Unlocking the potential of VET: Reform advice is in

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‘Unlocking the potential of VET’ is the title of the advice piece from the Qualifications Reform Design Group to Skills Ministers.

They have also been concerned that present approaches to qualification design over specify things and over complicate the system. Concerns include “over-prescription of assessment and delivery requirements within units, resulting in a compliance approach to learning” and a “reduced focus on employability skills such as critical thinking and problem-solving, due to the prescriptive nature of assessment.”

Thus, they propose a move away from a one-size-fits-all approach to one which embraces a more differentiated and fit for purpose series of qualification types focused on three purposes:

• Purpose 1 – qualifications leading to a specific occupation (for example a licensed trade). These qualifications will maintain “a level of specificity necessary for safety or licencing requirements, particularly the integrity of the trades, and is unlikely to change substantially from the current approach.” They “will remain highly specified, and will not be subject to rationalisation where there is a clear need to retain them. As industries make more use of Purpose 2 and 3 qualifications, Purpose 1 qualifications will become a smaller proportion of VET offerings overall.” Thus, these qualifications “can be delivered using the existing competency-based training model, as they are likely to remain focused on discrete tasks associated with a specific occupation.”

• Purpose 2 – qualifications to prepare learners for multiple occupations within an industry. These qualifications will focus “on the development of qualifications that prepare learners for multiple, related occupations while retaining industry relevance. They will also “create scope for rationalising qualifications within an industry in a way that improves intra-industry workforce mobility. This may involve consolidating entry-level qualifications with significant overlap, or higher-level qualifications with industry-wide relevance.” These qualifications “encourage a focus on the standard of skills and knowledge required across an industry rather than the performance of specific, discrete tasks. They may require new approaches to assessment that enable skills and knowledge to be applied in different contexts.”

And finally:

• Purpose 3 – qualifications that develop cross-sectoral or foundation skills and knowledge which may be applied across industries or lead to tertiary education and training pathways. These qualifications will provide “additional opportunities for innovation in areas such as cross-sectoral skills, foundation skills and tertiary pathways” and thus “address cross-cutting skills and knowledge relevant across many industries, providing versatile products for use by many different learners and employers.” These qualifications will “encourage a focus on the skills and knowledge that a qualification develops, with flexibility in the context of application. They may require evolution of qualification design beyond the current competency-based model towards a focus on learning outcomes.”

The aims of the reforms, according to the paper, are to improve workforce adaptability while maintaining safety and quality; deliver a higher-performing, easier-to-navigate VET qualifications system and support innovation and excellence in training delivery and assessment.

Overall, however, they also propose:

• “Improving coherence between qualifications and how they are organised and connected to meet the changing needs of industry and support learners;

• Reducing, to the extent that it supports achievement of the qualification’s primary purpose, the high levels of specification inherent within the current Unit of Competency, arising from assessment specification and, at times, misplaced input controls;

• Bringing a stronger focus on the knowledge systems and progression that underpin effective practice and skills through the equal consideration of skills and knowledge; and

• A stronger focus on the personal capabilities (foundation skills, general capabilities and knowledge progression) which build skills for effective engagement in work and life.”

A lot of this work will be driven through the Jobs and Skills Councils.

The Qualifications Reform Group has developed a set of six quality principles in qualification design. These are:

1. “ensure learners’ needs and aspirations inform qualification design, including occupations, transferability, transitioning occupations and industries, and mobility across industries;

2. place equal importance on skill, knowledge, and application;

3. allow flexible training and assessment in high-quality training environments;

4. avoid duplication with other training products where industry context does not require it;

5. reduce specificity except where a higher level of detail is required for licencing, high-risk, safety, regulatory or graduate quality reasons;

6. consider and integrate foundation skills, general capabilities, and knowledge progression.”

There are a series of useful attachments to the paper, including one which provides evidence around the case of change, a second that provides details of the proposed new qualifications system and a third that provides details about next steps. Finally, one gives some historical context to the development process for qualifications and is entitled: “How we got here and what it means for today’s VET qualifications.”

Next steps

As the advice paper notes: “The next stage of the program is for Jobs and Skills Councils to design and test new qualification models for their industries with states and territories, for the Design Group to continue to oversight the economy wide implications, and work through specific issues relating to the detail of qualification design.” Attachment C contains other useful details including other issues needing to be addressed: assessment, industrial relations, funding and foundation skills.

It’s also suggested that this work can leverage and enhance other VET reforms in the pipeline: such as those related to VET quality and the VET workforce.

Unlocking the potential of VET: Reform advice is in | VDC