Transcript of Unaccredited training and why employers use it

27 August 2019

Vocational Voices: Season 2, Episode 4

Unaccredited training and why employers use it

Ian White: (00:00)
One of the things we did find in the report, [is that] it certainly shouldn't be framed as accredited versus unaccredited training. Quite often they're complimentary. We found an example in the meat industry where accredited training was used to meet the strict legislation and regulatory requirements, whereas unaccredited training was then used just to reinforce the skills learned in accredited training.

Steve Davis: (00:24)
Hello and welcome to Vocational Voices, the official podcast of the National Centre for Vocational Education Research or NCVER for short. I'm Steve Davis, and today's topic is Accredited Training Or Unaccredited Training, That Is The Question. Our Vocational Voices today are Simon Walker, Managing Director, NCVER, and Ian White, Research Officer in the National Surveys branch of NCVER. Welcome both to the podcast.

Simon Walker: (00:52)
Hello, Steve.

Ian White: (00:53)
Hi Steve.

Steve Davis: (00:54)
Ian, I'm going to start with you because we know that around half of employers in Australia look outside the nationally accredited vocational education training system to provide their employees with training. Do we know why they do that?

Ian White: (01:11)
It does vary widely between industries. The main reasons that the employers gave in the Survey of Employers' use and views of the VET system (SEUV) for the use of unaccredited training were to provide skills for the job, to meet and maintain professional industry standards and to meet highly specific training needs and also in response to new technology. Reasons that employers might choose unaccredited training over comparable accredited training include the cost, ability to tailor the training to their needs and the flexibility in the timing and provision.

Steve Davis: (01:38)
One of the things that I saw looking through the research though were that when employers do look for unaccredited training, sometimes it's delivered by private training providers, professional industry associations. Their reason is that they have a high level of industry knowledge and their suitability of the course of what the employer needs. Is this a little bit of a warning to those in the accredited VET sector to apply more agility to the way we manage what we're offering in our courses to try and meet needs more closely?

Ian White: (02:15)
Yeah, certainly I think that is the case. We did find that employers would like to see a faster and more agile qualification development, for example, within the VET sector just to respond to those needs of industry. We also found that perceived complexity of the accredited VET system is a barrier to employers using it, increasing the likelihood of some employers choosing unaccredited training over accredited training.

Steve Davis: (02:40)
Can you unpack the complexity? Where does the complexity come into it with the accredited VET system?

Simon Walker: (02:46)
That's a good question. First of all, the whole regulatory environment that goes around having an accreditation for a course in the VET system. The training organizers themselves have to be registered. There are all sorts of rules in terms of how the training is assessed and conditions for those assessments all codified in what we call the training package or the qualification.

Simon Walker: (03:15)
I think a lot of employers like the idea of accredited training, but probably see a bit of redundancy in some of the additional requirements there. Whereas they want to get something that's short, sharp, gets their staff going inside their business for their purposes. If they were to go through a full accredited course, there's probably a lot of stuff in there that they don't see themselves needing as a business. Although, of course, for the individual, there may be quite a few benefits by having that.

Steve Davis: (03:43)
I want to pick up on this regulatory framework aspect because sometimes it's regulation that compels employers to get the training done, but we're saying there's a double edge sword because within the accredited system, there's a lot of extra layers as far as getting that accreditation is concerned.

Simon Walker: (04:01)
Yeah, I think what's happened ... and this is a bit of a trend that's occurred over many years is alot of regulation in the past sat outside the accredited training system. I'll give you an example of that. The Australian Maritime Safety Authority, for example, you always had to go and do a course to get qualified to be a captain of a ship or a linesman or something like that, but they tended to bolt on a whole series of other typically safety-oriented requirements that were developed by themselves, an additional test under their regime which you had to do to get your license to operate.

Simon Walker: (04:40)
They were post training. Now, over time we've seen a bigger convergence of that type of regulatory activity getting absorbed into the training products. Clearly, there's an efficiency there for the individuals, but it also means that the standards by which that training is delivered is covered by a national and consistent set of standards, so there's some benefits there as well.

Steve Davis: (05:06)
Benefits, but also, some might argue, some bloat.

Simon Walker: (05:10)
In that particular instance I've just given you, of course, it does take out some of the duplication of having to do a training course, have that assessed on one hand and then having to go to another body to get that assessed again for a different regime. I think over time there's been a convergence, particularly in what we call occupational licensing areas.

Simon Walker: (05:28)
Obviously, we'd all like to think that when we're in a plane the pilot is credentialed, the person that put the thing together on the ground and maintained the plane was fully qualified under a very rigorous set of standards. I think that's a reasonable thing.

Steve Davis: (05:43)
If an employer is having unaccredited training for their staff and they're happy with the outcome, is there anything wrong with that? Ian, from your perspective, how do we judge what's right or wrong in the broader question?

Ian White: (06:01)
In terms of for the employer, they may well be happy with unaccredited training in terms it might be more flexible and more cost effective for them. However, there is implications for the employee, for example, in the transferability of skills to other occupations and industries should they wish to move on from that employer. Certainly, with an accredited qualification, there is that transferability and portability between industries and occupations, but for unaccredited training that might not necessarily be the case.

Simon Walker: (06:31)
There are degrees of portability or transferability in some unaccredited training. Absolutely for accredited training because it's nationally recognized, but there are probably some, particularly in the tech sector and the report that Ian's produced does go to this issue. There are quite highly recognized credentials in unaccredited training. For instance, a Cisco Academy Certificate of Networking, that's become something of an industry standard, so high recognition of that.

Simon Walker: (06:59)
The individual, in that case, we'll actually get some good portability out of it, but then there are other levels which are very firm specific that was designed by the training provider or even in house, specific to a firm which just didn't have any transferability into other firms.

Steve Davis: (07:14)
Right. In which case the employer wins, but the employee doesn't have much to go on if they decide to leave.

Simon Walker: (07:21)
Yeah. Although I wouldn't say it was wasted on the employee. However, the level of transferability is a lot lower obviously.

Ian White: (07:27)
Yeah, that's correct. Particularly the IT industry, the vendors or the suppliers or manufacturers are seen as a expert in their field, so they're seeing that the best place to give the training. In fact, some of them won't allow non-accredited, so not accredited by the supplier, technicians to work on their equipment as it would invalidate the warranty, for example. Then the employer is compelled to use them in unaccredited training.

Steve Davis: (07:53)
Would it be fair to say that whether training being undertaken is accredited or unaccredited, it's better than no training taking place at all?

Simon Walker: (08:03)
Ah, unequivocally.

Ian White: (08:05)
Yeah, absolutely.

Steve Davis: (08:06)
This year, in particular, we've been talking about lifelong learning a lot. Why do we focus on this divide between accredited and unaccredited? Is there a reason we care?

Ian White: (08:17)
I'll just go back to your previous point. I'll give you statistics. 90% of Australian employers provided some form of training to their employees in the previous 12 months from the last survey of Employees use and views of the VET system.

Steve Davis: (08:30)
That strikes me as a high number.

Ian White: (08:31)
Yeah, it is a high number. They're huge trainers of the workforce. One of the most important drivers of their need to train employees is the constant need to improve their products and services to compete in this globalized economy. Employee training is very important to make sure that Australian firms stay competitive.

Simon Walker: (08:53)
Absolutely they can coexist. I think that's my take out of this and certainly my experience prior to coming into this company and working in other organizations. There will always be a need for unaccredited training. The one area that I have a particular experience in, and if I could share a little story with you, Steve, is I started my life in the graphic arts industry at a time when the processes were semi-manual. This is the process of converting images and artwork into a printing plate and what we called lithography right.

Simon Walker: (09:27)
Now, when I first got in there, that was a semi-manual process and then of course this massive event occurred, which was the Apple Macintosh, which digitized all of that work. Now the people that were working in the old semi-manual areas had to have an apprenticeship, had to go through their trade to get qualified. The moment that happened and that defused that extra technology or that technology diffused into the sector in a phenomenally quick time, about a year.

Steve Davis: (09:54)
Wow.

Simon Walker: (09:55)
There was no way known the accredited training system could then reconceive of the training program to move into the digital age. It took three or four years before the first of the new accredited products came out, so you were reliant on some form of unaccredited training, sometimes vendors, sometimes quite frankly people working amongst themselves because someone got ahold of it and then taught their colleague and so on and so forth. It was very informal.

Simon Walker: (10:22)
We talk in that report about three types of training, accredited, unaccredited and informal, and a lot of that transfer of knowledge was probably more informal training. Over time, as that technology diffuses more widely throughout industry and across the country, that gets picked up in the accredited course process.

Ian White: (10:40)
Just following on from Simon's thread there, that's absolutely one of the things we did find in the report is that I don't think sometimes it should be framed as ... Or it certainly shouldn't be framed as accredited versus unaccredited training. Quite often, they're complimentary. With an example, in the meat industry, where accredited trading was used to meet the strict legislation and regulatory requirements. Whereas unaccredited training was then used just to reinforce the skills learned in accredited training and such.

Steve Davis: (11:09)
Also, if I reflect on my life, I do a lot of our websites in WordPress. I've learnt on the job all the way through and get by beautifully, got a thousand of them under my belt. However, most people learn WordPress that way and you come across sites that have been put together badly with lots of security flaws, lots of bad decisions made along the way. This is, I think, exactly the point, isn't it, where we haven't been applying ourselves to that formal accredited process. It leaves it open to patchiness.

Simon Walker: (11:45)
And of course not subject to the regulatory standards and scrutiny that you would have through the accredited training systems. There are benefits either way and I think a savvy employer, in particular, will pick and choose what they see is best fit for their organization.

Steve Davis: (11:59)
Which brings up the topic of micro-credentials because I just got myself a digital badge, they call them, from our RMIT for Design Thinking for Innovation. This is a form of micro-credential. It was a six-week course all done online. Wasn't cheap, but it was a good learning experience. How does that fit into this spectrum of training opportunities out there, the micro-credential?

Ian White: (12:27)
Certainly, yeah, they are an interesting development, these little bite-size pieces of training. Now, currently they are unaccredited as they're not quality assured under government pre standards or accredited by the national regulator, although they may be accredited by whoever's providing them. They are currently meeting industry needs and they're currently being considered for inclusion in the AQF.

Simon Walker: (12:49)
The AQF is the Australian Qualifications Framework. That's the overarching framework that sets a whole bunch of criteria about what a qualification is and what the level of skills and knowledge and the application of that skills and knowledge are in the workforce. It is a sort of another arm to the whole accreditation governance and standards setting in the system. Because it is a full qualification, micro-credentials aren't that. That's the first thing to say. What is a micro-credential? What is something that's less than a qualification? So doesn't meet that criteria. Of course, the one that you did is a very small bite-size piece.

Simon Walker: (13:26)
I think what we're really trying to talk about though is the enormous commentary about the lifelong learning and the need for reskilling and upskilling over life, which is growing and accelerating and is projected to accelerate over the next while as technology and the transformation of the workplace occurs. There, again, in my view there will always be a place for unaccredited micro-credentialing. I think the accredited system is struggling to see how it can incorporate that under the standards, but if I go back to my original example, sometimes it is just a question of time before these things diffuse into the accredited training system and that's usually because they become more widespread or become more of a common technology rather than a brand new cutting-edge technology.

Steve Davis: (14:15)
But that's the question now. It's 2019 at the time of recording. Back when you went through this change in the design world, life wasn't moving at the super pace that it is now, which brings me back to that in the earlier question about agility that's required. For the accredited system, we've already talked about how it is a bigger ship to turn around. If someone's listening instrumental within the VET sector, what should they be thinking about? What should be keeping them up at night? What should they be raising in any management and planning meetings?

Simon Walker: (14:55)
The first thing to say is it is absolutely a live issue and there's already plenty of commentary about the ... And you used the term agility ... the responsiveness of the accredited VET system to be more nimble to pick up these trends as they occur and are accelerating over time. It is a debate, as a former government policy officer, that we started at least 10, 20 years ago and the debate rages still. I could point out though that the recent Commonwealth review, called the Joyce Review, picked up on that very issue, that in essence that the system's too slow to respond to the development and is not responsive enough to industry needs and that whole policy development is already occurring as we speak. It has arguably been a continuous process, but I think the need and the driver for that is starting to accelerate.

Ian White: (15:45)
In our research, there is no doubt that industry is demanding and requesting more agility from the accredited VET system and sometimes they may turn to the unaccredited system to achieve that.

Steve Davis: (15:58)
I imagine this is why a hybrid approach is being taken because while we wait for the accredited system to catch up, we need to fill gaps as employers and that's where these off the shelf or even bespoke unaccredited training fills the immediate need.

Simon Walker: (16:15)
Oh, absolutely. A business will always do what it needs to do to be able to get competitive in the marketplace.

Steve Davis: (16:23)
I guess one of the things that I think is of enduring value though for staying within the broad church of an accredited system is a degree of safety or confidence in the choices you're making. If I just reflect as I was choosing where to do my design thinking, the gamut spread from free courses of which I was highly skeptical to some even more expensive than the one I chose. I was really floundering as to how I made my decision. In the end, it was the mark of our RMIT. I thought, "They're not going to let something go through without at least ticking some boxes." Apply that to the VET sector. How does that play into employers looking at some sort of checklist to determine what training decisions to make? What criteria would you put before them?

Simon Walker: (17:18)
It's a really good question because the higher education system is predicated on reputation. People make their choices to do a degree at a certain institution because of its reputation and ranking of the institution. It is arguably not applicable in the vocational education sector, you don't typically have a ranking system that absolutely says this provider is deemed to be reputationally better or worse than that provider. It's a far more homogenous appreciation of that.

Steve Davis: (17:52)
Why?

Simon Walker: (17:53)
I think it's just the way it's always been. Remembering that the VET market used to be just TAFE. If we went back 30 years, there was only one show in town. There's been a deliberate policy strategy to have a market for VET by introducing a lot of private provision. We now have well over 4,000 registered training organizations, but compare that to 150 higher education providers and 40 universities, far more difficult to discriminate between providers than you are in the university sector, plus a culture I think of of just not having that as part of the ranking system.

Steve Davis: (18:28)
Right. Back to some criteria for an employer, what sort of things should they be looking for to try and determine who of the 4,000 odd VET sector providers they might choose from? Are there are a couple of go to questions you would want them to be addressing?

Simon Walker: (18:43)
Yeah, I think actually there is some parallels with the study because flexibility and cost are absolute drivers for any business, for any product for that matter, and that came up with the study anyway, so that'll be one thing. You're talking about discriminating on quality, not so easy. What I would say though is the vulnerability of businesses is less than for an individual. When they're choosing a training provider, they know what they want for their staff, they know whether that service is being provided as well as it can be or not. They'll make that RTO accountable for it. An individual, particularly a school leaver coming out, probably has nothing to compare it to. It's very difficult for them to discriminate whether they're getting a good service or not.

Ian White: (19:27)
In terms of choosing training providers, it was really the ability to tailor the training to the employer's needs. That was one of their main reasons for choosing them and the flexibility and timing in the provision. Presumably they could come and do it when it's suitable for the workforce to be off the job or the workers if you're off the job, etc.

Steve Davis: (19:47)
That is like the old saying. Why are you calling yourself a handyman? Well, I live around the corner. It plays into it from meeting those flexible needs, let alone the accreditation level.

Ian White: (19:56)
Yeah.

Steve Davis: (19:56)
We have the next report, the next survey results coming out soon I believe. At the time of recording, it's about a couple of months away. October 2019 we're expecting them. Have you had a peep inside, Ian? Is there anything that you've seen or can suggest we might see in the results?

Ian White: (20:14)
I haven't had a peep I'm afraid, no, because they're not available yet, but we do know ... As you've mentioned at the start of this podcast, the percentage of employers using unaccredited training is 50% or 54%. It's been around that 50% mark in the last 10 years or so. It'll be interesting to keep an eye on that figure to see if it's moving up or down, particularly with the changes in the economy and the challenges of industry 4.0 etc. We also noticed an increasing trend over the past few years for employers to use unaccredited training to meet highly specific training needs. It'll be interesting if that trend continues on to see if that is something that's driving the use of unaccredited training.

Simon Walker: (20:52)
Yeah. I think following on from what Ian even said, it's possibly a canary in the coal mine. We're telling ourselves that the future of work is changing and the requirements for the job are changing. Can this give us an indicator that that is, in fact, the case.

Steve Davis: (21:05)
How are these data points collected for these surveys? How do you get this information?

Ian White: (21:10)
The survey of employers that use the VET system is mainly designed to collect employers' use of views of the VET system, but it does also collect unaccredited training. It's a survey of ... I think they survey about 8,000, 9,000 employers. Then they are weighted to benchmarks in the Australian Bureau of Statistics Business Register to be reflected in the entire population.

Steve Davis: (21:33)
So we'll be staying up late on the night that they're released, is that the sort of thing that happens within the vocational education sector?

Simon Walker: (21:40)
Oh, we do take a keen interest in the new results.

Ian White: (21:43)
We certainly do.

Simon Walker: (21:44)
Our mission is to tell a story and you've asked for what that story might look like. Ian speculated on what that story might look like, and then you'll have to wait for the story now.

Steve Davis: (21:55)
Gentlemen, thanks very much.

Simon Walker: (21:56)
Thanks Steve.

Ian White: (21:56)
Thanks Steve.

Steve Davis: (21:58)
Vocational Voices is produced by NCVER on behalf of the Australian government and state and territory governments with funding provided through the Australian Government Department of Employment Skills, Small and Family Business. For more information, please visit ncver.edu.au.