Vocational training reform and training culture in Australia. Speech by Bill Mansfield, ACTU Assistant Secretary.

Training Reform and The Retail Industry

Over the last ten years or so a number of changes to our vocational training arrangements have been proposed.


Together the changes have become known as the National Training Reform Agenda (NTRA).


The aim is to transform our vocational training and skill development arrangements over the remainder of this decade.


To date the changes have largely been top down not bottom up. By that I mean that while they have been driven by the perceived skill needs of Australia at industry and enterprise level the design of the changes has been largely undertaken by national tripartite bodies representing States, the Federal Government, employers and unions.


We have gone through a lengthy design stage and we are now in the implementation stage.


To date the level of understanding of what we are trying to do has been low. Until early this year we did not have an accepted “product” to market, this has now changed and a broadly based information/education program to assist with improving our understanding and commitment to the NTRA is required.


In nominating the essential features of the new vocational training arrangements I believe they would be:


(i) The training is competency based.


(ii) The training system is built around agreed national frameworks.


(iii) The Australian Vocational Training System will lead to a much broader base of vocational training opportunities.


(iv) There will be a variety of ways for individuals to become competent and have their skills recognised.


Before going on to outline some of the details of these essential features I want to state clearly why the ACTU and unions are involved in training reform. Essentially it is because we believe it is necessary if industry and enterprises are to be competitive in the context of the global marketplace which is now upon us. Over time we expect that it will contribute to higher living standards through a capacity to pay higher wages and better conditions. There is a link between competency/skills used and wage levels, but it is not that which justifies the resources we are putting into this issue.


The first major change in the reforms is that the training is competency based. The issue of competency” is one of those which helps to cause confusion about training reform. What is competency? It is the same as competency based training? Are these two concepts the same as competency standards?


Competence is the application of knowledge and skill within an occupation or industry to the standard of performance required. It covers a range of matters such as:



  • performance of tasks




  • managing tasks




  • responding to problems



In terms of competency, broadly speaking, our vocational training in the past was provider driven. That is the training delivered was a reflection of what training providers believed was necessary to produce a suitably qualified worker. In the future industry will be in the drivers seat through the development of industry and enterprise competency standards which are then made the basis for curriculum development and assessment.


Competency standards are the grouping of individual competencies by industry and enterprises into sets which correspond to the competencies required by workplaces.


Industry and enterprises develop the competency standards required through recognised bodies (ITAB’s and CSB’s) which obtain endorsement of their standards through the National Training Board (NTB), shortly to be renamed the Standards and Curriculum Council (SCC).


Competency Based Training is that training which is delivered on the basis that once “competency” is achieved the individual can move on to other training. That is, it is not time based where, regardless of competence, an individual must attend a class for a certain time. It is also more clearly related to the ability of a person to undertake nominated work to a prescribed standard of performance.


This move to a competency based system is one of the fundamentals of the training reform proposals. It will achieve:



  • The needs of industry being clearly defined.




  • The efficient use of our training resources.




  • Nationally compatible outcomes in the levels of competence across a range of industries.



In a recent project in the United States to develop competencies in the retail industry one of the people involved stated:


“The value of skill standards for the educator is that they allow the educator to develop classroom instruction and materials around specific skills that are relevant in the business world”

(Edward Davis Ph.D. DECA)


In past years I have heard descriptions of the vocational training required in the retail area from officers in the union movement. Some of the judgements made in the past were to the effect that you could train a retail worker in half a day. In the US study referred to earlier the broad competencies nominated were:



  • Provide personalised customer service.




  • Sell and promote products.




  • Monitor inventory.




  • Maintain appearance of store.




  • Protect company assets.




  • Work as part of a team.



An outline of the competencies identified by the study is attached to this paper.


In Australia the responsibility for developing competency standards for the retail industry falls to the National Retail and Wholesale Industry Training Council (NRWITC). This is an industry body of employers and unions at the national level. In its most recent plan for vocational education and training it noted in part that:



  • Increased training through the AVTS needs to be a priority for the industry.




  • Flexible arrangements for training delivery are required with many employees engaged on a part-time and casual basis in smaller retail establishments.




  • With a lower proportion of the retail and wholesale workforce having no post school qualifications the training resources allocated to the area need to be increased.




  • The absence of competency standards is a major constraint effecting the expansion of VET in the industry.



The Retail/Wholesale Industry Training Advisory Council has commenced the process of identifying the competency standards for the broad retail area through firstly the industry standard core competencies followed by a sectoral approach.


To date competency standards have been developed for hairdressing, hardware and pharmaceutical. The feedback from those areas has been very positive.


Competency standards allow industry to specify what employees in an industry or enterprise must be capable of doing in the workplace. They are the building block on which the new vocational training arrangements are being introduced.


Returning to the four key issues the second is that the training system is built within agreed national frameworks.


The three key frameworks in Australia are:



  • The Australian Standards Framework.




  • The Australian Qualifications Framework.




  • The National Framework for Recognition Of Training or, as I heard it described last week The Australian Recognition Framework.



The first is an eight level framework of competency standards. It is a means of aligning competencies across industries so that a group of competencies in one industry can be consistently allocated to a particular level within the eight level framework.


The second is a framework for recognition of qualifications, courses and providers. In the past we had State based systems within which qualifications and courses when awarded in one State were not necessarily recognised in another. The NFROT is intended to be a national agreement to recognise the outcomes of action taken in one State throughout the country.


The third framework is the Australian Qualifications Framework which is a mirror image of the ASF in terms of qualifications. It is an eight level framework which seeks to standardise the qualifications awarded throughout Australia. The first four levels are called Certificate, the next two are Diploma and Advanced Diploma and the upper two are Degree levels.


The third issue with the NTRA is the introduction of the Australian Vocational Training System (AVTS).


The AVTS was recommended in the Carmichael Report in March 1992. It has been assessed through a range of activity in the last three years. In November last year the Ministerial Council for Employment, Education, Training and Youth Affairs (MCEETYA) endorsed the new vocational training system to be knows as the Australian Vocational Training System (AVTS) for implementation from January 1st, this year.


The focus of the AVTS is on the first four levels of the Australian Standards Framework/National Qualifications Framework. Its intention is for all vocational training within the system to meet competency standards developed by industry. The pathways to acquire an AVTS certificate will be more flexible than the current system with clearer paths for recognition of competency achieved other than in a training institution (recognition of prior learning, RPL). It is also intended that over time the AVTS will have near universal application to all young people going into the workplace direct from school.


The targets for participation which were endorsed in the Carmichael Report call for:


(i) By 2001 90% of 19 year olds to have undertaken Year 12 of schooling


(ii) By 2001 90% of 19 year olds to have an AVTS level 2 certificate or be going on to higher level studies


(iii) By 2001 60% of 22 year olds are expected to have an AVTS level 3 certificate or by going on to higher level studies.


The challenge for those involved in vocational training is to ensure that the goals associated with the AVTS are achieved.


In the report to MCEETYA Ministers for their November meeting it was said that “industry must lead” in the implementation of the AVTS. The framework for the system has been established and the key elements have been agreed by all major parties. The work that now must be done by industry includes:


(i) converting existing apprenticeships and traineeships to the AVTS formate by the end of 1996


(ii) introducing AVTS courses for industry and occupational areas where vocational training has not traditionally applied. Outstanding areas include retail, clerical, finance and tourism and hospitality. ITAB’s in these areas must complete the process of developing competency standards and courses relevant to industry’s needs


(iii) resolving the employment conditions of trainees going into vocational courses, particularly the issue of wage levels


(iv) providing opportunities for existing workers to have their competencies recognised and where necessary improved, through training, for the purpose of acquiring an AVTS certificate.


The ANTA and State/Territory training authorities along with DEET also have a significant responsibility to co-ordinate the introduction of the AVTS. These responsibilities include particularly the achievement of equity outcomes, the undertaking of the communications strategy and the application of AVTS principles to vocational training in schools.


The fourth and final key area of reform in that the pathways to achieve competency will be more flexible than in the past.


Previously to acquire a qualification most individuals enrolled in a training institution, attended classes for a given time and were required to pass an examination which dealt with the overall curriculum. In a few cases individuals who gained competence through experience on-the-job were able to have those skills formally recognised.


In future the pathways to acquiring competency will be more flexible. They will include:



  • The traditional employment based training both on and off-the-job.




  • Institution based vocational training combined with work experience.




  • Vocational studies in the post-compulsory school years (11 and 12) combined with work experience through vocational placements.




  • Recognition of prior learning whereby individuals who have acquired competencies through a variety of means have those officially recognised.



The objective with the multiple pathways must be to have the outcome of the process recognised as having equal standing in the eyes of employers and training institutions.


The final point to make regarding vocational training is that we need to develop new approaches to training delivery involving more on-the-job learning. Using distance learning on the Information Superhighway we can have an interactive ability from the workplace to a remote training institution. The potential is there.


We also need to change the training culture in Australia. From one which focuses on cost, on short term objectives, which tolerates obsolete forms of work organisation we need to adjust to the century which is only five years away. To recognise the need for more highly skilled workplaces, maximising the skills of individuals employees, providing career paths and achieving “high performance” workplaces.


The retail industry is one of Australias most important. The largest single employer of labour. Growing into the future. Becoming more demanding and competitive. It cries out for a new set of values in the area of vocational training to enable it to better serve its customers, its employees and its owners.


I hope that you can become part of the training reform process in the near future.


Bill Mansfield, Assistant Secretary, ACTU. Tuesday, 6 June, 1995