Is There a Place For Training "Products" in a Service Sector?

A common complaint among TAE Certificate IV students is that it has far too much jargon and terminology.  Many of those students find the qualification somewhat impenetrable because of that language, and this reduced the qualification’s effectiveness.

That is not new to anyone.

But what if the language used more broadly in VET was also reducing the effectiveness of qualifications?

I am referring here to one term in particular: Training Product. A quick search of the Standards for Registered Training Organisations (RTOs) 2015 shows 34 instances of the use of “Training Product”, and a further handful of occasions where “product” is used by itself.

What’s the Problem?

Products are things that are created and then sold.  The doing is done by the people who make the things.  That is why it is called the manufacturing sector; it produces value by doing things that make things.  All we have to do is hand over a bit of money.  We get them when we buy them.

This creates a very simple commercial exchange.

I want a widget.  I look around.  I find a widget that I like and at a price that suits me. I buy the widget.  Other than exchanging money, I do not actually have to do anything in order to get the product.  There is not much risk here of me not getting the thing.

But training is not like that.

Training is about education and education is about learning, and being qualified is about assessment, and both learning and assessment are processes that are supported by people.  That is why it is called the service sector; it produces value by doing things that are not actually things, such as providing knowledge, advice or guidance.

Yes, it might lead to getting a piece of paper, but focusing just on “getting the product” diminishes the emphasis on the process.

People don’t actually enrol in and pay for a qualification.  Whether they realise it or not, what they do is enrol in a qualification to do it and part of that doing is engaging with the RTO in a process of learning and assessment.  And that process has a number of possible outcomes, including that they may not end up getting what they had hoped.

And this is where the use of “Training Product” is problematic.

Referring to qualifications as products leads the client* not to view the RTOs as a provider of a service, but rather as akin to the manufacturing sector.  Being product-focused leads to people considering qualifications no differently from other commodities.  This has three effects:

  1. It creates a demand for certainty of outcome based on entitlement for the product (I paid for it, give it to me) which reduces the emphasis on the process of learning & assessment that ought to determine the outcome, and thus devalues the process.
  2. It creates a commodification of “training products” where the consumer is to presume that all “products” are equal and that the only real decision is price.
  3. It encourages people to view their own knowledge and skills through a collection of products, rather than through a reflection on practice.

And the outcome of this is that we start to overlook the truism that the most important things about VET are not things at all.

Is that what we want?

What do you think?

Join the discussion of this and other Challenges at the VET PD Group – Community of Practice.

About the Author:

Bryan West was the Managing Director of Fortress Learning (RTO 31974) from 2010 to 2020.

  • *Within the Glossary in the SRTOs (2015), Client means a learner, enterprise or organisation that uses or purchases the services provided by an RTO.  

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