Home | Opinion | The Industry View, part 4: improving training product development

The Industry View, part 4: improving training product development

In this fourth and final part of the series on industry’s view of training product design and development, we discuss how the development process can be improved without throwing the whole system out yet again.

Importantly, and despite the current trials on skills organisations, across industry there is no substantial appetite for complete upheaval of the current structure given that it has only been a few years since the last major change, and we are only now seeing that system bed down. 

Significant further improvement in industry engagement and speed to market of training products can be achieved by upgrading the existing system rather than replacing. Here are some suggestions.

Industry bodies need to have a greater say as to who sits on IRCs. In amongst the positive stories, there are too many complaints about IRCs being dominated by self-interested suppliers or providers or chairs who have been there too long or are no longer well connected to industry. 

While recognising the importance of Skills Service Organisations’ (SSO) experience and competence, there needs to be a reinforcement that the Industry Reference Committees direct the work of the SSOs and not the other way around. 

The IRC is the voice of industry in relation to their remit. Better responsiveness is needed from the SSOs to the concerns raised by the IRCs.  Although the department is the contract holder, the SSOs serve the IRCs and their success should be measured by IRC satisfaction as well as timeliness and quality of work. SSOs are not industry bodies in their capacity as SSOs.   

To reinforce the customer relationship, it needs to be made clearer that IRCs can request to be serviced by another SSO if they believe the relationship is not working for them. The SSO model was designed as a competitive one but it can only work in this way if the customer has choice.  

This design feature was intended to overcome one of the biggest failings of the previous Industry Skills Council model, where the ISCs received their substantial funding regardless of the quality of the service and achievement of outcomes. 

IRCs and SSOs need to have sufficient quality resources to undertake their responsibilities to develop and consult. It was very disappointing a few years ago to see the allocation of funds to the IRCs significantly reduced, when at the same time many IRCs were seeking more financial resources to undertake and inform their work.

There needs to be better information flow to IRCs including from ASQA and the NCVER about how the qualifications in their packages are being used, including issues of quality and misuse.

As part of an important effort to improve the expertise and outcomes from the IRCs, the Australian Industry & Skills Committee needs to provide clear guidance about how to approach simplification within the packages, the bundling of units into qualifications and the common units earmarked for development, which are or will be available for use within packages. 

Most importantly, and as a reinforcement of the message covered in Parts 1 & 2 of this series, the IRCs need to be clear that their first job is to identify and update the occupations in their industry and then to update the competency units (skill standards) that relate to each job role. 

To improve speed to market, the role of minor amendments to training packages should be broadened to allow necessary changes to packages to take place at the IRC level, with some AISC oversight, subject to an agreed process of industry consultation. 

These minor amendments can be adopted by RTOs at their option without compulsion. This way, rapid industry change can be reflected in training delivery by the nimbler providers without forcing major change on every provider. This is a preferable approach to the push to have complete packages updated every 18 months – which is the current suggestion – which would be expensive and have major implications for the cost of training delivery. 

These suggestions are just some of the recommendations that have been made in ACCI submissions, and with proper consultation by the AISC, there would be other ideas that would greatly improve the development system without turning it upside down. 

Skills Organisations

Speaking of turning a system upside down, it would be incomplete to put forward industry’s view on training product development without making comment on the decision to trial the concept of Skills Organisations which was tabled by Steven Joyce in his VET Review.

Lessons have been learnt over two decades which have seen the shift from Industry Training Advisory Boards to Industry Skills Councils and now to IRCs/SSOs that “dividing” a complex economy with multiple stakeholders into functioning groups is challenging to say the least – both in a practical and political sense. I am sure that many who have been around long enough to live through these transition processes have the scars to prove it.

From the outset, scepticism has been expressed by a large number of industry stakeholders as to how the Skills Organisations construct would work, and most importantly how the large investment in three pilots is scalable across all industries. 

It is essential that no further funds are invested in this approach beyond what has already been committed until:

  • The concept has been proven and package upgrades are demonstrated to have been undertaken more efficiently and with greater industry support than the current model.
  • We implement recommendations to upgrade the existing system to improve the industry engagement and speed to market. 
  • That a clear and workable plan is developed of how the Skills Organisation concept scales up to cover the whole economy and what the cost of that will be. 
  • Evaluation of existing skills organisations has been undertaken and benefits are established.

The final word

It is to be hoped that these four articles are, in fact, not the final word on training product design and development reform and that it sparks more industry stakeholders – employers and unions alike – to speak out against the concerning direction that non-industry actors are taking VET.

We need to say clearly, and collectively, to Skills Ministers and those that advise them that industry does not want a system of broad-based VET qualifications that are only updated if there are enrolments as this approach demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of the importance of updating occupational skill standards for all job roles and developing training based on those standards. 

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

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