Regulation News

Defining, measuring training for Australia?s infrastructure industry

In the face of recent global economic adversity, there is no denying that Australia?s ?lucky country? status can be attributed to the ongoing growth of the most significant resources boom in economic history.

With continued global demand for Australian resources projected to help increase Australia?s GDP by 3.75 per cent in 2012-13, access to a skilled labour force is crucial to ensure the ongoing resilience of the Australian economy. However, confidence in the ability of the national training system to provide a skilled workforce to meet the needs of industry is waning.

The Australian Government has undertaken a number of vocational education and training (VET) initiatives, including the National Workforce Development Fund, reforming the Australian Quality Training Framework (AQTF) and implementing the Skills For All Australians package to improve the measurement and execution of industry training. The initiatives are commendable but the AQTF places too much emphasis on delivering training rather than on the level of student competence.

The problem stems from the insistence of supply-side regulators, such as the National Skills Standard Council, on including non-industry-oriented content into industry training packages and that increasingly calls into question their ability to provide a suitably skilled workforce for Australia?s fastest growing industry.

To address this issue, vocational education and training must be driven by industry requirements rather than supply-side regulation.
Employers within the resources and infrastructure industry must be able to determine the relevance of training to ensure quality skill outcomes are delivered.

Presently, the definition of training quality remains controlled by supply-side determinants such as compliance audit requirements and completion of training courses ? determinants that have little to do with skilling the worker for a specific industry or job.

This has led to a lack of confidence in training, with many companies opting to engage trainers from outside the national system to fill skills gaps within their organisations. This ?independent? training arrangement allows an employer to have more involvement in skilling and up-skilling its staff than is possible with training providers, which are directly publicly funded and only held accountable against broad measures.

By 2015, mining?s contribution to Australia?s GDP is projected to soar 66 per cent to $83.3 billion, while sustained growth of resource commodities such as liquefied natural gas, uranium, thermal coal, copper and iron ore will see Australian energy and mineral export earnings increase by 18 per cent to $219 billion.

In response to the forecast labour demand, industry employers have ranked education and training initiatives as an immediate priority. In a growing, fast moving business where skilled employees are in high demand, employers within the drilling, mining, quarrying and civil construction sectors require access to a pool of workers with expertise that is easily transferrable within and across the sectors.

With that need uppermost in mind, quality training outcomes should be measured by employer confidence in individuals having the appropriate levels of competence and skills to successfully fulfil a given role in a real workplace, rather than a bureaucratic insistence on adherence to procedures that measure the trainer, rather than the trainee.

We [SkillsDMC] believe there is a need for industry to take the lead in developing a system where employers determine the quality and relevance of the training outcomes. Allowing industry to determine where people are best trained will develop greater industry participation and investment into skilling opportunities for new workers and up-skilling and re-skilling options for existing workers.

This is not to say that industry would involve itself in the supply-side operations but rather that the definition of an industry training package should be as follows:

?    Industry training packages specify the skills and knowledge required to perform effectively in the workplace. They do not prescribe how an individual should be trained. Trainers and supervisors develop learning strategies ? the ?how? ? to support an individual learners? needs, abilities and circumstances.
?    The development and endorsement process for industry training packages ensures the specifications are developed to an agreed quality standard and are highly responsive to industry?s existing and future demand for new skills.

We suggest a two-pronged approach be adopted by training providers and industry that would define and measure the training provided. The approach involves trialling and implementing Good Practice Vocational Education and Training Provider criteria paired with employer-based testimonials to attain direct industry feedback about the quality of training outcomes and their relevance to industry.

The combination of the criteria and testimonials seeks to add value to the measurement of market disciplines as well as systematically controlling the quality, relevance and effectiveness of the training.

With the criteria outlining a standard for the training provision and setting expectations up front, many of the challenges currently facing industry would be overcome. Instigating healthy competition between training providers to meet the needs of industry would not only result in realistic costing of training but also promote the rigour of quality assessment and increase the flexibility in location and timing regarding the delivery of training.

Testimonials and case studies would provide primary source endorsements of the demand-led VET outcomes from an employer?s point of view, not from training providers?.

1.    BIS Shrapnel. Mining In Australia 2011-2026 Report. Released: October 2011.
2.    Skills Australia Interim Report. 2011.

Steve McDonald is the chief executive officer of SkillsDMC.

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