They invest their time, energy and in many cases their life savings on a passionate dream, a dream that many say they are crazy to strive for. They do it anyway. They dodge bullets from the pistols along the way...small shots fired mainly as a warning sign to not proceed further. Their passion, though, drives them further. They're blinded by the flame inside them that burns ever so brightly and keeps them awake at night. "How can I make a difference and leave a legacy to this world?" They pass a few more challenges, dodge a few more shots and breathe ever so slightly when they complete what they believe are the main requirements for being able to share their passion, share their dream and begin to change the world.
They're almost ready to open the doors, welcome the new ideas that will become the tidal wave that will create a world like we've never seen before. Then it happens. They have another shot fired at them; this time not from a pistol, but from a large calibre sniper rifle. Not only did they not see it coming, it has destroyed any hope they had of changing the world for now. All hope is lost...momentarily at least. Then, the adrenaline and their resilience kicks in. They realise that there will be roadblocks in the way and that the sniper rifle can fire as many times as it likes but they are stronger than that. They're resilient. The rifle missed them, they haven't lost their faith, they know that this is their purpose, this is what they're meant to do, this is their legacy. They can hide, they can manifest all their finances, energy and strength to get through and make their dream come alive. They give it everything they've got. They enlist their support team, they think they're ready to go, then BANG! Out of nowhere, this time, the shot hits, they're wounded badly. They're bleeding heavily, maybe even haemorrhaging. At least mentally and financially anyway. How could this happen?
Does this sound familiar? How many bullets have you dodged in your attempts to achieve your dream? Does your industry feel like it's fraught with snipers waiting behind every corner to shoot you down just as you're about to succeed? While I'm sure that there are many industries, companies and individuals who feel this way, I think there are none that feel it quite like the Vocational Education and Training (VET) sector in Australia. We have so many gifted and talented people in our country investing their entire life's work, their entire life savings, sometimes their children's scholarship funds on a dream and a belief that they can change the world with a new course that will change the way people do things, revolutionise the country, its economy, its competitiveness in the world, become leaders across the globe using innovative practices, draw together some of the world's best practices to drive our country's further. What stops them? A regulatory framework that is so restrictive and ad hoc in its implementation that it is crippling our very ability to achieve lifelong dreams and is acting as a restraint of trade, is a vacuum of money that is not reinvested in achieving best practice and rigorous, consistent regulation and helping these people and companies succeed, it's one of the snipers in our world.
Our regulatory framework, supposedly risk based, so inconsistently applied to the sector means that for any new entrants wishing to pursue their dreams and invest their homes (which most have) to help contribute to the development of Australia's future are faced with a system that is not conducive to the same goals; it is punitive, selective, expensive to maintain for no real benefit and shamefully inadequate. When, despite increased and supposedly more focussed regulation, the more unethical providers continue to flourish while those represented in this story are spending their time constantly dodging bullets instead of passing on their legacy and, in some cases, saving lives we have to seriously question the integrity of a system that is so fundamentally broken and unable to be rescued by those who should never have been put in charge of it in the first place.
The VET sector's history and development has always been a curious story where profit of a variety of different kinds (and not necessarily financial) has always been a major factor and is at the forefront. Those whose heart and soul have sustained their beliefs in the foundations of vocational learning and teaching, who lived, breathed and most passionately believed in the underpinning principles of the purpose of the VET sector were, and in some cases remain, willing to stand up and be counted to make this industry the truly meaningful industry it was always meant to be, the industry it can be.
The current most pressing bullet being fired to new and best practice providers is around the volume of learning. How can you, the subject matter expert, convince the world that your course is the one that will make THE difference in their lives, that your course IS worth the paper it's written on, that your course is the best when 50 other providers in your vicinity all offer the same course for hundreds of dollars cheaper because they continue to get away with it? You don't want to become them but your financial viability is now being destroyed by your ability to remain competitive. You've tried to remain patient and allow the regulators to catch up, you've even sent them evidence of every breach of the Standards that the others engage in with the hope that they will take action, the same action that was expected of them when the new regulatory framework commenced its partial implementation on 1 January 2015 with the remainder being implemented on 1 April 2015.
Meanwhile, you beg, borrow and almost steal to try and remain afloat while the response from the lodgement of formal complaints to the regulators remains the same. "Thank you for your submission, we've written to the provider and asked them to cease engaging in this breach of the standards." Really? Do you think they care? Do you think a warning letter is really going to make the difference? Some of these providers have been doing this for years, openly and despite being caught and receiving warnings regularly, they still do it and they still get away with it. A warning letter is not going to stop them. So what do you do? Do you continue to offer your course for the one year it's meant to be as a Diploma under the Australian Qualifications Framework? Do you continue to haemorrhage financially and mentally, lose your possessions, in some cases your relationships and family in an effort to chase that dream? Do you quit and give up? Do you do what everyone else does and apply for VET FEE Help and charge a ridiculous amount of money, promote a course for a duration that is not relevant just to remain viable? Do you challenge the system and demand change? Are the unethical providers and the inadequate regulatory framework the only things to blame for such failures of the system though? I suggest there is more.
We have training packages that are supposedly developed in consultation with industry, however industry tells us when we engage with them that the products that are demanded by the training package are inconsistent with real world practice. Companies are screaming that they would never engage/employ a school leaver with a Diploma of Business despite this being a realistic possibility (even promoted by the skills council in some of their learning materials for the BSB Business Services Training Package - yes, the newly endorsed one). We have the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) which lost its relevance long ago when it didn't keep up with the way the world and Australia's education and training systems reformed, when the community demanded more. All of the supporting systems changed but one overriding document that is key to the system didn't, the AQF.
When you have industry and subject matter experts who insist that the outcomes of the AQF are inconsistent with society's expectations for graduates, when the AQF has not evolved with the way learning and teaching have changed and evolved with more and more focus on technology and innovation and training packages whose outcomes are inflated when matched to ANZSCO codes routinely used as guidelines for immigration purposes (and let's face it, immigration and education have a significant amount of synergies, especially when one considers that combined, they are Australia's 3rd largest export), it is no wonder that the AQF is out of date and untouched! It's no wonder that the volume of learning, that was supposed to eliminate the 'weetie box qualifications' and 'fly by night providers' has become the bullet that so many are dodging. In developing the new regulatory framework, the assumption was that if we just make everyone abide by the volume of learning in the AQF, that will solve the problem, 'weetie box qualifications' gone. NO! It doesn't work that way. It hasn't worked that way.
In our experience in the past 12 months alone, we've heard of providers being made to develop and submit courses that are undeliverable, completely and utterly inconsistent with their industry consultation, not financially viable, in fact they should have closed their doors but importantly, as the subject matter experts who absolutely know their industry and know what it takes to pass on that knowledge and those skills, are being told by a document and a regulatory framework what duration a course may be when that ruling is fundamentally and grossly wrong. As subject matter experts, if they don't know what is adequate, how can a regulator who has no idea about the specific industry? A regulator who is only interpreting a document that should have been revised years ago to be more consistent with industry expectations and practice.
We have providers being forced to develop materials for courses that 95% of providers in the same industry area around the country deliver online in less than an hour and that will put them out of business. We have heard of other providers who are operating in an industry that offers a licensed Certificate III qualification in a week (the volume of learning for a Certificate III is 1 - 2 years, but can be up to 4 years), yet other providers, in submitting rectification evidence, are required to submit materials that they will never be able to deliver because industry have said that they're too expensive, and that graduates will know, and therefore want to be paid, too much ("what are they going to learn for 3 years when everyone else can finish the course in a week anywhere else?") and therefore industry won't employ them. To get registered after submitting their rectification evidence (yes, that first bullet they dodged was the one where they developed the course with the same duration as the other 95% but they did it properly), they are required to submit materials that meet volume of learning requirements, training package requirements that are obscenely out of date (it hasn't been completely reviewed for almost 10 years), are inconsistent with industry practice and legislative requirements, despite having collected the very industry evidence that tells them "if you do this we will never use your services, you're too expensive! We'll never employ your graduates because they'll want too much money!" Who is really responsible for this mess?
In the human services sector currently we have a very interesting scenario playing out whereby in one jurisdiction, for a Diploma qualification that has mandated work placement and face to face study, courses are being delivered by currently registered providers of nationally recognised training in this area for anywhere between several months and 12 months, many with a range of face to face hours from 0 - 250 approximately and most with no work placement. All providers are also currently registered for VET FEE Help. How does a new provider, a subject matter expert in their field, develop a business model to compete with this? As subject matter experts, they know that the qualification should be delivered over 6 months with some RPL, they've spent their entire careers in this industry, they are world renowned, internationally recognised and incredibly well researched. The only way that they can get registered is to deliver this course over a minimum of 1 year, with a minimum of 400 hours face to face training, a minimum of 400 hours of work placement and some self-study. How can they even consider such a business model when one compares their scenario to their competitors? Their first bullet was fired months ago when they lodged their application to become an RTO. They've had several other bullets fired along the way. The biggest bullet however has just been fired and they haven't even been audited yet. They were confronted with the reality of how their course has to be completely restructured not only to meet training package requirements, not only to meet industry's requirements (who absolutely disagree with the 12 months timeframe also), but also to achieve entry into this insane industry that allows the proliferation of unethical providers at the expense of those trying to do the right thing.
When government departments won't fund training for the full duration required under the AQF, when students go for the quickest and cheapest course on the market, when employers go for the cheapest and quickest course on the market because it means they have to pay their staff to be off the job for less time, when nobody except you believes in the additional value you offer, what do you do?
So what bullets have you dodged? Have you yet dodged the volume of learning bullet? How did you recover from it? Did you die a slow death? Resurface stronger and more competitive? At what cost was dodging your bullet? Was it worth it? What strategies would you propose to others whose passionate dreams keep them awake at night? Who risk everything, including their homes and families for the privilege of educating tomorrow's youth and providing them with opportunities for personal and professional growth? What would your best advice be?