A recent paper put out by the Department of Education, Skills and Employment (DESE) in late June summarises the outcomes of consultations that took place between December 2020 and March 2021.

Using surveys, online workshops and webinars, and meetings, it’s looked at a range of issues: including the RTO standards, VET workforce issues – including its quality as well as Training Packages, assessment, learner support and industry engagement.

The consultation process

According to the Department’s paper, they “received 1276 survey responses and 641 people participated in workshops and webinars.” They also held 43 meetings. In all 1960 people participated in the process. They were drawn from all states and territories, but those in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland were big contributors.

The consultation process was informed by two papers, the first entitled: RTO Quality Issues and the second Supporting the VET Workforce. Regular VDC News readers will recall that we highlighted an earlier part of the feedback from the skills reform consultation process, including these papers, in an article in early June this year, but there was another in February focused on the papers themselves.

This present paper is where the ‘rubber hits the road’ on some of the key issues of concern to VET practitioners and providers about quality, and the VET workforce.

What this latest paper tells us

What makes for RTO excellence?

The paper suggests that RTOs need to be “student-centred and supportive of individual learning needs to ensure students have a positive learning experience and achieve their desired learning and/or employment outcomes.” RTOs also need to be adaptable, flexible and responsive and “have strong links and partnerships with employers.” As the paper points out, “this enables them to better contextualise training and to meet the needs of industry.”

Finally, RTOs need “high-quality trainers and assessors with strong links to industry, coupled with a “focus on continuous improvement, including using student and employer feedback to improve processes and delivery.”

No surprises here! However, the DESE’s informants also suggested there needed to be a clearer definition of quality. That’s no easy task as ‘quality’ actually has many conceptual dimensions.

Issues affecting quality

DESE’s paper highlights many dimensions affecting quality and its regulation: the quality of the VET workforce, Training Packages and their quality, the level and quality of learner support, and industry engagement. The value and use of professional networks and collaboration between RTOs to develop and share resources is important as well but can be hampered by competitive pressures. Assessment is up there as an issue too, so let’s unpack all of this a bit.

The challenges to quality and achieving RTO excellence

In relation to Training Packages, issues raised in DESE’s consultations were the “frequent non-substantive changes to [them], which place undue burden on RTOs and disrupt learners, as well as [their] inflexibility and not reflecting current or local industry practice.” Another issue was the current transition/teach-out arrangements seen as administratively burdensome and disruptive for students by some RTOs.

In relation to assessment, validation is not well understood or practised and also seen as burdensome. (See another article in this issue for further insights on this issue!). RPL is not well understood either. Finally, “some stakeholders … suggested that quality-assured standardised assessment tools would allow RTOs to focus more on delivery, rather than resource development and compliance.”

In relation to VET workforce quality, capability frameworks were seen as useful, and maintaining industry currency was important, as was access to professional development. Mentoring also helped “support and improve the confidence and skills of trainers and assessors.” Learner support by RTOs is important as well to help ensure effective participation by students in their studies and address any learning and personal difficulties students have which may adversely affect their studies.

Two important final messages were, first, a need to focus more on teaching and learning practice: both in the content of the Cert IV and in terms of regulatory focus. The second was a concern about the ‘one size fits all’ approach towards entry requirements for trainers and assessors, “noting that flexible requirements could help to attract more industry experts to the role.” A current NCVER project by colleagues from Griffith University is doing some work on this latter issue, so we will keep our eye out for the outcomes of that work.