Home | Opinion | The Industry View, part 1: skill standards – more than just a name

The Industry View, part 1: skill standards – more than just a name

One of the first priorities for the new National Cabinet Reform Committee on Skills, being the old Skills Ministers forum, is to identify a reform direction for Training Product Design and Development. In the first of four articles, I put forward industry’s view on what that reform could look like, and what path it should not go down.

These views have been developed by the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) in close consultation with our member associations. ACCI has over 80 association and state chambers as members, and over 25 of them have a strong interest in vocational education and training (VET) covering sectors such as construction, plumbing, electrical, retail, hospitality, surveyors, air conditioning mechanics, and pharmacy. 

Training products which underpin VET delivery, including the guidelines to develop them, have become increasingly complex. We need to return the tool to its fundamental use, which is a set of skills standards that are needed to perform the jobs that currently exist, including jobs in transition, and those jobs identified as ones likely to exist in modern workplaces. This shift takes the focus away from a qualification-led approach to VET and returns it to a focus on the occupations that are well served by skills developed in the VET system.

This approach to simplify what are currently called training packages could also potentially allow for innovative and differential approaches to curriculum and assessment at the training provider or jurisdictional level.

As a not unimportant starting point, we support a change of name from training packages to occupational skill standards, being skill standards appropriately grouped into occupational skill standards when they reflect a job role or series of closely connected job roles.

The current term ‘training package’ does not adequately describe the role these core elements play, and indeed can be misleading. The vocational system is purposely not curriculum-based at the national level. A system based on skill standards delivers a focus on outcomes and reinforces its practical and relevant approach to modern workplaces.  

There is also confusion between the language of training product and training package, with them often used interchangeably when one is a subset of the other. In addition, the term accredited course is confusing, as most stakeholders would believe, with some justification, that all approved VET is accredited.

It is recommended that the terminology be changed as follows:

  • Training Packages should be called Occupational Skill Standards reflecting the job facing nature of the skill standards.
  • The term Training Products, currently incorporating training packages and accredited courses, could remain unchanged.
  • Accredited courses (which do not currently go through an industry development process) and are approved by Australian Skills Quality Authority directly, should be called Supplementary Accredited Courses or something similar. This would reflect the primary role for accredited courses being to meet immediate needs not yet incorporated into industry standards. Approval of supplementary accredited courses could switch to the Australian Industry & Skills Committee, reflecting the need to better integrate these supplementary courses with occupational skill standards.

An appropriate period of transition to accept and incorporate the terminology would be expected.

This recommendation is more than just about names. It is about improving the understanding of the system in the most fundamental way and reflecting industry’s main role in training product development being to identify the jobs that exist and are forecast to exist in their sector, the skills and knowledge needed including the level of skill to perform the jobs and the way those skills can be demonstrated in order to prove competency.

By simplifying training packages and focusing on skill standards, and their packaging into occupational skill standards, the system:

  • Needs to still allow Industry Reference Committees to set requirements relating to qualifications and their appropriate level, methods of assessment, delivery models such as apprenticeships and workplace experience. 
  • While focusing on skills needed for jobs, would be able to embrace skill standards and skill sets which may be added to existing jobs, or for a job in transition. They would also embrace non-technical skills.
  • Allow for skill standards (units) and skill sets to exist without the need for them to be included in a qualification. This deals with issues around orphan units and allows for skill standards and skill sets to be developed in such areas as foundation skills without the need for a non-job facing qualification. As a next step, it also creates a platform for relationship with the general capabilities framework which is currently being developed. 
  • Allows for the continued link as required between the industrial awards and levels of occupational skill standards. In the 1990s, this link drove the rapid expansion of VET and formalised career paths within awards that were previously obscure or non-existent. 

In part 2 of this series to be published next Wednesday, I will discuss the push by a number of non-industry stakeholders, including some governments, to broaden VET qualifications away from focusing on particular jobs and explain why this would not be a good idea. 

Jenny Lambert is director, employment and skills, at the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

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One comment

  1. Interesting piece. I look forward to the following parts.
    We keep hearing how awful Training Packages are but I’m still waiting for details of what will replace them.

    The names do not really bother me but it continues to amaze me how often critical aspects of the VET architecture get left out of these discussions. The biggest elephant in the room is the $6bn+ of taxpayers money that is spent in the system.
    Anyone can train anyone in anything at a full market price. It only becomes interesting when we start to look at how much ‘rent’ is available via governments to pay for / subsidise training to provide ‘industry’ with the workforce they desire. Or from the other side of the coin (pun intended) how much money is available to assist / encourage potential or upskilling employees to train.

    There is certainly a role for taxpayer support in work force development. The real question is how that system of support is designed and implemented to best drive Australian competitiveness on the global stage.

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