Transcript of The student journey: skilling for life podcast

27 August 2019

Vocational Voices: Season 2, Episode 3

The student journey: skilling for life

Steve Davis (00:05)
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 episode is a collection of interviews with speakers from the 28th National Vocational Education and Training Research Conference, No Frills, held in Adelaide in July 2019. The theme of the 2019 conference was the student journey, skilling for life, and over the course of the next hour you'll hear summaries of research, and some suggestions for the vet sector to consider as it helps Australia adapt to the many challenges, and changes facing the world of work.

Steve Davis: (00:47)
One thing that will become clear however is that while every student's journey is different, more and more research, and discussion underlines the importance of workers becoming lifelong learners to enable them to grow, and evolve with their jobs. And more than ever before, Australia will rely upon the vet sector to play a critical role in making this happen.

Steve Davis: (01:12)
We've long been aware there are many non technical skills that make people employable. About 30 years ago, these were identified as the Mayer Key Competencies, and more recently they've been captured in the core skills for work developmental framework. But it seems there's a difference between identifying the skills, and actually finding effective ways to apply this knowledge in the wild. For real people, transferring from job to job, and industry to industry.

Steve Davis: (01:41)
Kate Perkins, senior research fellow Australian Council for Educational Research, or ACER, is coauthor of the core skills for work developmental framework, has led a consultancy undertaking change management programs around the world, and is deeply engaged in the vet sector, exploring ways learners can use the vocational qualifications to crack the code as it were, of what employers really want. Especially when entering the aged, and childcare sectors. Kate, what's an example of some of these core skills I'm referring to?

Kate Perkins: (02:14)
Well, I could probably ask you the same question, and I've asked people all over the world this, and they'll scratch their head for second year, and they'll go things like, "Problem solving, teamwork, communication. Perhaps we could have some planning, and organising, and a creativity. Can we have some entrepreneurship." And the list goes on. But those sorts of skills that we know they exist, and we've got names for them, we think. But sometimes we can't go much further than that.

Steve Davis: (02:49)
Is it that they are hidden in plain sight? Is that what's going on, that's made us slow to identify and classify them?

Kate Perkins: (02:58)
That's an interesting question. It is and it isn't, but I think along with that it is more that we haven't had a common language, and some reference points so that we can see whether we really are talking about the same things. So when I say problem solving, and you say problem solving, I wonder if we are, in fact. And then the thing that we've been looking at is when you go out into the wild, and look at real jobs. So Steven, think about your job. There are only some of those skills that are absolutely essential to what you're doing at the moment, and we've been identifying what they are.

Kate Perkins: (03:39)
Usually people just develop great long lists, and we say, "No, focus on the ones that are critical right now." And then in your job you probably need some of those skills to be quite sophisticated. But some other jobs is might have the same skill area, but not to the same level of sophistication, and it won't be applied in the same way at all. And you could take your very sophisticated skills, and go to a new situation somewhere where you're not familiar, where you don't have much background, knowledge, or experience, and I'll guarantee that your performance will go backwards for a while.

Kate Perkins: (04:22)
And they're the things that we haven't been able to capture, because we've spent all our time talking about these things in terms of lists of labels.

Steve Davis: (04:29)
I want to dig a little deeper on that, but before I do, you've just triggered a memory of a few years ago working with two different cohorts in an organization, older people, and younger people, and bringing up problem solving for the more senior people. It was a self sufficient mode of problem solving where I would apply some analytical thinking, whereas for the younger cohorts, their version of problem solving was getting into their little social network, picking the brains of friends from outside of the organisation, pooling that, and then applying some insights to the problem.

Steve Davis: (05:04)
So I see exactly what you mean. That's a different way of tackling that nut of problem solving.

Kate Perkins: (05:11)
They were using a strategy, and very good that they had one. This was, again, I talk with young people, particularly, we look at people going, preparing to enter into work, or making that transition into work, and they don't necessarily have some of those strategies. And they're some things that we think it's important we should be teaching, and there's more than just that. There're many things you can be doing that are job related, that will help people to do this better. We all do it a bit, some of us better than others, to a greater or lesser extent, but we think it can be ...

Kate Perkins: (05:45)
That you can explicitly teach, and help people to make it a little easier.

Steve Davis: (05:49)
Well, let's reflect on that a little more. Why has industry had trouble teaching these skills, and making sure they are transferable as people moved from job to job, and sector to sector.

Kate Perkins: (05:59)
There's two parts to that question for a start, and the first is you said, industry having trouble. The second is you talked about transfer. So I don't think it's that industries had trouble, I think it's that everybody has trouble. I think it's a joint responsibility, employers, and education, and training sectors, and I mean schools, vet, and higher ed. And again, I'll go back to the fact that part of the issue is that we haven't had a common language.

Kate Perkins: (06:28)
We don't know if we're even talking about the same thing. So if we can't describe what it is we're expecting, and if we can't give some clear idea to anyone, or to a worker for an employer, or an employee. Sorry, to an employee, or to a new entrant of what problem solving we expect of them in this situation, then we can't actually help people to do this very well. But I'd also like to say that there are pockets of brilliance. There are employers that I've worked with, who do this really well, but I don't think it's consistent, and they don't always know that, that's what they're doing.

Kate Perkins: (07:12)
It's intuitive, and it's smart, but again when you know you're doing something, and you can see why you're doing it, you can do it even better, and you can build it into your systems. They don't all have that, and there are people in the vet sector for example, who were doing amazing things in this area, but they are individuals. It is not systemic.

Steve Davis: (07:38)
So the second part of that was the transferring part.

Kate Perkins: (07:38)
And the second bit is the transfer. We don't talk about transfer, we talk about being able to adapt, and apply, and that's different. Transfer sounds like you can put these things in your backpack, and take them on to the next spot, and off you go. And there are some things you need to put in your backpack, we call them transferability skills. Awareness, if you do find yourself in a new context, and you're floundering, what can you do? And which of these skills can you start to draw on, and how might you do it? And these are things that many of us have worked out through our lives.

Kate Perkins: (08:12)
But I meet lots of people who haven't worked them out. And yet it's quite easy to bring them to the fore and start to talk about it. But you have to recognize that when you go into a new situation, the skills that you've developed in the last one, you cannot just plonk them down, and have them working straight away the same way they did before. You have to be aware about adapting, and applying, and if you understand that you are part of the way along, and then there are strategies to help you to be able to do that.

Steve Davis: (08:42)
And those of us in this world are hoping that within the vet sector we can identify ways to help facilitate this ability to adapt, and to understand how to apply to new context. And with that in mind, how would you like to see the vet sector try to respond to this?

Kate Perkins: (09:00)
Interesting. One of the things that we've done, having looked at specific job roles, observed people working, seeing what they do, and which of the skills, the mission critical skills, and how they play out. We've talked to their employers, many of the people in their organisations. And so we were able to describe, what these skills look like and to what degree of sophistication they're expected. Then we've mapped the relevant vet qualifications to see how they currently approach what are mission critical. That means essential skills to do the job that these qualifications are supposed to be preparing someone for.

Kate Perkins: (09:45)
And what we have found consistently, is that they're not there. Or they're there in such a way that they're pretty useless. There's nothing there that you can hold on to, they're usually not assessed, and therefore they're mostly not explicitly taught. So the individual trainers might take it upon themselves, and they do. But I've also spoken to others who say, "Well, it's not our job. It's not there. We don't have to do that, and we don't have time, or money to do it." So if we can't get them codified, if they're not actually in the qualification, and recognised as being essential, just as essential as the technical skills that are in there, then we're not even at first base.

Kate Perkins: (10:30)
There are a couple of qualifications we've found that demonstrate that it can be done, because some people say that you can't do this. The certificate three in engineering has two core units about planning, and organising. And planning and organising, when you're doing fabrication, for example, are essential skills. More than just getting yourself to work, or doing whatever. They're an integral part of doing the job. They teach it, they assess it, and that's incredibly important. It can be done.

Steve Davis: (11:03)
God bless the engineering sector.

Kate Perkins: (11:04)
Yeah. But they also need to do some problem solving, and they haven't got that in there. So there you go.

Steve Davis: (11:10)
So finally, my lay person's mind is thinking, if we tweaked the assessment grid, or process, or protocols, does that then feed its way back through the system?

Kate Perkins: (11:22)
Has to. What is assessed is taught. And it's all about making these things explicit. You said, "Hidden in plain sight." It's about drawing them out so that we can talk about them, we can discuss them, and it's incredibly important for young people entering the workforce. So when we looked at early childhood education, and training, and I worked with some the earners, and trainers there in that field, we went, and talked to employers about what they were looking for when someone was on structured work placement.

Kate Perkins: (11:54)
Which is basically your audition. Will you be offered a job? And in these places, there were jobs to be had, but they only gave them to the people that they had identified on placement that they thought would fit the bill. The things that they thought were most important ... The employers were really clear about what they wanted, and with the core skills work, we could get them to describe it in enough detail that we could go back to the learners, and tell them. And it wasn't hard, but they had the information they needed.

Kate Perkins: (12:30)
When they went back the next day, they could start to think about, how can I do this? How do I do it now? Where am I doing something well? What can I do differently, because these are the things that are going to separate me out from the herd. And again, looking back at the qualification they were doing, there was nothing in there that aligned at all with what their employers were going to use as their employment criteria.

Steve Davis: (13:00)
Kate Perkins, thank you. We've all heard about the increasing pace of technological change in the workplace, and its impact on industries, but how does this apply to one's own set of life skills? How do we remain employable as the future becomes increasingly digital? Morteza Hajizadeh, and Kevin O'Leary, are both engaged in the vet sector in various roles involving research, data capture, and analysis, and feeding that information back into the system to improve vet training packages, and products.

Steve Davis: (13:43)
Mori, I'll turn to you first if you don't mind. At the No Frills conference, you presented on the findings of a nationwide consultation process undertaken by Australian Industry Standards, AIS, involving employers, and education providers. So how did that come about, that body of work, and what are some key insights relating to how individuals can help future proof their careers?

Mori Hajizadeh: (14:09)
Just as you mentioned, we organise a series of forums around the six capital countries in 2018, and we invited different people from employers, different industries that we cover in our organisation, and policy makers, people who are involved in the education sector, and lots of people who are actually working in these areas to come together, and discuss what we need to do to prepare for the future. Which is the digital transformation, and all the new technologies. And we recorded the sessions, and we took notes, and everything, and then we started analysing those notes to get the key messages of the forums.

Mori Hajizadeh: (14:47)
Well, there were many messages, but I guess the important ones, one them was that, we are living in an age of constant change, and the changes are really swift. And so one key message was, call for micro-credentials, or skill set. Which is choosing a few skill sets from a qualification to fulfill a specific job role, because it takes a shorter time for people to complete a micro credential, and just go into the workforce, and do that particular job task that they are required. So this was one of their key messages that a lot of employers were asking for. But of course, it's an easy thing to say. There are some challenges around that with regulations.

Kevin O’Leary: (15:28)
We also have some work that covers off on the portability of skills. So for example, we've had a recent project come to completion on transport security in the transport industry. That involves transfer security in aviation, and transport security in maritime, and transport security in transport and logistics. So an individual who's trained in one industry can more easily move to another industry, change the specialisation of units within what they've already done, and they can move into another industry.

Kevin O’Leary: (16:02)
So that's from a philosophical perspective for the organisation, that's really important concept, and it's something that in a lot of our projects where we're working towards the idea of having a core set of basic units that you can then, if you want to move into a new industry, you can just, with a few small additions, you can be work ready for that new occupation.

Steve Davis: (16:25)
Are there going to be some people hoping, and praying that they're in a position, or a sector that's immune from these impacts of digitisation in particular, and being forced to up-skill even with micro credentials?

Kevin O’Leary: (16:39)
I think there are going to be whole areas that are going to be immune. So for example, there's going to be industries that if you've got a large component of human interaction, I don't believe that, that will ever be automated. So there're things that would come to mind for me like aged care, the corrections industry, for example. Anywhere where you've got even ... I would say the least automate-able industry is probably childcare, you give that another couple of thousand years. But there's certainly industries, and funnily enough, they also happen to be in all three cases, growth industries.

Mori Hajizadeh: (17:16)
We all have these anxieties about the digital transformation, and industry 4.0 which is legitimate, because we're all concerned about what skills we might need in the future. But it must be always mentioned that into all organisations, their employees ... The human capital is an important thing, and the technology is made by humans for humans to be used by them, so it's going to enhance their capabilities. And the important thing is to be able to also manage that shift, which was also a key message. One of the key messages in the forums, just as Kevin said, building pathways between vet sector and university so that you do learn certain set of skills, but you're able to get into some roles, but also build up on that through pathways, and our programs if you want to carry on that education.

Mori Hajizadeh: (18:02)
And also increase your chances to build up transferability skills, build up your chances of moving to other job roles.

Steve Davis: (18:09)
I even note that you've carried out some gap analysis during this relating to what skills are currently needed by industry, and what training is currently being offered in the vet sector. So what does this suggest that skills educators need to be concentrating on in the future?

Kevin O’Leary: (18:25)
That's a bit of an interesting question, right? So one of the first things that we discovered from an aggregate point of view is that, of the skills spoken about during the forum, almost 50% of them were soft skills of some variety or another, and that was surprising to us. And it was doubly surprising, because essentially the structure of what we did was, we asked ... For each forum, there was two panel sessions, and then there were breakout sessions. There was three breakout sessions per event, and there was six of those.

Kevin O’Leary: (18:56)
So there's quite a lot of activity. And in each one of those breakout sessions we had 10 questions, and only the last question actually related to soft skills. So the impact of soft skills up ... We almost, from a data gathering point of view, we had almost a bias against soft skills, and it was surprising then to see them rise up to the top nevertheless. So the big one, which Mori alluded to earlier on, was change management, right? And management in general. Because management is, in my view certainly, the most important soft skill, because it involves so much human interaction.

Mori Hajizadeh: (19:36)
Because it was surprising to, just as Kevin mentioned that a lot of the speakers, we have all these questions about industry 4.0, and surprisingly almost half of the notes, I mean the notes we analysed were about soft skills. But I guess the key message is that, we humans always tend to think we are living in a special times, since the beginning of humanity, with fire was in the special times. Tools in the special times, industrial was in special times, electricity, automation. Now it's just the same. Yes, we are in special times, but we've always been in a special time.

Mori Hajizadeh: (20:08)
So it's just being able to ... We already have these skills, it's just being able to manage the shift, and have the right attitude, and later on another important part of it is that a workplace is playing a very important role, because it's not that traditional workplace where you go, and just work. It should also be a learning organisation as well. So you work, and there is also this internal managerial support to develop internal capabilities to be able to manage that shift to a more digitalised world.

Steve Davis: (20:38)
We've touched on this in a previous episode of this podcast, Vocational Voices, this notion of lifelong learning, which we've all heard for so long. Many of us have been able to get by mouthing lifelong learning without really having to engage in it. We get carried along by momentum, and ebb and flow. Are those days fast disappearing?

Kevin O’Leary: (21:00)
That's another good question. I would say that, and this is coming back to a conversation Mori, and I had yesterday. We were talking about, essentially what we're moving into as an increasingly technical world, and there's going to be, basically, the people who understand how that world works, and the people who, just regular human beings going through their lives. I can see, and what's already happening, to be honest, is the creation of entire jobs that are related to communicating that technical world back to the regular citizen.

Kevin O’Leary: (21:36)
I think that, yes, life's got long skills, and lifelong learning will continue to be important, I don't think it will affect absolutely everybody. That being said, in last year's keynote speech from that chap from Alpha Beta, he was talking about the proportional increase of learning that we're all going to need to do, which was terrifying. But I don't think it will be fully as widespread as he suggested.

Steve Davis: (22:08)
One of the benefits of this mini conversation is that you've highlighted this micro credential, and when you first mentioned at the beginning, Mori, I was instantly thinking of inverted commerce, hard skills, technical skills. Are some of these soft skills slipping by almost in plain sight without being codified, are we going to need to apply some micro credential-ism to them, but sounds like a hard job if that's the case.

Mori Hajizadeh: (22:34)
Well, this whole thing about hard skills, and soft skills is just a very nebulous thing, right? Because you don't really know if this is skill. And again, the thing with soft skills are they really skills, or behavioral traits? Or that's what you also find that in a gap analysis. So you apply for a job, but the job is trying to, as Kevin found that in his gap analysis, the job is trying to appeal to the person to apply. And if I'm the manager of this company, I know that I can work much easier with a person with certain set of qualities rather than skills. So I tend to hire a guy who I can work with in a much easier manner.

Mori Hajizadeh: (23:10)
And I assumed that the guy has some certain level of hard skills, and they can build upon that, but it's the softer skills, we don't really talk about them, or it's very difficult to train for these soft skills. And I guess because soft skills to me is like a social experience. It's something you gain through your social interaction with others, and I guess one way is apprenticeship, which the vet sector is already doing that, and more partnership between ... And that also came up in the forest partnership between different industries, industries and universities, and the vet providers.

Mori Hajizadeh: (23:45)
So its students actually would know the hard skills, they go into the job, and it's a true, the micro credentials or what, or pathway programs. It's on the job that they start to develop those soft skills, they start to develop how to negotiate, how to resolve conflicts, how to maintain a positive attitude towards change. And this is a social experience to me where that they can learn on the job. So I don't know if I can put it into the vet sector in terms of having a unit of competency to develop somebody's soft skill.

Kevin O’Leary: (24:17)
They do exist, and they exist not just at the unit level but also in the performance evidence as well. They are in there just interspersed, and almost every hard skill has some soft skill component to it. One of the difficulties is around the measurement of it, and Mori, you had some pretty interesting insights there.

Mori Hajizadeh: (24:37)
Yeah. Like the point about hard skills is that it's easy to quantify them. If I need to learn computer, I can do a course, and I'll show the certificate to my manager. I can create an app. There's a tangible delivery. So some deliverables are tangible, I can see that. But if my manager tells me, "Mori, you need to learn computer skills." Fine with me. But when it comes to soft skills, there's a degree of resistance. If my manager tells me, "Mori, you need to improve your attitude." I would say, hmm. And I would probably be resistant, would become defensive.

Mori Hajizadeh: (25:09)
My attitude is okay, so people are not really ... Maybe it's you. Because there is no really quantifiable way of measuring them, and if I even improve my attitude, how can I show it in my annual performance review? How can I show that I've become a better team player. So we can't quantify them, or assess them in a way. That's the difficulty with soft skills.

Kevin O’Leary: (25:33)
Even measuring it in the system is a difficult problem. As we were looking in the job advertisement data, one of the things that comes up a lot is they're looking for experience. You would say that experience is not a skill, it's just being around. But they would say, "I'm looking for an experience in high voltage wiring." They clearly don't mean that you have been around high voltage wires, what they are actually saying is they want skills associated with high voltage wiring. So even the surrounding wording can be confusing, and we did some analysis last year, which I thought was rather amusing, which comes about from the trending of certain terms within the system.

Kevin O’Leary: (26:15)
So for example, I found that collaboration that is on the downer in the vet system, teamwork however is shooting on up. So you have a swapping of words, which are both soft skills, but if you didn't know about that other word, or any other synonyms of those words, you'd miss out on that overall trend, which is continuation of that soft skill.

Steve Davis: (26:42)
What an interesting future for all of us. We've got things changing that are requiring technical skill change, and we're also beginning to remember we're all humans. And all those so-called soft skills are about how we collaborate, and work together for the enterprise's outcome. Gentlemen, thank you both for sharing some of your insights, Mori, and Kevin.

Mori Hajizadeh: (27:06)
Pleasure.

Kevin O’Leary: (27:06)
Thank you so much.

Steve Davis: (27:15)
In life there are two sectors we all depend upon at some stage, hospitality, and aged care. By 2023, these sectors would need an additional 79,000, and 69,000 new workers, respectively. And that's something Melinda Brown, general manager Skills IQ describes as a significant challenge. For these sectors, understanding what attracts students to study vet qualifications, and what leads them to complete their courses, or leave are crucial insights if Labour force targets are going to be met. Melinda, what research project do you have underway at the moment to analyse the student journeys?

Melinda Brown: (27:57)
So thanks Steve. We are currently conducting a longitudinal study into student outcomes in both of those areas, aged care, and cookery. We work with both of those sectors as a school service organisation, and we'd gotten a lot of feedback from our industry stakeholders saying that they had a really big issue with retention of people within their workforces. So they could get people to come into the workforce, but they just weren't able to keep them. And within about six months they were losing staff, and there was this constant churn, and this ridiculously high expenditure on recruitment that wasn't paying off in the long term.

Melinda Brown: (28:32)
So we looked at what some reasons might be for that, and there's a lot of anecdotal reasons, and a lot of urban myths that circulate around this that the wages are low, or the hours are bad, or the staff, and the management aren't nice to the junior staff etc etc, but they've not really been any research on why that was. And in terms of being able to create programs, and policy that might help to assuage some of the issues with retention, there was nothing to base it on.

Melinda Brown: (28:57)
So we decided to go ahead with a study that would look at some of those issues, and try to give some actual data behind what were the reasons that people weren't staying, and what were the types of things they were going to, I suppose, if they were leaving the industry? Where were they headed, and what was going on? So that then we could look at how we could arrange things to try and stop the leak that we were getting within industry.

Steve Davis: (29:20)
Leak is exactly the word that, as you were describing I was imagining a bucket that you're trying to fill up, and it's just leaking out at the other end.

Melinda Brown: (29:28)
And pretty much that's exactly what's happening, because people will come into these industries, they're industries where there are labour shortages and skills shortages, so people see it as a prospect for a job, and for a career, and what's happening is they're not staying. So it's costing employers, and the industry as a whole, a lot of money.

Steve Davis: (29:47)
So let's tease out initially what we're finding as perhaps some of the reasons why they're not staying. Because I was wondering is, if we're suddenly expecting people to pick up their qualifications, and that wasn't anything in their mindset in moving into that field, that itself is going to be leading to a leak.

Melinda Brown: (30:05)
Yeah, absolutely. I suppose we've done wave one of the study. We have three waves in this study, and we've finished the first wave, and just received the report which we haven't quite released yet, so you're getting the early heads up. But we've done wave one, we partnered with the Wallis group to conduct the fieldwork for the study, who lots of people will know they do a lot of the longitudinal study work across most of the work in Australia. Most of the students commencing the courses in both of these areas are doing it to find a job. So 49% of respondents in aged care, and 25% in cookery, or they're looking to move into a different career, which is related to that.

Melinda Brown: (30:44)
So again, we've got 37% in aged care, and 20% in cookery. The difference I suppose we found between the two industries, and we did choose these industries based on the feedback, but also because they had some similarities, and differences that we could look at the data, and compare. With cookery as well, there was a difference that we had quite a number of respondents who rated getting extra skills for their job, or starting their own business as a major driver between going into the particular qualification that they chose. And most of the students said that the reason that they had entered this course, or entered this career pathway was that they had a passion for it.

Melinda Brown: (31:23)
So we got quite a lot of people saying, "I've always wanted to work with people. I've looked after my grandmother, for example, and I want to work with the elderly." With cookery, it's obviously, I like to cook. I've always cooked for my family, and I'd like to do that as a career. So we had quite a few people coming into those areas because of passion, or because of desire to do something that they enjoyed, which I guess is one of the first myths busted that nobody wants to do these jobs. Nobody wants to work in aged care, nobody wants to work in hospitality, or cookery, and we hear that a lot.

Melinda Brown: (31:54)
But the people in these courses, and we had quite good responses, 344 in aged care, and 206 respondents in cookery. So we had quite a good response in terms of the students from across Australia. So we've already busted that first myth. There are people out there who want to do these jobs, who want to be in these careers.

Steve Davis: (32:12)
Of those two, the one that's more counterintuitive is people with passion moving into aged care, because I can understand cookery, because we have lots of television shows, or the different chefs shows that surely, and perhaps dangerously, raise the romantic notions of what it is to be in the cookery world that might be met with a dose of cold reality when you're actually having to check in day in, day out.

Melinda Brown: (32:38)
It's interesting that you say that, because I think when those shows first started to rise up, everyone was like, great, this is going to be wonderful for the cookery industry. I think a couple of years on everyone's like, oh dear. It's probably the worst thing that ever happened, because people think that, because you can cook a good Sunday roast, if you quickly go, and be on a reality TV show, within a couple of weeks you'll be able to be a chef. And I guess the reality is that in real life, in the workforce, it's a lot more complex than that.

Melinda Brown: (33:01)
There's a lot more skills and training that you need to be able to work across that whole cross section of the industry.

Steve Davis: (33:07)
The word passion is an interesting one, because I'm sure it's not always savvy, and well loved in academic circles, but there is something about perhaps a challenge to try, and nurture the flame of that passion in what we're planning in these different sectors. Is that actually being thought about, and talked about? Is that something that's at the table?

Melinda Brown: (33:28)
Absolutely. I think certainly all of the industry reference committees that we work with in the various sectors that we work, and all of the sectors that we work in are what we call, people facing sectors. So they're ones where the main aim of the job is to work with other people as a customer, a patient, a client, etc. And a lot of people do go into those because they have a high level of emotional intelligence, and they're aware, and they want to work with people. So it is a passion based industry where some of the others I suppose you go into because you're technical, or you're good with your hands, and things like that.

Melinda Brown: (34:00)
This is more in that emotional intelligence space I suppose, and all of these things rate that way. And it's quite interesting when you look at the students that have gone through the courses, and some results that we got, 91% of the aged care responses were happy, or satisfied, or highly satisfied with their course. They thought it was great. 91%. We talk a lot about what employers think about people's courses, and were the employers satisfied. In this case, we've got students who've gone through, and that they're highly satisfied, and 89% in cookery also.

Melinda Brown: (34:35)
So there's a high satisfaction level there with the courses that they're doing. And one of the factors that rated most highly in the satisfaction was where they had industry trainers who had relevant industry experience. So they're there, and they're wanting to learn from other people who have experience in the sector, and that is something that rates quite highly with the young people that are doing these courses. Nine out of 10 of them also thought that by doing their course, it would help them get a job, or get a better job within the industry as well.

Melinda Brown: (35:05)
So they're obviously looking very optimistically at things in that respect. 82% of aged care, 59% of cookery felt that their course was relevant to their job, and where it wasn't, most of the time they attributed that to a misalignment perhaps between the job, and what was happening in training. And that I think is something that we're going to look at in the next wave, and try, and extrapolate out a little. Because we did have some comments, because when people did say that they were not satisfied, we did some qualitative data about that, and asked them why. And some of them said, "Well, I learned all this stuff in my course, and then when I got to the workplace they said, we don't do it like that. I know you learnt that, but we don't do that."

Melinda Brown: (35:45)
So I think there are some things that are going to come out of this that aren't necessarily going to be training related, they're going to be broader industry issues that perhaps can be looked at in the long term.

Steve Davis: (35:55)
So for people who are running and planning training courses in the vet sector, is it too soon to react to some of your initial findings?

Melinda Brown: (36:04)
Obviously wave one is our benchmarking data. It's our baseline data for the other two waves. I think some findings there that they'll find quite relevant are these things about satisfaction with things like, having industry relevant trainers, and industry relevant course material. Given that we've got 95% of the aged care students, and 85% of the cookery that are satisfied with their job, satisfied with their training, where do these people go? If they like their job in the industry, and they like their training, in six months time there apparently gone, this is what we'll find out in wave two, I suppose.

Melinda Brown: (36:39)
But where do they go, and what happens to them? Are they going to other jobs within the industry? Are they going to different jobs in a different industry, or what's happening to them? So I guess that's what we're looking at with waves two and three. We'll be looking to benchmark all of that against our baseline data from wave one, and explore those employment outcomes. Work out what it is that drives staff satisfaction, and drives retention, and then also look at perhaps areas where policy, or programs can come into play to help facilitate that, and to help with that retention issue.

Steve Davis: (37:11)
I guess the double edge sword with these initial findings is, if everything is rosy with the training, people running vet training courses might think, off the hook. But in fact someone has to take responsibility for this, don't they?

Melinda Brown: (37:24)
Indeed, and that is one of the questions that we will be asking everybody, and one of the things that we've planned. Wave two is commencing right about now, and one of the things that we will be checking in, because I guess you don't know what you don't know. And we talked about that in the keynote this morning, that people don't know what they don't know. In some respects, people have done this course, they've got a lot of new information, they're really excited, and they're going out, and they're starting their career, and they think it's all great.

Melinda Brown: (37:52)
It'll be really interesting to come back a year later, and say, "When you think about when you first entered industry, and you had that knowledge, was it actually the knowledge you needed? Or if you had your time again, what other things would you have wanted to know, or do that could have made it better?" So that'll be where the interesting parts coming in, I suppose.

Steve Davis: (38:10)
Melinda Brown, thank you very much.

Melinda Brown: (38:11)
Thank you.

Steve Davis: (38:21)
When is a worker truly competent? According to Michael Hartman, CEO of Skills Impact, the vet system, doesn't always support suitable workplace practice, and often fails to meet the expectations of learners, employers, industry and government. He argues that the current vet system appears to be forcing RTOs to certify learners as competent when they do not have sufficient access to workplace practice to meet the definition of competency currently held by the system. He notes that while training is an enabler of competency, only supervised workplace practice delivers real competency.

Steve Davis: (39:03)
Michael, if workplace practice has a distinct advantage over training in terms of worker competency levels, why shouldn't all vocational training take place as workplace practice?

Michael Hartman: (39:16)
Good question, Steve, and what we're talking about today based on our consultations with industry is that, training is certainly needed. So we are not actually making a point that training is a second citizen, we actually do need a lot of training, but we also need the workplace practice. And the vet sector is well known, and has got one of its signature programs is trainee-ships and apprenticeships that carefully have blends of training, formal training, as well as workplace practice. Those programs now make up less than 8% of delivery in the vet sector.

Michael Hartman: (39:56)
And so the real question is what's happening with the other 90%, or so of training delivery in the vet sector? And a lot of that training happens without mandated workplace practice. So a student can turn up at a tafe college, or another RTO, and for example in vet nursing, is one of the sectors we look after as a skill service organisation, and they can enrol in a two year program in vet nursing, and we've just put in the qualification, 400 hours of work experience is mandated by industry. Until that went in there, there was no mandated work experience. So you do all the learning in a college, and you don't necessarily get access to a workplace to practice the skills that you've learned in the college.

Steve Davis: (40:42)
It's not rocket science to understand that some workplace practice is going to imbue you with understandings that are deeper, and broader, what's happened? Do you have any sense of why the vet sector has retreated, it seems, from having those elements mandated? Is it convenience?

Michael Hartman: (41:06)
The theme of my presentation to the NCVER conference is about the obvious things that we quite often overlook in the vet sector, and one of those obvious things is the impact of funding cuts. So if we look at primary, and schools education, if we look at universities over the last 10 years, they've increased by 30%, the funding levels, which really in real terms over 10 years, that's about staying even. The vet sector has declined slightly by about 6%, which basically means they've experienced a 30% funding cut.

Michael Hartman: (41:43)
So it's very difficult to deliver quality when the funding goes down, particularly when the needs are rising. Industry is working more, and more hours each year. I think last year we topped about 22 trillion hours of work. Delivery hours was about 780 million delivery hours. A lot of delivery hours, but in percentage terms, trillions versus millions, we're talking a very small percentage of the workforce is actually supported by the vet sector. We would like to see that grow, and for it to grow, we think there needs to be policy improvements, and funding improvements.

Michael Hartman: (42:20)
So one of the obvious things is you can't run a vet sector with the low levels of funding that's currently in the system, and that really inhibits an RTO's ability to go in the workplace, and work hand in hand with enterprises to ensure their students get the required workplace practice. That's an obvious conclusion number one. Another obvious one is, we think that workplaces now are losing the culture of training. They expect to get a trainee with a qualification, and that person to be completely work ready, and work practiced.

Michael Hartman: (42:55)
And we're finding there's a drop in the number of employers who are prepared to take on apprentices, and trainees, so that's an obvious implication that, if you're a student wanting to learn a new area of work for yourself, it's very difficult to get access to a workplace to practice that. And so the journey of competency does depend highly on RTO led training, but it also depends on access to workplace practice situations, and we would like to see that change.

Steve Davis: (43:26)
There's enough little gap that's arisen in a couple of interviews in this particular episode, and that is where someone who's finished some training goes to the workplace, and is told, "No, you don't do it that way. We don't do it that way." And there's a gap between the reality of protocols in the workplace, and what's actually being trained. And I wonder if that's a symptom of the potential disconnect when you are learning offsite versus having workplace practice as part of the training process.

Michael Hartman: (43:59)
Yes, that is one of the challenges, and quite often it's the employee who thinks, what are they training in these days? But sometimes the reality is, the students are learning modern day practice. The employer is working on systems, and processes that might be 15, or 20 years old. And it is one of the challenges of our organisations that write qualifications, and skill standards, is we have to have these standards cover technologies that were created 20 years ago that are still active, and being used in the workplace, versus technologies now, and for the future.

Michael Hartman: (44:36)
And that's the tension we've got in the vet sector, because not every workplace is the same, and so that's why we don't support a system that's based purely on workplace practice, because enterprises love delivering skills that are absolutely specific to their enterprise, and one of the qualities of the vet sector is that it delivers skills that are recognised nationally, that are designed to meet industry standards versus a standard of one particular enterprise.

Steve Davis: (45:06)
So no particular stakeholder gets to point at the other saying, "The problem's all at your end then." Do they?

Michael Hartman: (45:13)
If it was a very simple system, you could say that, but no, we think a lot of the areas of skills, and training are oversimplified. People try, and understand it and look for very simple solutions. But the system is a lot more complicated than most people give it credit for, and it takes a fair bit of time to understand it.

Steve Davis: (45:34)
Well, based on your industry consultations, what's the actual reality of competence outcomes at the moment from that perspective?

Michael Hartman: (45:43)
It's variable, and where industry, and enterprises are involved in the competency journey, we find there are very good outcomes, and we're just concerned that the areas of growth of the vet sector in recent years seem to be areas of growth, which doesn't require industry involvement. And the way the regulation of the vet sector is currently working, many enterprises in industries feel like they're shut out of the system rather than an active participant in the system. And this is something that could change, it's a cultural change, but it's also a regulation change.

Michael Hartman: (46:20)
The definition of competency does require workplace practice, but enterprises who can best deliver that practice, and can best assess as to whether that practice is being performed correctly, are quite often left out of the system. It's too difficult for RTOs to bring them in the system. It costs money, it costs time, and unfortunately where the vet sector due to funding pressures has now turned into a high volume, low margin business. And so we all know what high volume, low margin businesses look like, and a lot of the education training needs to be niche, needs to be regional, needs to be enterprise specific, and the system doesn't have enough money in it to deliver those outcomes.

Steve Davis: (47:04)
You're touching on some other themes that are seeming to be quite universal here at the moment, because in that scenario you can understand an RTO just focusing on what is going to get assessed as to what they put into their curriculum, etc. And so my question is, the current assessment, and certification system, does that need fixing in some way to realign the outcomes to better meet what the industry actually needs? Is there is that one area where we could actually get the tool kit out and start making some changes?

Michael Hartman: (47:37)
Yes. I think RTOs try, and do the best job they possibly can do under a lot of challenges. But one of those challenges is, there is a regulator, and the regulator wants to make sure that the RTO has performed the assessment correctly, and be careful if you're an RTO relying on third party assessment, or third party information. Our contention, we work with industry all the time is that, most industry bodies, or employers, or enterprises are best positioned to make an assessment about whether someone's competent, or not.

Michael Hartman: (48:13)
So we think there's a real role for RTOs to make assessment, is this person knowledgeable, and are they safe to work? That can be assessed within an RTO environment, and then what can be assessed in the world of work is an employer saying, "Does this person perform to the required work standards?" You put them both together, and you do get the system definition of competency, but RTOs under the current system are being asked to do the whole thing. The beginning training, right to assessment of, is this person competent in multiple situations, repeated circumstances, and an RTO is not able to deliver that.

Michael Hartman: (48:52)
So in the presentation, I unpacked these issues, what does competency mean? And for many RTOs it's, will I've got a day to spend with this student. So competent is what I can make this student into within one day, because that's all the funding we've got. And we just think the system needs to just be broadened to include this combination of RTO inputs, which are absolutely vital, and then employer led practice, where the enterprise makes a competency decision as part of the competency journey.

Steve Davis: (49:27)
Because in your talk also, you tease apart workplace safe to practice as one level. Workplace competency, what you've just been talking about, and there's mastery.

Michael Hartman: (49:37)
Yeah. So this is the missing obvious bit that's not really talked about. When you talk to people about competency, they say, they're a little bit competent, they're reasonably competent, they're very competent, or they're really really good. And we're not confusing this with graded assessment of A, B, C, or D. We are basically saying that competency is a journey, and to get someone safe to practice, and knowledgeable, you know you might be able to do in a few months depending on what the units of competency are, not a whole profession.

Michael Hartman: (50:09)
And then they practice for six, or 12 months, and they get quite good. But if they continue to do that work for five, or six years, they achieve a level that's well beyond competency, but our system doesn't recognise that, our culture doesn't recognise it. And so we think there is a role for the vet sector to work with industry so that there is this recognition of a level of mastery, so that people take pride, they want to become a master in their profession, and they also want to be mentoring, and helping other people get to those levels.

Michael Hartman: (50:39)
Which means we develop a culture in workplaces of workplace training that is beyond just what RTOs can deliver.

Steve Davis: (50:48)
Michael, to finish. If you had the power, and the funding for the vet sector, what would you like to see if you looked into your crystal ball? What changes would you love to implement?

Michael Hartman: (51:02)
Well, I love the idea of people, and organisations playing to their strengths, and being allowed to play for their strengths. So the simple thing that I don't think is too far to reach for, is let's let RTOs do what they're good at, which is develop knowledge, and develop basic skills that people are safe to practice. Let them do what they're good at, and let them assess against that. It wouldn't be a competency certificate, it would be a stepping stone to competency, and then let industry do what they're good at.

Michael Hartman: (51:30)
And that is, they know what competency looks like, they know how to ensure their workers can deliver competency. So let industry then continue the journey, and issue the final competency certificate, and then also build onto the system as we've just said, this concept of mastery so that people can be aspirational in their roles over a five to 10 year window of a job rather than thinking about the next two to three months.

Steve Davis: (51:58)
Michael Hartman, thank you.

Michael Hartman: (51:59)
Pleasure.

Steve Davis: (52:09)
Alongside debate about soft skills, and employability skills, there's a challenge, and an opportunity to revisit the vet sectors approach to recognition of prior learning. RPL candidates often struggle to have their skills formally recognised as workplace competencies, and this is reflected in the declining numbers of students with RPL granted. Deb Carr, Think About Learning, and Dr Helen Smith, RMIT Consultant, and CD University Fellow, are undertaking a research project to identify, and explore difficulties commonly faced by RPL candidates, while also seeking to find some mitigating strategies.

Steve Davis: (52:51)
Deb, I'll turn to you first. Why should the vet sector be paying more attention to RPL?

Deb Carr: (52:57)
I'm glad you asked that Steve. First and foremost, RPL has a social justice agenda, as well as a labour market efficiency agenda. There are the assumed potential benefits, and we're looking at a changing world of work where one of the biggest skills that are learnt in the workplace are technological skills. So that's well and good to learn those at your job until you need to move, or you want to ... You move job, or move up in your career. So to have that formal recognition, that piece of paper to say, this is what I can do.

Deb Carr: (53:39)
When you are competing with other people for a job on the market, and you don't have that qualification, that becomes really important.

Steve Davis: (53:46)
So the social equity, or social justice aspect, who loses out if we're not paying attention to that? What is the cost?

Dr Helen Smith: (53:55)
We all lose out. Because everybody knows that more equitable societies are more cohesive societies, and societies in which there are opportunities to learn are societies in which people can engage. So the more opportunities we give to people to develop the confidence you get by being formally recognised, you can argue that we're contributing to the overall cohesiveness of society.

Steve Davis: (54:24)
How does RPL work within the vet system?

Dr Helen Smith: (54:27)
If you're asking how RPL works in the vet system, and how it's supposed to work, and actually how it does work, they're two different things. How it's supposed to work is that the RTO is supposed to facilitate the process of recognition by assessing what the person already knows, and the skills they already have. So it is an assessment process. What actually happens is that it becomes an interrogation rather than an assessment, and this has come through Deb's data, and also through my experience. It's a negative. You've got to go away, and come back with everyone in vet knows the expression, the wheelbarrow of evidence.

Dr Helen Smith: (55:13)
You've got to come back with the wheelbarrow of evidence so I can be convinced as a representative of the system that you're good enough to be recognised. And what was meant to be was a collaborative process where a teacher helped somebody who needed to get formal recognition, talk about what they knew, and provide sources of evidence that the assessor could then go, and put together, and confirm that the person was competent.

Deb Carr: (55:42)
So what we're finding in the way that it's conducted compliantly, is that the production of evidence, having to produce that evidence is the major barrier in two ways. To gain employer buy in, because much of the time you need that third party reference, and that employer you may not have work with anymore, or you may not want to contact anymore. Or they haven't kept the records, or the person that you need to contact has gone away, and doesn't work there. Or it's shut down, it's not there anymore.

Deb Carr: (56:16)
So to get that third party referee is sometimes near impossible. To get the documentary evidence that exactly suits what you need it to suit, sometimes workplaces don't actually do things that map directly ... in a way that map directly to a unit of competency. So that's a really big disconnect, because how the units of competency, how much detail they go down to, not every workplace works like that.

Steve Davis: (56:43)
I'm forming an impression from an RTO perspective that a candidate seeking RPL requires them to go above and beyond the call of duty, and it's a burden as opposed to being another equivalent approach of getting someone through.

Deb Carr: (57:01)
Yeah, it's supposed to be in enabling, and empowering process. And I did interview RPL assessors as well, and I really did feel for them, because they knew to do it in a compliant way, they were putting so much pressure on the candidate, but they have to do it this way. This is the way that the compliance says to do. And they gave me so much insight, and detail into the difficulties that the candidates are experiencing, that puts them in the middle. So for example, one assessor said, "I have this pack I send out to my potential RPL clients. It's fairly massive. It gives a summary of the units of competency, and gives a summary of what evidence you may need to enrol in this process."

Deb Carr: (57:56)
"My manager says, this is way too big. It's way too big. It's too cumbersome, it's overwhelming for the potential RPL candidate." Which is true. I have found that those packages are overwhelming for potential candidates. So manager says, "Cut it down. ASQA comes to visit, our regulator." And says, "This is a great pack. This is great. This is what we wanted to see. This ticks all our boxes of compliance. It gives the student everything that they need to know, an informed decision to make, whether they're going to enrol in RPL, or not."

Deb Carr: (58:31)
So here's the assessor in the middle. They're getting the angst from the candidate. They're feeling bad, because the candidates having a terrible experience, the regulators happy, the manager's not happy. It's a terrible position to be in.

Steve Davis: (58:45)
Are there any particular groups for whom RPL is of greater significance than others?

Deb Carr: (58:50)
As an enabling, and empowering activity, it was meant for people that don't have post compulsory education. However, the data is telling us the uptake for this is only for people that are certificate three onwards. And in fact, most of my research subjects had certificate four as their lowest level of education attainment. Two of them had their masters, they still had enormous difficulties in confidence to do the RPL process. How on earth someone that doesn't have any education after school, which the RPL process was meant to be for, can complete this process with confidence intact.

Deb Carr: (59:38)
It's supposed to be a confidence building activity. The data shows that it simply is not.

Steve Davis: (59:44)
So let's tease out this research project that's underway. What's the overview? What's the process, and what are you hoping to arrive at?

Deb Carr: (59:53)
So I've spent time in interviewing 21 RPL assessors with the experience of over a thousand RPL assessments. Then I went to stage two, and interviewed, and worked with 11 RPL candidates in different stages. 28 interviews with 20 hours of recorded information for me to go through. I did ask the candidates, how can we do this better? And they've got some really valuable suggestions for RTOs, as well as for candidates themselves to empower throughout the process. We do know the system, and having to have documentary evidence to meet what we call the performance evidence part of the unit of competency actually is in opposition to recognizing someone that has through informal learning come to being competent.

Deb Carr: (01:00:52)
So we're saying, you can arrive to this competence state by any which way. Informally, formally, or non formal. But then we say, but you have had to do this, you have had to do this, you have had to do this, and we want all the documentary evidence to say so. So it's contradictory.

Steve Davis: (01:01:13)
There's some contradictions. Helen, I'll close with some reflections from you if I may, from the tertiary sector looking in, RPL is active there as well. Are there any last observations you'd like to share with us about what's happening across different aspects of that broad spectrum?

Dr Helen Smith: (01:01:34)
I'd have to say that universities really don't get RPL. Vet teachers normally do, particularly now after 20 years of competency based learning. Because people got used to the idea that there are a set of standards, and the trick is to get the person who needs the qualification through a process of assessment so they can demonstrate they're competent. That mirrors very nicely onto RPL. If you didn't have this terrible compliance blanket sitting over us. Academics tend to see knowledge as a thing that people come to a particular place for, knowledge in a university is structured around the discipline.

Dr Helen Smith: (01:02:23)
And as an academic, you're the custodian of the discipline, and the person comes to you. If you look at the way knowledge is organised in the vet sector, it's organised around workplace productive processes, and it's easier there to see, well, you learn the thing by doing it, and by watching someone else do it, and by practising, and by talking to people who do it well, and reflecting on it. So I'd say overall in the tertiary sector, it's very mixed, and pretty patchy in higher ed.

Dr Helen Smith: (01:02:55)
Academics find it very difficult even to know how to take people who've got a certificate for a diploma, or an advanced diploma, and allowing them credit into a degree. In vet, it's done better because there's a consciousness of it, and it is undermined by our fear of being noncompliant. And I think one of the things that we really need to do is have a conversation about compliance.

Steve Davis: (01:03:22)
And hopefully this is just one of those starts. Dr. Helen Smith, Deb Carr. Thank you.

Deb Carr: (01:03:28)
Thank you.

Steve Davis: (01:03:38)
Australia needs its industries, and its workforce to adopt lifelong learning, so we can be flexible, and adjust to changes, and challenges that are upon us, and will continue to be so. However, there's growing awareness that there are psychological factors affecting a third of all learners that undermine their confidence in and commitment to studies and training. And according to Cameron Williams, PhD candidate with the University of New South Wales Black Dog Institute, many educators are unaware of these psychological constructs causing such detrimental consequences.

Steve Davis: (01:04:14)
Cameron, two of the most debilitating psychological factors affecting learners are impostur-ism, and maladaptive perfectionism. I wonder if you could start by perhaps describing them, and explaining how they're effecting learners in our education system.

Cameron William: (01:04:29)
Sure. Thank you so much Steve. So essentially you're right, they are two of the problematic individual differences, or components that we consider with students at higher education. So impostur-ism is essentially this feeling that the student doesn't belong at the training organisation, the university, wherever they are. They feel that either they've been admitted due to chance, or luck, or some other factor, and that they're just fooling everybody else to think that they fit in, when really they don't actually believe that that's the case.

Cameron William: (01:05:03)
Maladaptive perfectionism is a similar component. And essentially this component is the negative part of perfectionism. It's that negative side. It's when perfectionism, the striving for goals, becomes excessive. So this is not where students are trying to do their best and trying to succeed in their studies. But rather this is when they believe that no matter what they do, it's never good enough. It affects quite a large proportion of students, somewhat surprisingly. And I think we'll probably talk about that a bit later in terms of why that might be.

Cameron William: (01:05:39)
But essentially these components, they influence two factors for students. They influence wellbeing, students either start to feel burnt out, or exhausted, or cynical about their studies. Sometimes depressive symptoms kick in as well for these students. And then in turn as well as just directly as well, it also influences the student's educational outcomes. Sometimes students just become demotivated, disengaged, and sometimes this even leads them to drop out of their studies.

Steve Davis: (01:06:08)
Picking up on these two, before we dive deeper into the vet sector, both impostur-ism, and maladaptive perfectionism, don't strike me as something new, or are they? Or are we just becoming aware of naming this?

Cameron William: (01:06:25)
They're certainly not new. 1990s was when imposturism started to be spoken about. It fell behind in the research a little bit, so it had a space where it wasn't being discussed. And then I think what's happened since, even the last 10 or so years, perhaps even less than that, is it started to be spoken about in popular media. So it started to be discussed in terms of organisations, because these things affect academic staff just as much as they affect students. Likewise, we've started to get an understanding that perfectionism has both positive, and negative sides.

Cameron William: (01:07:03)
So you're right, it's a matter of the two components there being not necessarily new things, but things that we're starting to think about more in research, and hopefully the next step is to start to think about them in practice.

Steve Davis: (01:07:17)
A disturbing aspect of this is how these psychological factors can erode the soft skills that we often refer to. Things like resilience, when it seems that having a strong base of such soft skills are the best way to thwart the effects of these psychological factors. How on earth can the vet sector navigate what seems to be a catch 22 scenario?

Cameron William: (01:07:43)
You're exactly right. It's really a reciprocal relationship that exists here between all of these factors, the positive influences, the negative, and then exactly vice versa. And we've actually done some longitudinal research around that to start to look at, how do these two things interact? Is that that one starts first, is that one then influences the other? What's the way around this? Unfortunately the results for that are still something that we're getting to. But I think that what we do know is that what we can do within the higher education system is the factors, or approaches rather that can actually influence the negative in the ways that we would hope to, whilst also simultaneously building the positive.

Cameron William: (01:08:25)
So for me it's less about thinking, which point is the starting point, and which one do we need to increase, or decrease first? But rather going, these factors generally affect a very large proportion of students, obviously at different levels, but they are fairly prevalent. So if we can do things in the educational system to simultaneously improve, or fix one of the two sides, then I think that that is the way that we should start to be considering it as a culture change.

Steve Davis: (01:08:53)
It's almost, it seems like we need some nuance to respond when a student, or a learner is starting to ask some questions, or show ... I remember my first attempt at doing undergraduate studies wanting to differ midway through a course, and it was either black, or white. It was either you're in, or you're out. I was an annoyance rather than something that required some sort of thoughtful response. That was a long time ago, is that sort of thing that you feel we're going to need to get to. Some nuance in responding to these warning signs, and these questions?

Cameron William: (01:09:30)
I think that there is that. I think that the ideal situation ... I'm quite a hopeful optimist when it comes to a lot of these things. So I think that the ideal that we will eventually move to is just better preventative measures within changing the university culture. But I think that you also touched on a really important point there is that, there are certainly factors that I'm not sure that we do well enough currently. So just qualitative speaking to students, rather than necessarily just giving them an end of semester, or end of year survey. That the students are often cynical about the effects of that.

Cameron William: (01:10:11)
So I think things about asking students, "Okay, what can we be doing better? What are we already doing well." And then looking at these factors. And then the subsequent point to that is also when students are starting to think about withdrawing. Having support mechanisms, not necessarily that we need more support mechanisms. Although I think more support is always going to be beneficial, but just making sure that students know where they can go. I think that, that is really important.

Cameron William: (01:10:39)
Because sometimes there's this disconnect where students are going to academics, often times academics then don't know where to send the students, because academics themselves are really stressed. So I think just better information, better transparency, these things I think would be really valuable.

Steve Davis: (01:10:55)
And just to close on some thoughts at a personal level for any trainers, or educators within the vet system who are listening to this, how can they increase their awareness of this situation as what is self-awareness? Because if there's one thing that out of the whole black dog awareness is, it's not always the other, it's also within that we need to be mindful of.

Cameron William: (01:11:17)
You're exactly hitting on the right point there. I think that it's a really hard one. So one thing that I always stress is that academics need further support as well. Academics are one of the most highly stressed careers. They have one of the highly most stressed occupations, and I think it would be really naive, especially as a PhD student to go, these academics should be doing so much more for students. And I don't believe that, because I don't think that we can optimally improve one component of wellbeing, i.e. student wellbeing, or staff wellbeing without affecting, and optimising the other component.

Cameron William: (01:11:56)
So it's a really tough question, because I think that it brings us to a point where quite frankly, we need to do more practice. We need to do more research. And I think that that is quite frankly why I'm looking at the thing that I am. At the moment though, I think that it's about just diving into some research, even if it's an educator that has an early days scientist practitioner model in their mindset. Fortunately, this research, a lot of it is relatively common sense. So a lot of the components that we're talking about, a lot of the characteristics, they don't come with these excessive levels of models, and theories that are just way too hard to understand.

Cameron William: (01:12:39)
So sometimes it's actually really feasible that educators can just start to read some scholarly literature, and hopefully will have more real world applied literature coming out soon as well. And then it's also just a matter of trying to both for students and for staff, reduce some of this stigma about wellbeing, stigma about not necessarily being as good as we might be presenting we are to others. I think that is a longterm change, because that comes down to a culture change within the academic system where we don't need to put necessarily these really strong barriers up.

Cameron William: (01:13:17)
But I think that those things over time will hopefully lead to a much healthier psychosocial environment within higher education. And I think that, that is where we're trying to move. But I also think that it will take a while to get there eventually.

Steve Davis: (01:13:32)
Cameron Williams. Thank you.

Cameron William: (01:13:33)
Thank you.

Steve Davis: (01:13:43)
In our market economy user choice is held as the gold standard in almost all market sectors, but is that the case in the vet sector? Don Zoellner, from Charles Darwin University has used data collected by the NCVER to explore results of the progressive implementation of national competition, and new public management policies favoring increased user choice. Don, how did you approach this research, and what data stats did you work with?

Don Zoellner: (01:14:18)
Steve, I just need to make sure that everyone understands that these are my personal views, and not those of any organisations, or committees with which I operate. So having put that in, we use the national vet provider collection. But also we use the regulatory authorities' registration details, which you can cross reference the providers with their ABN number to find out if they're for profit, or not for profit, and the way in which they trade in the market. So I was particularly interested in Victoria, because they were the first to set up a vet training market.

Don Zoellner: (01:15:00)
And I wanted to see what happened with the location of training providers, and the way in which training provision was then delivered. Because as you pointed out at the opening, user choice is the gold standard for delivery of public services currently. It's still got quite a good reputation amongst governments wishing to deliver the best services to people. And so when the Victorian training market was set up, it particularly said that students and employers living in regional areas, non metro areas of Victoria, would have increased choice, more access to training, and they would have a larger range of providers from which to choose, and I wanted to test that proposition.

Steve Davis: (01:15:57)
I'm going to have a stab at this. I would guess that decentralisstion wasn't what eventuated, and things centralised.

Don Zoellner: (01:16:05)
Initially there was a large increase in overall number of people in training in Victoria, because they had an uncapped system. And so the numbers went up, well, that ran out of control budgetarily, and I think that's a word. And so the government re-imposed spending caps on the amount of training they would do. So the number of people in training started declining quite rapidly. The growth period wasn't particularly interesting, it was pretty uniform across the states. So it's the decline stage of the events that I was interested in.

Don Zoellner: (01:16:44)
That's from about 2012, 2013. So what I found was, I looked at the magnitude of the decline. So while the actual largest number of students dropped most in the metro area, because that's where the largest population is, I looked at the percentage of drop. And so what you found was year, on year, on year, that the decline was much larger in regional, and remote areas than it was in the cities.

Steve Davis: (01:17:13)
Largely due to the capping of funding do you think? Or there are other equity aspects at play?

Don Zoellner: (01:17:22)
Well, I think capping because, two thirds of the providers ... Sorry, about three quarters of the providers were for profits. So that's by looking at their business data, you could see that there were for profit, and so they were going where the profits were. So the number of students doesn't tell you everything. So I then decided to look at, not only the regions that were losing training, but I looked at where those training providers were headquartered. Well, again, the bulk of them were in the cities, and so virtually none were set up in remote areas, and there were only a handful, literally a handful in regional areas, and they were very specialist.

Don Zoellner: (01:18:07)
So like wool sharing, diving along the coast, and a couple of flight schools using the vacant area ... Minimally occupied airspace. So what happened instead of getting user choice, in fact, because at the same time, the amount of funding, and the number of people that the local tafes could train, that was dropping quite rapidly. So they were withdrawing from the regional areas, which the RTOs ostensibly never went to, the private RTOs. So the people in regional areas, not only lost, didn't get the choice of provider that was promised. So there was no user choice that was supposed to improve their outcomes, and give them a better control over making decisions.

Don Zoellner: (01:19:03)
They in fact lost all choice. Those who fund training, and those who plan training need to understand what has happened. Because one of the problems with the issue is that many people in those decision making positions don't last long enough in the job to see the consequences of the decisions that were made in 2009. I would hazard to guess that virtually none of them are left in a position of responsibility for that. So I think, Steve, that there's an issue there that if one looks at the distrust of the political system, which commentators talked about in the recent federal election, but also in state elections.

Don Zoellner: (01:19:52)
The push back from people in those regional areas that are losing services because, vocational education and training would only be one. They see this through a whole lot of service delivery that's been withdrawn. This is just a another case where, while the market worked in a macro sense in reducing overall government expenditure, as a public policy objective, that's not necessarily a bad thing. It was successfully achieved. It came at the cost of delivery to regional, and remote Australians, or Victorians in this case. But I've done some other preliminary work, and it suggests that you've got very similar patterns in the other jurisdictions.

Steve Davis: (01:20:33)
Don Zoellner, canary in a coalmine. Thank you very much.

Don Zoellner: (01:20:37)
Thank you Steve.

Steve Davis: (01:20:39)
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