Training in a time of COVID and beyond

By on December 5, 2021

COVID has thoroughly disrupted education. Many students have spent close to two years “attending” online from their bedroom, missing the opportunity to build communication skills and people skills. These challenges are exacerbated in the Vocational Education & Training (VET) sector, which includes apprenticeships, traineeships and units of competence. VET traditionally includes a high percentage of practical learning and assessments, catering for the way these students learn. To provide verifiable competency and safety, tasks must be physically completed and witnessed in a learning or workplace environment.

Regulation

VET has turned to online platforms to deliver material that would have been taught in the classroom. Due to concern over the quality of these materials and that they may be replacing practical exercises, Australia Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) has worked closely with providers to create and implement new standards in 2020. The standard prevents reduced integrity of training outcomes.

Online Training

Online training platforms have flourished during this period. They vary from online slides to systems that are interactive or courses via live video feed. Outcomes vary greatly, partly due to student engagement and comfort with online.

The employer should maintain a relationship with the provider and monitor your staff’s progress and feedback. Students who are not progressing as quickly as the majority and not receiving support may become disengaged. Poor online content can also lead to disaffection.

One emerging issue is the inability to verify that the enrolled student is the person submitting assessments, potentially allowing students to be certified for competencies they don’t hold. Ensure the provider has implemented means to verify identity during assessments. You may also run a competency check before allowing the individual to carry out the task in a live work situation.

Most courses contain practical exercises and assessments. Providers have worked with the governing bodies to find ways to deliver these in a COVID-safe manner or through simulated exercises. As the “consumer” you have the right to determine whether these provide sufficient competency and safety skills for use in your workplace.

Completions

Lockdowns and the inability to deliver hands-on practical sessions while being COVID safe or meet guidelines has reduced the ability to deliver some subjects in a timely fashion if at all. Completions crashed in late 2020, because many students were not able to complete their course requirements.

The percentage of VET students withdrawing from their apprenticeship or Certificate is traditionally around 55%. Reasons include poor choice of candidate (including choosing a friend or relative), poor choice of course, insufficient support for the candidate, employers not understanding their responsibilities, employers downsizing or closing. If online training reduces motivation, completions may fall further, so support is particularly critical. It is vital there is workplace support in the form of a mentor, access to senior staff if they have concerns, and independent support services. Monitor progress and help the trainee feel valued.

Further training for all staff can be a valuable use of quieter periods. However, when enrolling staff in further studies, assess their state of mind. Confirm they are capable of the work involved. Provide time for study during business hours.

Source: NCVER (2021)

The Future

Trade commencements fell sharply in March 2020 until an increase in December due to new subsidies. However, businesses in Victoria and NSW may cut back on training in 2021 due to the financial pressures of lockdown. If too many cut back on training, there may be a shortage of skilled workers in the future.

Companies say, “what if we train them and they leave?” I say, “what if you don’t and they stay?” One reason good staff leave is lack of development. Now is the time to review and plan your staff development to be ready as the economy reopens.

I am a current member of CMPA and originally joined to meet people in the industry, to learn more about their challenges and needs and how I may be able to help. Several years on and being a member has certainly met my objectives and offered opportunities to share knowledge both ways. Looking forward to a time when we can again meet in person and rebuild relationships.

Acknowledgements: ASQA, NCVER, Bendigo Kangan TAFE.

Bio: Ross Kelly (business consultant www.rosskellyconsulting.com.au)

Previously Training Manager William Adams CAT, GM Training CCF Vic

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