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UK Skills Delegation Tour: A Showcase of the Australian VET Sector

UK Tour

Earlier this year (2019) I was approached by Helen McAnally of ParkHouse Bell Australia to assist her with a vision she had to bring a group of delegates from the training industry in the United Kingdom to Australia. The purpose was to provide UK apprenticeship stakeholders with exposure to some excellent practices within the Australian VET system. With the assistance of Kara Small, the three of us planned a program that we hoped would engage a range of training other service providers with a ‘warts-and-all’ view of Australian VET (to adopt Helen’s terminology). I was humbled by the willingness of people we approached to give of their time (and in some cases provide a venue) for our guests. Also involved in recruiting delegates in the UK was the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) UK with the trip sponsored by the Northern Council for Further Education (NCFE).

I found this tour to be a wonderful opportunity to learn more about the vocational training system in the United Kingdom, as well as invaluable networking opportunities with UK providers and Australian providers. The program was designed to begin with a system overview and delve into the regulatory processes, such as the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF), the training package development process and other regulatory frameworks. The week progressed into a more practical, hands-on focus when we visited a number of RTOs (including school-based RTOs) in Queensland. This article provides a summary of the hosts, presenters and content covered along with some insights into the information shared.

Day 1 – Sydney, NSW

Host: PwC Skills for Australia

The tour kicked off with the exceptional hospitality of PwC Skills for Australia at Barangaroo in Sydney. The session began with welcome addresses from Mark Dawe, AELP and David Gallagher, NCFE. I then followed with a session that provided an overview of the sector and setting the scene, particularly in relation to recommendations from the Joyce Review and Braithwaite Report.

Sara Caplan and Georgia Ryburn of PwC Skills for Australia provided an excellent overview of the training package development process and other projects being undertaken by the Skills Service Organisation (SSO). One thing I found particularly interesting was the trial of higher apprenticeships and the way that PwC actively participates in these by employing higher level apprentices. There was also discussion around their project on Cyber Safety which is a massive area that needs addressing in future training and employment – one that I intend to investigate further.

This session also introduced the delegates to an Australian provider with UK links. Emma Crichton from PeoplePlus (AETS) provided perspective as a company with links in the UK and also in Australia as an RTO. She outlined the economic opportunities and areas to consider when beginning operations in the Australian VET sector, particularly when looking at using funding in the community services sector.

Claire Field, Claire Field and Associates, went on to outline opportunities for training providers to conduct business in Australia and the Asia Pacific. Her views are certainly well researched and the opportunities to deliver off-shore are certainly interesting. Claire has a wealth of knowledge in the international delivery space and enjoyed the opportunity to talk with delegates further over a magnificent Italian lunch at Darling Harbour.

Day 2 – Sydney, NSW

Host: Canvas, by Instructure

Instructure (who provides the Canvas LMS) provided a spectacular view for our Day 2 session. The day began with a demonstration of Canvas and the functions of their video tool Studio from Gemma McLean and Jared Ward. The delegates were impressed with the abilities of this Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) Learning Management System. The discussion around the use of eLearning in Australia led to a comparison of the amount of face-to-face versus eLearning in both countries. A key point in Australia is that our cities are so spread out that we need to look for efficient ways to deliver training across great distances.

Brigitte Collins from WorldSkills Australia provided an overview of the WorldSkills competitions and engagement in Australia. WorldSkills is also active in the UK and this demonstrated the similarities with the competitions. The National Careers Institute (NCI), in its first month of being established, was represented by Jacqueline Gee. Delegates received information about our Australian Training Awards and the work that is being undertaken by the NCI. A VET Alumni representative also spoke and her story of moving to Australia, knowing no English, and using VET to provide a pathway into her current work which was inspiring.

Robin Shreeve is a VET a practitioner who has worked in the UK and Australian VET Sectors. Robin outlined the desire of employers and RTOs in NSW to make the most of funding that is available rather than heading down the fee-for-service road. Conversations ensued around the different approaches taken in each state and territory as well as by industry. The dynamics of a large country like Australia with multiple states having their own regulatory approaches to funding was an interesting one to grasp for delegates from a smaller country (land wise). Barriers to establishing an RTO and accessing government funding became apparent given the need for demonstrated delivery in Australia for a period of time.

At the end of the sessions for the day, I hosted a session that was to fill in some gaps based on the discussions throughout the two days. Delegates were asking questions about the system and how assessment and certification is processed. This is where I learned that a huge difference between the two systems is the independence of assessment and certification. In the UK, a training provider provides training – they don’t assess and issue certification. There are separate awarding bodies who do this (some of who were in attendance). The interesting comments from the delegates included ‘how do you know that the certification is valid if the same organisation is issuing certification on their own training?’ – great question! This led to discussions around our regulatory framework, the role of ASQA and other state training authorities. The differences here were certainly interesting to note, and we shall see where things progress in Australia with the recommendations of the Joyce review around independent certification (currently being trialled in a project in Victoria).

There was an early finish to the day to allow for travel to Brisbane for the second stage of the trip.

Day 3 – Brisbane, Qld

Host: Marist College, Ashgrove

New day, a new city! And a new approach to the content to be covered. It is easier to move around the outskirts of the city in Brisbane than Sydney, so this provided an opportunity to get out and about into RTOs. Wednesday’s session was hosted by Marist College, Ashgrove who are a school-based RTO regulated by the Queensland Curriculum and Assessment Authority (QCAA) as a delegate of the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA). We were treated to some real Queensland hospitality with a full a la carte lunch prepared by the Certificate II in Hospitality students, including Australian lemon, lime and bitters.

Sessions began with Jonathan Chew, Nous Group, providing an overview of how the organisation is able to pinpoint opportunities for RTOs to setup or even expand on their current operations and know what to target and where. I found this session particularly interesting and was amazed at how the detail can be drilled down. Jon was able to show us examples of how reports can be produced to show where the international students are studying, what businesses are in the areas that RTOs should be targeting for industry engagement and placement for students and trainers, and the funding opportunities in local areas. The data was really powerful.

The session continued with Leanne Rolph, QCAA explaining the role the organisation plays in Queensland with the regulation of secondary schools, given this is different to other states. Queensland has over 300 schools who are RTOs in their own right registered with QCAA. These schools also operate with a range of third-party arrangements in place to broaden the offerings of the school. One of these organisations is Blue Dog Training and Grant Mills discussed how Blue Dog works with schools and apprentices. Peter Gaiter from Marist College explained how the school delivers VET and facilitated a panel with a past student, parent and employers of varying sizes to talk about the benefits of the Australian VET system for the students they have worked with. We also had a tour of the school to see the amazing facilities where students undertake their simulated training and assessment.

Day 4 – Brisbane, Qld

Hosts: Blue Dog Training and Kelvin Grove State College

Hosted at Blue Dog Training for the morning session, the delegates were able to hear directly from ASQA with Stephanie Clayton presenting on the role of ASQA and processes around international VET and setting up an RTO. Nicole Patterson from Trade Investment Queensland followed this session with an overview of Study Queensland, highlighting the number of students who come to Australia to study and how Queensland is working to promote our state as a study destination. I had not seen the resources available or the statistics before – I would highly recommend any RTO who is working internationally, or looking to, to speak with Study Queensland.

Most of the focus so far had been on private providers and the VET system so it was time to hear from a public provider. Julie Healy represented TAFE Queensland with a showcase of the programs being delivered to TAFE students, including their international draw cards. This session gave perspective to the delegates on the role of public providers in each state and highlighted the accessibility that Australians have to VET programs with particular focus on Queensland Government initiatives such as free TAFE for year 12 school leavers. I delivered the final part of the morning session with an overview of funding opportunities available in Queensland including an overview of PQS and User Choice funding.

The afternoon session was held at Kelvin Grove State College with presentations from a range of staff including the College Executive Principal Llew Paulger, Jenny DaSilva, HOD Senior School, and supporting staff. Dhawal Nayak from The Grand Company discussed an initiative to ensure easy access to information about apprenticeship and traineeship opportunities, as well as linking up with employers. We undertook a tour of the facilities and were able to view the hospitality students in full swing preparing for an upcoming function for 800 people.

Day 4 finished off with a presentation from John Price and myself representing The VET Gurus, highlighting opportunities for cross accreditation of UK and Australian qualifications. We also explained the premise behind third-party arrangements and RTO setup processes. Delegates were then treated to an evening on the Kookaburra Queen Paddle Steamer for a dinner on the Brisbane River.

Day 5 – Caboolture, Qld

Host: St Columban’s College, Caboolture

The final day of the week-long tour was hosted by St Columban’s College at Caboolture. This day provided an opportunity for the delegates to hear about programs and see the facilities that have led to St Columban’s College twice winning the School Pathways to VET award at the Australian Training Awards (amongst others). Stephen deLaurence and Amanda Schimke led the delegates through an explanation of the opportunities made available to students through a range of pathways, and how VET isn’t a secondary option at the school – it is seen as a valuable opportunity for all students, whether university or industry bound. The UK delegation commented on this being of value to show how both pathways can be embedded for students and commented on how, at all three school RTOs, there was positive promotion of VET as a pathway by the Careers Advisors and VET Managers.

Three RTOs provided a background on their work in the Australian sector including challenges, opportunities and an international perspective. The representatives included:

The three presenters took the time to discuss their experiences in the sector with delegates, answering questions and providing perspective. The session concluded with closing comments from Mark Dawe, AELP and Helen McAnally, Parkhouse Bell Australia, followed by a tour of the school.

Summary

In closing, I would like to thank all of the speakers and hosts for the effort that went into planning each session to ensure value and for sharing your experiences and practices. I have to say all providers essentially provided a showcase of quality delivery and outcomes for students, along with extending warm hospitality to our visitors. The delegates commented many times about how impressed they were with the way they were welcomed by all our hosts and they thoroughly enjoyed their time in Australia.

Thank you, also, to the UK contingent. It was a thoroughly enjoyable week and would not have happened without their commitment to viewing opportunities and practices abroad.

I will be visiting the UK in late November to attend a debriefing dinner with the delegates. I have made some great contacts and good friends from this trip and I look forward to meeting up with as many of them as possible later in the month. Organising this tour has certainly been a highlight for me in my work in the Australian Vocational Education and Training sector, made all the more enjoyable working with Helen McAnally and Kara Small.

Kerri Buttery