Regulation News

Vocational training in the past three decades: 1984 to 2014

Nineteen Eighty-Four! Those of us who were around then and had read the 1949 George Orwell novel Nineteen Eighty-Four were probably pleased that his predictions of an all-intrusive system of constant monitoring of our lives had not materialised in the form of a “Big Brother”.

But here we are 30 years later and many of his predictions have come true, and we have that dreadful “reality” TV show Big Brother!

Orwell’s predictions of closed circuit TV monitoring of vehicle and pedestrian movement in our cities and the monitoring of our electronic communications are not the only things that have changed in the past three decades. So have many other things, including our vocational education system and the means we use to assess the competence of our people.

In 1984 the only recognised vocational training available for the Australian quarry industry was the Box Hill Technical College Certificate of Technology in Quarrying. This was a classroom-based knowledge and skills course at Certificate IV level. The only other source of recognised training for managers for the quarry industry was the universities.

The Institute of Quarrying (Australian Division) and the industry recognised the need for a more advanced vocational education course for quarry employees to progress into management positions and to meet statutory quarry management requirements.

In 1982 the Australian Institute of Quarrying Education Foundation (AIQEF) was incorporated by the Institute to raise and manage funds for training in the industry. A new Box Hill course, an Advanced Certificate in Extractive Industries, was its first achievement, introduced in 1990.

In the early 1990s, a course similar to the Box Hill course, an Advanced Certificate in Quarry Management, was introduced in New South Wales through the Illawarra and Mount Druitt institutes of TAFE.

Classroom-based learning and assessment was the norm in 1984 and into the 1990s, and included coverage of knowledge and skills required for the safe, effective and efficient operation of quarries. Box Hill did offer a “distance learning” program, on which the students learnt from texts and workbooks and attended “block release” programs in Melbourne.

These advanced certificate courses were intended to provide the knowledge and skills required by managers of quarries with multiple teams or managers who had responsibility for several small single team operations. There were no courses or qualifications available to provide similar knowledge and skills for quarry operational staff, supervisors or more senior or specialist managers.

In the early 1990s, all states, territories and the Australian Government established the Australian National Training Authority and a national vocational education and training (VET) system. Before this, Australia had eight separate training systems and there was no recognition of vocational qualifications between each state and territory.

The late 1990s saw the establishment of the National Training Framework, now the National Skills Framework, and the development of training packages.

Some 26 Industry Training Advisory Bodies were formed as tripartite bodies with industry, union and government representation, responsible for the development of industry training packages. These packages introduced a competency-based system of training and assessment and included three endorsed components: units of competency, qualifications and assessment guidelines.

Whereas school and university education is based on a fixed curriculum and syllabus and the attendance at a course is essential, the competency system is based on its units of competency. The curriculum and syllabus include learning outcomes, learning material, training programs and knowledge and skills assessment, and units of competency require assessment of the knowledge and skills and on the job performance required for the competent completion of tasks and roles.

The qualifications included in the industry training packages set minimum combinations of units of competency for achieving a qualification but include the flexibility required to cater for a variety of employments in the industry.

The training package assessment guidelines provide guidance on the various valid approaches to assessment of the units in that particular training package.

Another significant change under the 1990s VET reform was the introduction of registered training organisations (RTOs). To legitimately provide recognition of training package competencies and qualifications, organisations must meet specific requirements and be registered to deliver that training and assessment.

This opened up the opportunity for private training providers to compete with the state-funded TAFE institutes in issuing nationally recognised certification of competence and qualifications.

In the late 1990s the quarry industry joined with coal and metalliferous mining, their industry unions and government representatives to form the National Mining Industry Training Advisory Body (NMITAB).

The Institute of Quarrying Australia (IQA) took the lead role on behalf of quarrying: it nominated the quarry industry representatives on the NMITAB board; its representatives chaired the sector committee and training package steering committee; and it advocated support for and take-up of the training package.

An important aspect of the new training packages was, and remains, that their development and maintenance is industry-led.

To achieve this, a training package steering committee was established with representatives of the IQA, operating companies and industry unions. Under the supervision of this steering committee, contractors carried out scoping exercises and nationwide consultation with industry participants and regulators. While existing training providers were welcome to participate, the focus was on ensuring the units of competency and qualifications met industry’s needs.

The result of this comprehensive process was that in 1998 the MNQ98 Extractive Industries Training Package was endorsed. This training package introduced, for the first time, competencies and qualifications for:

  • Basic operators – Certificate II in Extractive Operations.
  • Advanced operators and small team leaders – Certificate III in Extractive Operations.
  • Supervisors and small quarry managers – Certificate IV in Extractive Operations.
  • Multi-team quarry managers – Diploma of Extractive Operations Management.
  • Senior or specialist managers – Advanced Diploma of Extractive Operations Management.

The diploma replaced the Advanced Certificates in Extractive Industries and Quarry Management. Box Hill and Illawarra institutes of TAFE commenced the delivery of the MNQ98 qualifications in 1999 and other RTOs followed.

The take-up of the training was slow and not universal. This was largely because it was new and there was a lack of knowledge of the system and its advantages among operating companies, industry personnel and existing training organisations, the latter leading to a lack of ready access to RTOs.

In an attempt to widen access to MNQ98, Illawarra Institute of TAFE set up an online learning diploma program. This program was intended to provide the required knowledge and skills for those working to gain the diploma. After a relatively short time this program was closed down, principally because of lack of take-up and the fact many of those who started the program did not see it through.

Those who were involved in its introduction believe the main reasons for its lack of success were that most of the candidates had not done any formal learning since they left school, and that was often many years earlier, and those in isolated locations, who may have benefited most, did not have readily available internet access, plus most candidates lacked the computer skills required.

Part of the new vocational training system was that training packages were endorsed for three years and then had to be reviewed. This was a particularly good thing in the case of MNQ98 because, while its take-up was slow, after three years industry had started to appreciate its relevance and benefits and, through its use of the package, was aware of where it could be improved.

The review of the training package followed the same process as that used to develop MNQ98. It was overseen by an industry steering committee and included nationwide consultation. The higher level of awareness of the competency-based training and assessment system resulted in a higher level of industry participation and informed input. The result was refinement of the units of competency and the packaging of those units of competency into the qualifications.

In 2003 the MNQ03 Extractive Industries Training Package was endorsed.

After four or so years of experience with industry training packages, and possibly because the industry saw that the new package more closely met its needs, take-up of MNQ03 was significantly greater than its predecessor.

Early in the 2000s, the Australian Government initiated the consolidation of the 26 Industry Training Advisory Bodies down to 11 Industry Skills Councils.

As a result of this initiative, the NMITAB’s coal and metalliferous mining and quarrying industries combined with the civil construction and drilling industries to form the Resources and Infrastructure Industry Skills Council. Initially referred to as RIISC, it is now trading as SkillsDMC.

The first major project undertaken by RIISC was to develop the RII06 Civil Construction Training Package. This training package provided, for the first time, Certificate IV, Diploma and Advanced Diploma qualifications for the civil construction industry, where that industry’s Certificate II and III had been included in the BCC03 Civil Construction Industry Training Package.

The only relevance of these two training packages to this article is that shortly after the endorsement of RII06, work began on the consolidation of the metalliferous mining, coal, extractive industries and drilling training packages into a single training package to cover all five industry sectors.

This consolidation process involved a cross-industry steering committee and nationwide consultation. The key focus was to identify where units of competency and qualifications could be used or modified for use across sectors.

In the mining and quarrying industries in particular there were numerous operator level units that were able to be used, or modified for use, in all those sectors, and units covering such areas as risk management, health, safety and environment, business management and the establishment, implementation and application of various management systems were identified as suitable for most sectors.

This review also identified that a Certificate II, a Certificate III, a Certificate IV and a Diploma could be developed to cover the requirements of surface extractive operations for quarries and coal and metalliferous mining. Generally this meant that the number of available electives in each qualification increased from those that were available in the MNQ03 qualifications to cater for all three sectors. The Extractive Industries Management Advanced Diploma was essentially just relabelled as RII60209.

In recent times, to reflect the maturity of the vocational training system, training packages have been subject to a continuous improvement process and our training package is now simply called the RII Resources and Infrastructure Training Package.

In 2013 RII was endorsed and includes the same range of qualifications and units that were included in RII09, although they have been subject to some improvements and, in the case of the units, reformatted.

Training packages do not prescribe how an individual should be trained. However, they do prescribe how they should be assessed, and the units of competency specify the knowledge and skills required and the performance criteria to be satisfied for an individual to be determined competent.

In the quarry industry the primary means of learning has traditionally been, and largely still is, on the job. Many already had at least a substantial amount of the required knowledge and skill, and are performing the required criteria. For this reason the most common application of the training packages in quarries has started with assessment.

In some cases individuals have been found to already meet the requirements of the units and so have been assessed as competent without the need for any training. In other cases this initial assessment has identified gaps in their knowledge, skills or their application, and so training or development requirements have been identified.

More often than not this extra learning or development has been provided in the workplace through in-house training, coaching and mentoring or through the individual seeking information from company policies, procedures and management systems.

This lack of demand for formal learning resulted in very few RTOs offering training programs. Initially this was not a major problem as the “backlog” of competent people ready for assessment, or only requiring gaps to be filled, was substantial.

The tide has now turned and those who have gained their first qualifications, which were essentially a confirmation of their competence in the job they were already performing, are now moving on and seeking higher qualifications, and new people are entering the workforce. People in these two groups require formal training.

Some RTOs are offering training programs to provide the required knowledge and skills and to prepare candidates for assessment, but there are not a lot of them and they are not accessible nationally.

Having recognised the need for quality training in the knowledge and skills required by the industry, particularly for those striving to gain qualifications, the IQA has introduced a number of learning programs as part of its Professional Development Program (PDP). These include its:

  • Face to face training PDP, which includes a wide range of training workshops that are available nationwide.
  • Live streamed training program wPDP, which includes a range of webinars, online seminars that can be accessed via the web.
  • Online learning program ePDP, which includes a comprehensive range of self-paced programs accessed via the web.

In addition to these PDPs, the IQA continues to provide education and training through its annual conferences, branch seminars and branch and sub-branch technical meeting and site visits.

The range of education and training provided by the IQA in the past 30 years has developed considerably, but work is under way to provide even more. Work is being done to identify and develop PDPs and wPDPs to cover areas as yet uncovered; it has been suggested that assessment be provided as part of the PDP, to provide evidence of the learning that is accepted by RTOs, and the possibility of the IQA establishing an RTO is being considered.

Thirty years ago, the vocational training, other than in-house courses, that was available for quarry personnel comprised of the university courses and the Box Hill course, and academic courses that provided education and assessment of knowledge and skills. Pass and fail were judged by pass marks.

Today we have a competency-based system that requires assessment of the individual’s knowledge and skill but in addition their ability to competently perform the task or role requirements.

Instead of only catering for those in multi-team site management and more senior or specialist roles, we now have a set of competencies and qualifications for quarry operators, supervisors, site managers and senior or specialist managers, and these can be used as a career path from the quarry floor to those senior and specialist manager roles.

The diploma and advanced diploma qualifications are also used by some organisations as vehicles for developing and determining the competence of university graduates to perform site management and senior operational management roles.  

The range of learning opportunities has increased greatly, and one significant addition to the available learning that wasn’t around 30 years ago is Quarry magazine, which includes technical articles and new product information vital to the continuing professional development of people in our industry.

Congratulations Quarry on your 30th anniversary and thank you for your contribution to our industry. 

Danny Duke is the principal at Duke Consulting Services and a past president of the IQA.

Leave a Reply

Send this to a friend