Is the VET industry’s reliance on training packages aligned with the real-world needs of students?
The way we work and the world around us is changing rapidly, so it’s important that our training and assessment methods reflect this. The recent announcement by the Australian Government that ASQA will become the independent body responsible for training package assurance from 1 January 2023 creates an opportunity to highlight an ongoing issue within the VET industry. Having been part of the quality assurance panel for training packages since 2001, we have seen firsthand how reliance on training packages can result in a misalignment between technical writers, resource providers, auditors, trainers, and ultimately students.
Our reliance on training packages is failing to meet the real-world needs of students because of the way they define and then assess competency. There is less of an emphasis on teaching the curriculum with local flexibility but rather a focus on the finer requirements that are specified within a training package. Having said that, there is no doubt that competency-based training and assessment does work in some areas of training, but for others, the level of specification around certain criteria doesn’t.
The problem often starts with technical writers who are tasked with creating units of competency. They have the industry knowledge but not always an understanding of how it can be practically taught and assessed. There are often constraints within a classroom environment, as well as varying levels of roles and responsibilities of students in their workplace, which can limit what they are able to do in a simulated or real-world setting.
An example of this is the unit BSBFIN302 Maintain financial records. The application states, “The unit applies to individuals who are responsible for simple accounting functions within an organisation”. They may work as individuals providing administrative support within an enterprise, or they may be other members of staff with delegated responsibilities relating to the maintenance of general financial records. This unit is included in several certificate III level qualifications, including business, music, agriculture, screen and media, and animal care services.
It is not part of an accounting qualification, yet it requires students to prepare closing and post-closing trial balances from the general ledger system of the organisation. The definition of a post-closing trial balance is the final trial balance prepared before a new accounting period begins. This also doesn’t fit with the Performance Evidence of the unit which is “record and process daily transactions for five different days, and identify and respond to discrepancies and errors, according to accounting principles. The candidate must: enter, transfer and record financial data.”
When developing a unit, it is important to consider what the unit is really about. In the case of this unit, it is about the student being able to process daily transactions using accounting software. This is a relatively simple business function that most likely an administrator would perform, rather than someone who wants to pursue an accounting career. Additionally, businesses today leverage very user-friendly accounting software where most things are done automatically. For example, an invoice being created automatically creates a journal entry into the sales account which is automatically posted to the general ledger. Therefore, when unpacking this unit during the development phase, it is important to keep these factors in mind.
Another example is the unit RIIQUA601E Establish and maintain a quality system which is a high-level unit at an advanced diploma level. The elements of the unit require the student to establish and maintain a framework for the system, establish a collaborative process, establish and maintain procedures for identifying and assessing quality issues, design procedures for treating issues, and evaluate the system. However, the performance evidence says that the student needs to establish and maintain a quality system on at least two occasions. It seems impractical and unfair to have to complete two very lengthy projects to establish and maintain a quality system in two different businesses when a business would only set up one system. This would require the student to act as if they were an external consultant, withtwo different departments or organisations. However, according to the unit description, this is not what is expected of someone in a management role within the resources and infrastructure industries. So, it seems that as an employee, the student would only ever be expected to implement one quality system in the workplace, not two.
The development of training packages needs to start with the end-user in mind – the student. If it takes into consideration the limitations of what can practically be achieved in a classroom and workplace, the intricacies of simulations and how it translates in today’s rapidly changing world, it will certainly improve the way training packages are developed and delivered. It will help resource developers like ourselves, RTO Works, translate the learning outcomes better and allow the RTOs do what they do best – teach. And hopefully…. create a far more symbiotic relationship with compliance auditors.