Thursday, August 7, 2008

What is happening to Organisations and what has it got to do with VET?

The VET sector is under pressure to meet new demands for the digital and online social and cultural realities of today. With an aging lecturer cohort, new industry work skills demands, skills shortages, and a more mobile australian population there is much pressure for improved results. Social networking and online services are forcing change in many businesses that we take for granted.  Newspaper circulation falling and journalists are wondering about their jobs as bloggers are beating the papers with news as it happens. The music industry is discovering people can create and share music without them.  Schools and universities are taking lessons online and allowing access from home while still retaining ownership of access.  Universities are freely  putting their lectures  on iTunesU. 

VET faces greater demands than it can satisfactorily meet: demands for multi-skilled workers ready for the workplace who dont necessarily want to complete a full course. They want just  the essential skills so as to get and perform in a  job and then maybe complete more as the situation allows.  We fund VET on completion of certification not on partial completion which is course completion. We have increased numbers of workers traveling across state boundaries but we have no means to track the skills acquisition at a cross state or at course completion level. TAFEs are state run and controlled. RTOs are independent organisations all with their own needs and agendas.

The bigger and older the organisation the harder it is to control and direct employees and respond to cultural changes.  The costly factory like bricks and mortar structures and standardised legalistic procedures inhibit innovation.  For instance in-spite of lack of support internally, teachers are starting to communicate, problem solve and organise themselves online using tools outside of the traditional ownership of their institutions.  With tools such as blogs. micro-blogs They are creating PLNs - Personal Learning networks to share and learn amongst professional peers.  This is an example of disruptive technologies enabling individuals to self organise and be productive outside the formal structures. This personal or individual learning gives us a clue as to what the technology can do for individuals.  If we can harness that capacity to tailor personal learning plans for student-learners and link them up with mentors and meaningfully track that learning we might create an improved learning experience that is consistent with all the standards and evidence the system requires.  The use of LMSs (learning management systems) at an institutional level is growing but not shared. That means with some creative innovation there is some hope for the future of greater transparency and equity of access to results at least if not to learning. The results of learning belong equally to the learner AND the certifying institution! We have no national mechanism other than paper to store our results.

Two glaring omissions, therefore, are the lack of national curriculum and the TOTAL lack of national tracking of training by individuals.  The first IS being worked on and with proper debate(in Australia? with the media? ha!) there just may be progress.  The second how ever.... well who knows? With two major sectors - state based VET and institution based private colleges, there is no means to meaningfully track results or quality for that matter from a Federal government perspective.  VET is one of the most hidden value chains that the Federal Gvernment tries to fund and manage. Most training e.g. defence and internal corporate, is not tracked and individuals find documentation of that skills acquisition difficult. We rob them of what is rightly theirs.

One step in the right direction would be a national learning system that tracks results, equity  and quality nationally.  The skills shortage remediation efforts could be more usefully understood, managed and innovated if we could gain visibility nationally and provide better opportunities for individuals to flexibly gain and document skills gained.  The technologies available, such as service oriented architecture, enterprise information architectures, data warehousing, ID management equity of access, remote and rural access and online teaching and learning could be utilised for productive innovation in a critical sector.  Effectively this would give a national asset, a national learning management system for all citizens.  This is the missing piece of VET education.