Australia continually revisits the debate about how to recognise continuing professional development for VET professionals

Despite widespread agreement about the value of CPD, we continue to revisit an unresolved debate about the virtues of establishing a nationally recognised CPD system for VET professionals. An NCVER paper released in May throws light on why this debate has not edged us closer to action. Continuing professional development for a diverse VET practitioner workforce (53 pages) revisits the long history of proposals for a national CPD system, and identifies many of the impediments to progress.

The paper takes a turn through well established CPD systems used by other professions, including school teaching, radiography, and accounting. The authors, Mark Tyler and Darryl Dymock, conclude that unlike these professions, ‘the VET sector has yet to arrive at a point where practitioners and training providers are wholeheartedly committed to CPD.’ On that point we might agree to disagree. The VET Development Centre’s experience of working with VET professionals over more than a decade is that they embrace CPD as part of their professional identity. Nonetheless, the paper does point to other impediments worth pondering.

We need to unearth common ground to make progress

We have struggled to find common ground for a national CPD system. We stumble when it comes to designing a national approach that responds to the diversity of VET professional roles, and reliably encompasses both teaching and industry currency.

The authors of the NCVER paper note that the Standards for Registered Training Organisations require ‘trainers and assessors undertake professional development in the fields of the knowledge and practice of vocational training, learning and assessment including competency based training and assessment.’ But this regulatory requirement doesn’t get us far enough. Tyler and Dymock state the problem directly:

‘Any assessments gathered during field audits do not make judgements on the value or adequacy of this training, and RTOs are only measured as being compliant or non-compliant. The school system, by contrast, requires teachers to undertake a certain number of CPD hours per year to remain registered.’

Lessons from abroad, and the challenge at home

Lest we think this is a problem peculiar to VET in Australia, the paper reviews CPD systems in VET elsewhere. In Europe, for example, the authors observe that:

‘The research into the experiences of European Union countries shows that, even with an organisation dedicated to promoting CPD in VET across the network — Cedefop — and agreement across all countries that professional development is essential for VET practitioners, implementation is patchy.’

But never say die. NCVER’s paper suggests that rather than stop trying to establish a national CPD system for VET professionals, we should approach the challenge differently:

‘The logical next step is a systematic exploration of how the barriers and constraints to a more comprehensive approach to CPD for VET practitioners in Australia might best be overcome, and what structures, processes and practices should be established to promote the development of an adaptive and innovative VET practitioner workforce.’