Thursday, May 13, 2010

My thoughts on what needs to happen for workforce development in SA

The South Australian Training and Skills Commission (TaSC)is the peak advisory body to the South Australian Government on skills and workforce development and recently circulated a ‘Stakeholder Consultation Paper’ to help inform their 2010 Five Year Plan for Skills and Workforce Development.

The following is a summary of my response to this Paper:

Foundation and generic skills
Knowledge can be shared and gained in a number of ways, and in more traditional cultures this was done through story, song and dance. However, being able to ‘codify’ knowledge into symbols (ie letters and numbers) enables us to capture and share information more effectively and permanently through words, sentences, paragraphs, timeline, graphs etc. These symbols allow knowledge to be externalised and they don’t rely on another person to directly provide the information.

The skills to be able to interpret this codified information are known as ‘language, literacy and numeracy’ (LLN) skills. These skills are the foundation skills to all learning and development, and if Australian society is going to be able to move to more of a 'knowledge economy', it will need innovativers and entrepreneurs and people willing to participate in community and civic activities with these skills. This requires an adult working population with these LLN foundation skills, as well as digital and critical literacy skills and a range of generic skills.

Statistics about adult language, literacy and numeracy skills (from Skills Australia’s Australian Workforce Futures, A National Workforce Development Strategy (2010)) include:
“- A one per cent higher national literacy score has been found to be associated with 2.5 per cent higher labour productivity and an associated increase in GDP per capita” – source: Coulombe et. al. (2004), Literacy scores, human capital and growth across fourteen OECD countries, Statistics Canada)
“- 2006 Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey indicates that 40 per cent of employed Australians and 60 per cent of unemployed Australians have a level of literacy below the accepted standard needed to work in the emerging knowledge-based economy” - Australian Bureau of Statistics (2008), 2006 Adult literacy and life skills survey, Australia, Cat no. 4228.0

There are a number of adult LLN programs, including the Workplace English Language and Literacy (WELL) Program. This program has just received an increase in funding in the Federal Government’s 2010 Budget in recognition of the need to raise adult LLL in Australia.

However, if Australia is going to be able to increase these foundation skills of its population, it will also need to improve people’s attitudes toward 'life long learning' and its associated benefits ie we need to develop a culture which values and utilises learning.

For example – when low paid workers gain higher skills and qualifications they are often not utilised in the workplace for fear that the workers might take the managements' jobs and/or ask to be paid more. (Pocock B. (2009, Low-paid workers, changing patterns of work and life, and participation in vocational education and training: A discussion starter, Centre for Work and Life, University of South Australia, NCVER)

Employers need to understand that the productivity of their business will improve as their employees' skills increase. They also need to know how to effectively manage their employees to utilise these improved skills.

Another major change to support improved skills and knowledge in Australia will need to be the way our current schooling system fosters a culture of 'academia' and if you don't fit into this neo-liberal view of the world that you are not consider to be a 'learner'. Culturally we are sending unspoken messages that if you can't get to university you can't be a very good learner. Hence, the likelihood that you will return to formal education and/or training later in life is very slim. Hence, people’s LLN skills decline.

And if people do return to formal education and/or training it is done so poorly in terms of learning and assessment and looking after the general well being of the learner that it re-enforces people's attitudes that this type of environment is not for them.

Skills for the ‘new economy’

The key skills for a ‘new economy’ of innovation and advancement in Australia include:

• Independent thinking – being able to analysis information and apply it to new situations.
• Reflective thinking – analysing the past and applying to the future
• People and community skills – willingness to help others develop and grow – empathy and concern for other's well being
• An understanding of the benefits of applying a 'continuous improvement cycle'

This will only happen when there is a major paradigm shift in the way people are learning in formal learning environments ie when we need to move from a 'transmission' model where the educator is seen as the holder of all knowledge and determines who has skills and who doesn't, to a 'participatory' model where learners learn how to learn, self assess and are not just asked to regurgitate facts, and where the educator is a 'facilitator' of learning, and fosters a culture of life long learning.

We need to develop an Australian culture which values life long learning.

This would happen though increased funding and reduced political interference into our educational institutions, as education and training organisations are managed by budgets and bureaucrats and the learner is the lowest factor of concern in the equation. Our schools and training organisations are simply 'factories' churning out 'numbers of faceless students' and they are not funded well enough to enable effective and innovative teaching and learning.

Also, our teaching and education support staff are not innovative themselves, and often don't have the higher order skills which we are seeking for our workforce. We need to start by upskilling the teaching and education support staff first, and improve front line and middle management leadership and people management skills of these organisation to help them value and utilise their workforce's skills.

Currently, innovation and bureaucracy in education and training is a miss-match.

Some of the ways we can overcome the barriers to the adoption of entrepreneurial practices in education and training include:

• Allowing public RTOs to retain the profits they make to be invested in Research and Development strategies, and establish Research and Development departments which have the resources to apply their outcomes to a wide audience.
• Encouraging education and training organisations to use Open Education Resources (OER) to promote quality and consistency of content.
• Providing learner content and records in digital formats which are easy to share, aggregate and search.
• Developing life long learning skills ie helping people to develop the skills to manage their own learning better.

Completion rates
Some of the reasons why so many people never complete their qualification is:

• Lack of support for student well being (ie supporting the whole person and recognising their external needs)
• Not everybody needs a whole qualification
• Poor teaching and learning practices
• Qualifications which are not relevant to them or their job and/or a miss-match in the course chosen to the individual’s training needs – ie not enough easily accessible and searchable information about what's involved in a course and course outcomes
• Lack of career development skills ie having the ability to map one's skills against the course requirements
• Lack of cultural perspectivenees of the value of life long learning and qualifications

What I believe defines ‘successful’ outcomes from publicly funded training is:

• Employment outcomes
• Happy functioning communities
• Improved workforce productivity
• People happy in their lives/jobs
• Matched skills to the economy
• Skills sets/clusters relevant to industry standards and needs

One possible way that funding arrangements could promote completions of qualifications could be bonus payments to RTOs for students who actually complete their qualification as an initiative to support their learners better.

Professional development for the tertiary workforce
Currently the Certificate IV in Training and Assessment is not a suitable entry requirement for trainers in VET as it only focusses on the understanding of the jargon used in the sector and not about what is learning? What is life long learning? What is assessment for learning, as well as of learning? What are the philosophies around learning? etc. The ability to get a Cert IV in TAA in less than 7 days at some RTOs demonstrates the lack of quality of this qualification in the industry.

Imparting knowledge and helping people learn is a skill developed over a number of years through continuing professional development (CPD), mentoring and professional conversations.

Some of the ways that VET practitioners could be encouraged to pursue pathways from VET qualifications to higher education and then post graduate studies could be:

• Salary structures and career pathways linked to qualifications
• Qualifications relevant to current job roles
• Flexibility in the way qualifications are offered, the cost and release time to do the study

Some of the key elements of a workforce development strategy for the South Australian tertiary workforce could be:

• Development of a competency matrix for the different skills required for different job roles in the tertiary sector, then mapping/creating qualifications for these competencies
• Effective performance reviews/management processes which aim to help staff gain the competencies identified in the competency matrix mentioned above
• Mandated continuing professional development (CPD) and re-registration of teaching staff

Recognition of Prior Learning
The impact of recent funding of RPL initiatives has had on the uptake and delivery of quality RPL services to clients include:

• More client focussed services
• Resources to support client focussed RPL
• Skills profiling of retrenched workers ie Mitsbitshi and Bridgestone

The factors impacting on South Australia’s progress towards achieving its RPL targets are:

• Lack of understanding about effective RPL process and what auditors expect in an RPL process
• Lack of trainers with the skills to undertake holistic RPL
• Lack of training, mentoring and coaching available to gain these skills ie not part of the Cert IV in TAA
• Lack of opportunities to have professional conversations about what works and what doesn't
• Limited ways to effectively share good practice amongst the VET community

The way employer knowledge of, and confidence in, RPL could be increased includes:

• Use language suitable to employers ie don't use the term 'RPL' but skills profiling of staff
• Employers valuing life long learning and the need for qualifications
• Helping employers understand how to manage their employee’s productivity better, and deal with issues around increases in salary or retention issues related to increased skills/qualifications
• RPL'ing employers first so they know what's involved and what they will need to do to support their staff when they go through the RPL process. Also, demonstrate how RPL provides an opportunity for continuous improvement in their business

Training Packages
I don’t really have many thoughts on the impact of Training Packages as I am currently not working with them directly, however, a ‘coaching and mentoring’ approach to improve the way RTOs are using training packages would be useful, as would a more State wide co-ordinated approach to professional development (ie Victorian TAFE Development Centre) and the development and sharing of quality content through Open Education Resources (OER) and Creative Commons Licensing.

We can now only wait for TaSC’s next Five Year Plan for Workforce Development in South Australia and HOPE that the State government allocates the necessary resources to deploy this plan.

What are your thoughts on regional, jurisdiction and/or national workforce development planning???