It is fair to presume that when it comes to vocational education and training (VET), the learner would figure as quite a central figure.
However, anyone who watches the news will be aware that Australia’s VET industry is in crisis. For various reasons, training providers have come under fire from the media and are under the watchful scrutiny of regulatory bodies. Registered Training Organisations (RTOs) are scrambling to adjust business processes to align with the new Standards, and much focus and effort are being directed toward ensuring compliance, conducting validation, and in general, making sure i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed. There are many, many more requirements and issues a typical RTO must deal with in a typical day. In amongst all of this activity, and aside from the never-ending drive to reform the VET sector, the voice of the learner can be heard as a distant call, “….Marco…… Polo…..”
When analysing the state of affairs, one must wonder at what point the learner became decentralised from the VET framework. And I argue that they have been, as my opinion is that economic forces and regulatory mandates have combined to hamstring a lot of providers. Learning provision has been deconstructed to become such things as dollars and templates, numbers of visits and audit preparation. The pressure and/or desire to maintain a viable commercial enterprise seems, in some cases, to overshadow the provision of quality, learner-centred training and education.
I’m not suggesting this is a deliberate tactic on the part of RTOs in the marketplace, nor indicative of all providers, but rather, perhaps more of an unfortunate side-effect of the compliance-driven climate in which they must operate. Understanding the rules and regulations, and applying them in practice can drain valuable resources. Resources, which might otherwise be available to develop learning materials and deliver training aimed solely at meeting learner needs.
I’m not entirely sure, given the VET industry cannot simply pause, unravel, then neatly re-form. Perhaps a back-to-basics approach would be a start. Keep the regulations simple, direct and easy to understand (and apply). Then, perhaps the level of effort that an RTO must expend will be directed in the learners’ direction rather than toward satisfying the requirements of various governing bodies and a compliance-driven framework.
Indeed, at some point, the learner must become the main focus of energy and effort within all educational frameworks, and this includes the way VET addresses learner needs. Australia’s VET industry needs to be empowered to achieve what it must in a typical day, and still be able to accommodate the re-centralisation of the learner.
I recognise there are myriad factors contributing to the current state of our VET sector and acknowledge any solution that will work long term will not be a simple fix. I wholeheartedly believe there is some merit though, to an approach that focuses less on paperwork and more on learning.
It will be curious to watch the industry move forward.
Originally published in June 2016, under the title “Marco Polo”. Republished with minor edits, 8 January 2020
Join the discussion of this and other Challenges at the VET PD Group – Community of Practice.
Michelle Charlton is the Principal of VET PD Group. Michelle currently works with her team to offer specialised VET and RTO services, through resource development, validation services, and VET professional development opportunities.
Her earlier contributions to the Challenges in VET series include: