New ways to target quality – comment by CEO Craig Robertson

New ways to target quality – comment by CEO Craig Robertson

If a plane left Canberra for Perth by the most direct route but was off direction by just one degree, it would miss the airport by 51 kilometres. 

A rocket to the moon is more exacting. Just one degree off target has it passing by the moon by 6,406 kilometres – or over two moon-widths.

The exactitude of the destination demands good steering. This was the message from a report from NCVER this past week – Begin with the end: RTO practices and views on independent validation of assessment – a number of elements of the VET system need to be aligned to get to good assessment.

The Productivity Commission in its review of the National Agreement for Skills and Workforce Development Agreement recommended independent validation of assessment be explored, although qualified its use for areas where there is public benefit like aged care. The VET Reform Roadmap has senior officials considering a new industry endorsed system for independent, moderated and/or graded assessment. Trials underway in Victoria may inform a new approach.

Consider the flight path to quality assessment, given VET curriculum logic is based on an exact landing position for all graduates. I have written previously that the combination of elements, performance criteria, foundation skills, performance and knowledge, evidence and assessment conditions prescribed for a single unit of competency can easily add to 100 separate functions which must be assessed, documented and stored for audit. If a qualification usually comprises about 14 units, you can do the maths. The 58 units in plumbing literally must be sending trainers around the bend.

As of yesterday, there were 15,660 units in the national register, which means there are around 1,566,000 assessable functions in the national VET system.

If there is this degree of specification, it’s hard to see the need for independent validation. The clash in expectations is one of the key messages of the report:

Independent validation of assessment is driven by regulatory requirements, which can generate a compliance mentality, leading to over-assessment, but not necessarily better assessment practices or improved training.

The journey to quality assessment has logistic and logic barriers, especially with engaging with industry and employers.

Industry representatives say that assessment is the responsibility of providers, nor do they have the time or skills. The report concludes, “… does seem difficult to get direct engagement of industry in the development of assessment tools, usually devised by a subject matter expert and experts in assessment and training packages, or as independent validators.” As one provider commented – “They (employers) don’t want to be involved in the examinations − it’s hard to get them even to come along to a breakfast.”

As to the logic, the report says, “industry engagement can reveal shortcomings in the training package requirements.” Therefore, what extent is there for employers to vary the assessment elements given the specification of functions which much be assessed?  Where two or more employers are involved it is hard to see them agreeing to all the functions, whether they are in the unit or not.

Before the author of the report shoots me, it’s important to point out the purpose of the report was to examine the practices of RTOs in validation of assessment. I’m simply taking the analysis further. Nor am I debunking independent validation. If it is part of internal quality processes of a provider intent on continuous improvement, it is fantastic and would feature strongly in their self-assurance strategies.

The danger is regulatory over-reach. After all, senior officials have on their agenda – a new industry endorsed system for independent, moderated and/or graded assessment.

If senior officials decide that the answer to quality lies in the quality and assurance of assessment, which is a reasonable position to reach, there needs to be legitimate trade-offs. The obvious response is to de-clutter training specification and free-up delivery modes and options. This would take the system back to the true application of an outcomes-based philosophy embedded in the standards approach to qualification specification.

If, on the contrary, end design has industry in some form engaged in a determinative function in addition to training packages the bodies will need to be regulated. It is implausible to hold an RTO to account for assessment (after all they issue the testamur) if it can be over-ridden by any entity which is not equally regulated. Otherwise, fairness and appropriateness of the actions and decisions, which is the very essence of assessment, is lost. And, of course, who bears the cost needs to be dealt with.

The better answer surely is trust. Professor Valerie Braithwaite in her report All Eyes on Quality laments that quality assessment relies on ‘trust chains’, from occupational specification, to delivery, to assessment, to quality assurance by ASQA, and clearly ASQA can’t be there for every assessment. It is understandable for training package developers to insist on specifying delivery requirements given the rocky road of VET when it comes to quality. Mandated assessment adds new validation costs to training package costs, with little guarantee of improvement and little financial support if the history of VET funding is anything to go by.

How to engender trust? Offer it where it is deserved. There is little incentive in the system for providers to pursue quality in their own way, apart from the false promise that open competition creates room to stand-out on quality grounds. Exhibit 1 – VET FEE-HELP.

Begin with the end provides examples of good processes providers have in place now. And ASQA is offering self-assurance as the strategy to underpin this approach. So, it is feasible.

This  approach has more chances of landing on a quality outcome than more regulation. If the 4.2 million students in VET in 2019 accessed on average five units that’s 2.1 trillion pieces of functional evidence sitting within the system! I suspect that’s enough specification and regulation.

COVID-19 update: NSW and Victoria

In NSW all face-to-face training at TAFE campuses in Greater Sydney remains suspended under NSW Health restrictions to deal with the state’s COVID outbreak.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced on Saturday tough new restrictions including a ban on all building, renovation, construction and maintenance until July 30, with the exception of urgent repairs.

Only “critical” retail can remain open, including supermarkets, medical supply shops, pharmacies, petrol stations, banks, hardware stores and nurseries, agriculture supply stores, pet supply shops, post offices and newsagents.

All TAFE teaching in the Greater Sydney area (including the Blue Mountains, Central Coast, Shellharbour, and Wollongong) will either be transferred to virtual delivery or rescheduled until after the NSW Health restrictions are lifted.

TAFE NSW campuses in the Greater Sydney area remain open and students may attend to access technology or support services, including connecting to a virtual classroom.

Students who are onsite to access support services or technology need to check-in, socially distance, wear a mask and leave the campus as soon as their business is done.

Current restrictions are in place until, at least, July 30.

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Victoria moved to circuit breaker restrictions from 11:59pm Thursday 15 July.  There are five reasons to leave home:

  • food and supplies- limited to one person per day, per household
  • authorised work
  • care and caregiving
  • exercise with one other person for up to two hours
  • getting vaccinated.

The Victorian government has set up a dedicated email and telephone advice line which is open to staff and students who have questions or want more information about the provision of training.

You can email or call 1800 338 663 (advice line is available Monday to Friday, 8.30am – 5pm).

New Indigenous jobs program to be locally driven: discussion paper

A new model of Indigenous employment and training to commence next year will place a greater focus on flexible, region-specific needs, delivered in partnership with local communities in culturally appropriate workplaces, according to a departmental discussion paper.

In the May Budget, the government announced that a new Indigenous skills, engagement and employment Program (ISEP) will replace the Vocational Training and Employment Centres (VTEC), Tailored Assistance Employment Grants (TAEG) and Employment Parity Initiative (EPI) from July next year.

The discussion paper, released by the National Indigenous Australians Agency (NIAA), canvasses key issues and the approach to developing the new model.

NIAA says it has been conducting evaluations of existing Indigenous employment programs and that the most successful elements will be incorporated in the ISEP.

It says the interim evaluation shows the need for flexibility, high quality mentoring and wrap around services, devolution of decision-making and governance structures, upfront investment in job readiness, and culturally appropriate workplaces.

The closing date for submissions is 10 September 2021.

CDU looks to its own backyard for new associate vice-chancellors 

Charles Darwin University (CDU) has appointed two local Territorians as Associate Vice-Chancellors, as part of newly created roles that will increase engagement with the regions.

Katherine local Alison Haines has been appointed Associate Vice-Chancellor for Katherine and Big Rivers region.

Mrs Haines grew up on Argadargada Station in the Northern Territory and has worked as a CDU VET trainer, both remotely and in Katherine and has been based at the Katherine campus since 2014.

The rural operations team in Katherine under Alison’s leadership do incredible work.They provide exceptional training, travelling huge distances to remote stations to train students. They have boosted female apprenticeships and have exceptionally high completion and student satisfaction rates.

Just a month earlier, CDU appointed Jennes “Jay” Walker as Associate Vice-Chancellor for Central Australia at CDU in Alice Springs.

Jay’s family connections with the Territory’s pastoral and tourism industries date back more than 30 years. He began as Director of Regional Engagement and Development at CDU in 2018.

Mr Walker said CDU Alice Springs would look at expanding its local VET footprint, including short and evening courses across a range of new and existing disciplines such as hairdressing, creative industries and the trades.

Alison Haines, Associate Vice-Chancellor for Katherine and Big Rivers region, Charles Darwin University.

Jennes “Jay” Walker, Associate Vice-Chancellor of Charles Darwin University in Alice Springs.

TAFE Queensland scholarships on offer

Up to 100 scholarships worth up to $5,000 each are now available to study a TAFE Queensland qualification from a certificate III through to advanced diplomas and bachelor’s degree.

The TAFE Queensland Scholarship Program was first launched in 2015 and has provided $1.8 million to more than 390 Queenslanders.

The scholarships help cover the costs of course fees, text books, and living expenses.

There are two types of scholarships available – Merit Scholarships, aimed at supporting people who have demonstrated strong levels of achievement, and Access and Equity Scholarships, designed to help students who are battling social or financial hardship.

TAFE Queensland Chief Executive Officer, Mary Campbell, said this year RACQ has come on-board to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who wish to study in the Townsville region, while disability support service CPL has provided funding for scholarships under the Access and Equity category for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with a disability.

Applications for a scholarship to commence study in semester one, 2022 opened on 12 July and close on 24 September 2021.

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Help students to get access to their VET transcripts

Do your current and past students know that they have access to a VET transcript service, via their USI account?

What is a VET transcript?
An authenticated VET transcript collates an individual’s training outcomes undertaken since 1 January 2015 into a single record. Anyone who has undertaken nationally recognised training since 2015 can access their VET transcript via their Unique Student Identifier (USI) account.

With a VET transcript, a USI account holder can prove their qualifications to employers and licensing bodies and demonstrate pre-requisites for further training.

VET transcripts benefits:

  • proving qualifications to employers and licensing bodies
  • credit transfers or demonstrating pre-requisites for further training
  • a backup if the original documentation is lost
  • reducing unnecessary re-training that can result from lost credentials

Find out more
Find everything you need to know about the USI and VET transcripts at

Brisbane forums to examine the health services workforce

The Human Services Skills Organisation (HSSO) is holding two workforce forums in Brisbane this Thursday, July 22, to discuss new approaches to attracting, upskilling and retaining staff in the sector.

The employer forum will run from 10.30 am to 12 pm and is aimed at service delivery and human resource senior managers from Aged Care, Disability, Veteran, Allied Health and Early Learning services.

The training organisations forum will run from 1.30 to 3.00 pm and is for representatives from the VET sector and training providers that support human services.

The forums will also discuss improved alignment of qualifications and training in the human services sector, and provide insights on local workforce development and best practice solutions.

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Vacancy for skills advisor in Timor Leste

The Australia Pacific Training Coalition (APTC) is seeking a Senior Skills Advisor, to be based in Dili, Timor Leste.

The Senior Skills Advisor will manage APTC’s TVET capability-building activities and training delivery in Timor-Leste, providing leadership and line management to the training delivery team under the direction and guidance of the Country Director.

The APTC has country offices in Fiji, Vanuatu, PNG, Samoa, Solomon Islands and Timor-Leste (from July 2021). The country offices are supported by a range of services provided from a regional head office in Suva, Fiji.

The APTC is managed by TAFE Queensland on behalf of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and staff are employed by TAFE Queensland.

Applications close 8:59pm Timor-Leste Time, Sunday, 25 July.

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Diary Dates

Human Services Workforce Forum
Brisbane, Queensland
22 July 2021
More information

TVET World eConference
International Vocational and Training Association
28 – 30 July 2021
More information

QLD Schools VET Conference
Velg Training
6 August 2021
Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre
More information

National Apprentice Employment Network
National Conference
Re-scheduled to March 2022
Grand Chancellor Hobart, Tasmania
More information coming soon

National Skills Week
23 – 29 August 2021
More information

WorldSkills National Championships & Skills Show
25 – 29 August 2021
Perth Exhibition and Convention Centre
More information

2021 National VET Conference
Velg Training
9 – 19 September 2021
Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre
More information

Victorian TAFE Association
2021 State Conference
16 – 17 September 2021
William Angliss Institute. 555 La Trobe St Melbourne
Save the Date

Australian International Education Conference 2021
5 – 8 October 2021
Gold Coast & Online
More information

Australian Training Awards
18 November 2021
Perth, Western Australia
More information

2021 VDC Virtual Teaching & Learning Conference
VET Development Centre
18 – 19 November 2021 (Online)
Save the date