.
We must demand a VET system that rewards more than just achieving the compliance minimum – so that those who do more than the bare minimum get a really public gold star!