For many years, Australia has been implementing policies to support flexible lifelong learning. These emphasise coordination and collaboration between learning sectors and the social partners, pathways between basic education, further education, training and employment and support for the national recognition of all kinds of learning—formal, non-formal and informal.
Training Packages are relevant to this policy mix, but only in so far as they define the content of VET learning and how it is to be assessed and help (or hinder) life- long transitions. We consider them from this perspective only, recognising that there are other factors, particularly financing systems and accountability frameworks, which are likely to have the most impact on lifelong learning.
Recognition of Prior Learning
RPL has an important role in the training cycle, especially as a precursor to training.
Recent research shows that views about RPL within VET have matured over past years. However, there is clear evidence that RPL has not brought about the gains expected, despite it being on the national agenda for a decade. This has implications for national training effort and the acquisition and international recognition of AQF qualification outcomes.
Identified barriers to the uptake of RPL include restrictive provider practices;
funding mechanisms; costs to learners; lack of understanding by RTOs and their clients; learner perceptions of the value of participating in training; complexity of processes; and funding models. The introduction of the AQTF may be playing a role in improving provider attention to RPL, but the evidence needs further analysis and it is clear that RPL requires attention.
At a national level a body of recently completed work is being considered. This includes the draft National Principles and Operational Guidelines for RPL developed by AQFAB to improve national consistency. We do not wish to cut across this work, but emphasise the need to get the right incentive for employers, employees and those not in employment. Two options have arisen in this review that may be worth considering further. One would be a learning incentive payable to employers to contribute to RPL and gap training; the other would be a learning incentive payable to individuals (in or looking for employment) to facilitate their access to RPL and gap training.
Entry to VET
Training Packages are premised on notions of flexibility and access, offering entry and progression for learners through a range of pathways. However, the absence and sometimes the make up of AQF qualifications at Certificates I and II are seen as potentially inhibiting entry to training. This may be particularly so for people with disabilities, people who are unemployed or changing careers, Indigenous Australians, and people from other equity groups. 27 Training Packages currently provide no Certificate I, while others provide limited offerings at both Certificate I and II qualification levels.
In order to improve the participation of equity groups in Training Packages an agreed entry point is required; entry to an industry via Training Package qualifications would seem to be logical. Where Training Packages do not offer Certificate I, or where the offerings are not suited to learner needs, access through multi-field accredited courses needs to be available. All provision at entry level needs to offer an appropriate mix of generic workplace skills, common and cross industry competencies and technical skills in order to maintain learner choice and facilitate pathways.
The AQF descriptors may need attention to support this.
We suggest that to better provide for the full range of potential learners and their individual needs, action will be needed across three fronts.
•Decisions not to include Certificate I or II qualifications within Training Packages need to be more closely scrutinised and fully justified than is currently the case.
There is a widely held view within VET, which we share, that sometimes the decision not to include qualifications at these levels may be influenced more by New Apprenticeship incentive arrangements than by industry-specific
>> 4 – Major areas for action
•Decisions on whether the Training Package model should allow for cross-sector and cross-industry qualifications at Certificate I and II levels based on a cluster of Training Packages should be accelerated, although we do have some concerns that current initiatives may be trying too hard to make Training Packages into ‘all things to all people’ when vocational pathway course might be more suitable.
•We see a need to clarify the demand for vocational pathways, not limited to entry levels or VET in Schools (e.g. mature-age workers), and taking account of current initiatives such as the Ai Group work on Technology Cadetships.
VET in Schools
While VET in Schools programs were available before Training Packages, they have flourished under them. With the increased participation, concerns have been expressed about the quality and parity of outcomes between this and other VET provision.
Schools find the complexity of Units of Competency, the variability between Training Packages and the pace of change challenging, and they often struggle to achieve outcomes required by industry and workplaces.
We suggest that the Training Package model should remain the basis of VET in Schools, with encouragement and support for schools to offer both Training Package qualifications and, in some instances, programs based on a locally appropriate selection of units from Certificate II - III qualifications, where the full qualification may not be attainable in school. We also suggest that schools be provided with better guidance about Training Packages, including advice on work placement and simulated assessment.
VET and Higher Education
Articulation between VET and Higher Education is based on agreements made between institutions, usually based on VET Diploma level courses and above and usually providing credits into three- and four-year Bachelor Degrees. Currently multiple such agreements exist between institutions and there is evidence of increasing formal articulation from VET to Higher Education.
We do not accept that the reluctance of some universities to offer fair and reasonable credit transfer for VET qualifications is sufficient reason to cause a re-think of the Training Package model.
We have the sense that the tide may have turned and that as RTOs and Universities come to understand the Training Package model better, graded assessment is introduced, and the Associate Degree introduced, pathways into higher education will open up.
Leadership responsibility in this area lies with the Commonwealth and ANTA who should be systematically encouraging close liaison between the VET and higher education sectors on a broad range of issues including articulation and credit transfer arrangements; overlapping qualification structures; and assessment reporting arrangements for entry and credit for streamlined progression into higher education.
Training Package developers should actively pursue increased articulation between higher level VET qualifications and higher education outcomes, and encourage and explore innovative approaches with willing higher education institutions.
International markets are significant to VET and to the economy more broadly.
The aspiration within the National Strategy for Vocational Education and Training 2004-2010 is for Australia to have a sizeable share of the international education market and for VET to facilitate access to international markets.
Views on the use of Training Packages in international markets are polarised around a range of issues including qualification titles (a matter dealt with earlier), AQF nomenclature, credits for University entry and in the case of off-shore provision, issues of quality, auditing and monitoring, the language of instruction and Training Package requirements for workplace training.
We have two suggestions to deal with this problem. ANTA could commission a research study to assess the impact of refining Training Packages for the international market; and/or Training Packages with possible overseas markets should incorporate additional flexibility in their development by, for example, increasing capacity to contextualise units of competency to suit international conditions.
Globalisation has raised the related but different question of the extent to which the Training Package model can accommodate the effects of globalisation.
Australian industry must have the skills base to compete in global markets and to satisfy the requirements of international standards; and the needs of all VET clients, domestic and international, will increasingly become more diverse and sophisticated.
Australian clients will inevitably demand qualifications they can use beyond national boundaries. Training Package development must be able to keep pace with these international developments and so we suggest that Training Package developers should take into account international standards and consider the need to satisfy their requirements. We also think that Training Packages with possible overseas markets might perhaps incorporate additional flexibility in their development by, for example, increasing capacity to contextualise Units of Competency to suit international conditions.
>> 5 – Making the transition
We started this Report by asserting that the environments in which Training Packages are being implemented are even more important than improving the
"products" and the business processes associated with their production. Better collaboration, good leadership, outstanding national and State/Territory co-ordination and more supportive and adaptive systems at all levels are needed.
In the past, all parties agree that there has been a lack of attention to the management of the massive changes that Training Packages represented to practitioners and providers.
The suggestions in this Report will require considerable attention to the processes that will ensure a successful transition.