A recent paper from NCVER has looked at Skills Sets, and their take up and use.

Many see them as the way forward, a sort of micro-credential, but are they booming? Maybe not?

The context

John Stanwick and Greta Siekmann have taken a hard look at the take up and use of the  skill sets embedded in Training Packages in a recent paper published by NCVER. The aim is to foster a greater recognition of skill sets, “not only as a means of increasing an individual’s chance of employment, but also for meeting licensing requirements and as a ‘taster’ to employment and full qualifications. But it also represents a way for existing workers to top up on their qualifications and skills in the form of a ‘micro-credential’.

So, there has been a significant debate about whether skill sets require a greater level of recognition within the training system because consumers and employers say this sort of qualification might be useful.  The AQF review, which we looked at in the last issue of VDC News, considered whether shorter form training, including skills sets, may be assigned a ‘credential’. According to that report:

“As it currently stands, the formal definition of a skill set is that set out in the Standards for Registered Training Organisations (RTOs) 2015: [that is] “… a single unit of competency or a combination of units of competency from a training package which link to a licensing or regulatory requirement, or a defined industry need.”

This challenges the notion of qualifications and raises the issue of whether shorter learning sets are needed, and this might be particularly so for those who have gained an initial qualification and are looking to enhance their skills, or others who are seeking some form of regulatory recognition.

What did the research find?

Skill set numbers have grown over time; rising from 2008, where 20 skill sets were identified to 2019, where there were a little under 1500 existing skill sets. However, they are more prevalent in some training packages than others, “with over 200 skill sets in the Aeroskills Training Package”. On the other hand, in 2018, a little under 40% of skill sets were clustered around just five of the 51 or so training packages. Seven current training packages contain no skill sets at all.

Skill sets vary in size, although most have between one and six units of competency (subjects). However, about 10% of them contain more than 10 units of competency, “with one having 33 units.”.  In summary, though: “training package skill sets are not well utilised, with only about 16% of them having any reported enrolments for each of the years 2015 to 2018.”  In fact, 73% of the enrolments are in just three training packages — Resources and Infrastructure (33% of the enrolments), Tourism, Travel and Hospitality (21%), and Transmission, Distribution and Rail (20%).” Overall, only about 16% of training package skill sets had any enrolment activity for 2018 (and it was a similar proportion for each of the earlier years, 2015—17).”

Enrolments in skill sets have risen, from about 58 000 in 2015 to over 96 000 in 2018.  However, “enrolments are clustered in relatively few skill sets. Indeed, just 10 skill sets accounted for 68% of enrolments in 2018.” In 2018, the biggie in terms of enrolment numbers, and unsurprisingly, was ‘Responsible service of alcohol’, followed by two ‘Work zone traffic control’ skill sets. These are all compliance or safety related skills sets, so they are something that everyone needs to have if they are working in that particular area.

Interestingly, though, the report found that:

“…despite the definition of a skill set referring to licensing or regulatory requirements, only four of the 29 units designated by Safe Work Australia as high-risk work licences are incorporated as skill sets in training packages.”

The paper reports that the enrolling students were predominantly male (66%) and were aged over 25 (73%). Over half stated that they were employed (58%) and 41% said that they already holding a certificate III or higher-level qualification. In terms of where they are being used, New South Wales and Queensland dominated activity, “with these two states accounting for over three-quarters of the enrolments in 2018.”

Most of the delivery in terms of enrolments, around two thirds, happens at private providers. TAFE accounts for a further 17% and enterprise providers have 13%, with the remaining enrolments through community education providers.

How they are funded is interesting too

Little government funding is devoted to skill sets, with only 10% overall funded this way in 2018. But, as the report points out:

“There are some areas where governments do see skill sets as a priority and are willing to fund them, an example being in Queensland, where there are government subsidies for skill sets related to the roll-out of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).”

However, most are funded through fee-for-service, and it appears that both industry and individuals are prepared to pay, although:

“Having said that, enterprises and individuals will take advantage of any available government funding; that is to say, government funding can be a driver of skill set activity.0 Are skill sets booming? An analysis of training package skill sets.”