Recently, and as noted in another article in this issue, I paid my first visit to Canada, travelling via the USA (briefly) on route to Toronto. It’s a long journey, and the journey can be made relatively easy. Or it can be challenging because of the way moving across borders and between countries is handled. Surprisingly, there are messages in my journey for how VET in Australia might work best.

The challenges began at LAX – the Los Angeles International airport. Why did this happen, and what messages did it raise in my mind about how VET in Australia is perhaps being challenged and managed?

The challenge of inflexible thinking and processes

We were caught in a queue. Why? I think because there is a view that everyone has to be treated the same on entry to the USA, through LAX at least. However, we were merely transiting, planning to spend no longer than 3 hours in the USA before flying to Canada. Yet we spent at least one and a half hours or more in a queue that did not discriminate what your intentions were: to enter the USA or move on to another country quickly. In short, we missed the connecting flight! In other airports those entering the country, or transiting, are kept separate. Not at LAX. It’s a failure of process.

What’s the message for Australian VET? Simply, it’s recognising that there is a diversity of needs that enrolment, induction and service delivery processes need to accommodate. Not to do so fails to recognise the diverse needs of VET’s clients.

The challenge of lacking in trust and not thinking about users

I suspected that no one at LAX border control trusted why we were arriving in the USA and seeking to come through their security arrangements in the first place. We really needed to transit as quickly and smoothly as possible. This was made impossible because they were not thinking about users, but rather were focused on having a one-size-fit-all and ‘their needs’ approach to process. Yet other airports we travelled through elsewhere in the USA, Canada, New Zealand and Australia made this transit and entry process quite simple. These airports kept us separate from those actually entering the country and we were kept within secure areas. They also had more automated processes to scan passports, ask critical questions and use facial recognition. They made effective use of available technologies.

Again, for VET, the message is about the design of systems and processes and aligning those with the needs of a diverse range of users, and NOT being overly focused on what the system thinks simplistically about their needs are or what individuals are concerned with or looking to achieve. In the design process, it is about interrogating people about the outcomes they are seeking in order to design systems as well as recognising and valuing user needs and steaming them accordingly to optimise their experience.

The challenge of aging infrastructure

One of the issues I suspect was in play was that LAX was a major hub airport but had failed to evolve and integrate its processes and infrastructure to meet customer needs. We had to get through security, collect our bags and then go to another terminal that we could not readily access as a transiting passenger.

This raises another issue for VET providers: as systems and processes evolve and change it is the extent to which VET providers’ infrastructures are up to the task of meeting new and evolving needs. It gets back to how readily infrastructure can be built, or adapted, to meet new needs that VET systems and its users require.

The challenge of over assessment

Many countries just require a scan that uses facial recognition to enter, while some also require just a simple single fingerprint. At LAX, I was required to have fingerprints taken of all fingers on both hands. (Presumably, this might allow for a conviction in a country for theft where the penalty is the loss of an arm! While I suspect that such a conviction would exclude me from entry to the USA, at least they would have a record my remaining hand!) But is such an approach over the top? Is it over assessment?

The message for VET in Australia, I think, is a tendency to over assess: to require more information to be gathered than is actually needed to make a reasoned decision about an individual and their attributes and capabilities.

Hugh Guthrie