How did we get here? And how are we preparing ourselves to deal with current and future challenges?
Trainers have used the concept of competency-based vocational education since the 1800s. “As man invented tools, weapons, clothing, shelter and language, the need for training became an essential ingredient in the march for civilisation.” (Cloyd S. Steinmetz, Training and Development Handbook: A Guide to Human Resource Development, 2nd Edition, ASTD, 1976)
Competency-based vocational education was introduced as a component of the tertiary education system, in the second half of the 20th century. The purpose of university education differs from vocational education, while university education seeks to disseminate and further develop human knowledge, vocational education seeks to transfer competencies required to successfully perform a job.
Steinmetz provided a relevant definition for our profession as vocational trainers “... a man had the ability to pass on to others the knowledge and skill gained in mastering circumstances”. That vocational axiom hasn’t changed with the adoption of competency-based education in an institutional setting. We still need vocational trainers to transfer the skills and knowledge they developed while performing their occupation (the occupation there are teaching).
The objective of RTOs and trainers in VET is to produce job-ready graduates. And we do that using vocational training programs developed on performance objectives, based on tasks currently performed by workers in the relevant occupation.
The need to incorporate foundation skills, values and attitudes, to the set of cognitive and non-cognitive skills required to perform a job, has been a continuous issue for VET, considering the diversity of learners’ backgrounds and their levels of ability.
But the world of work is today’s biggest challenge for the VET system, and consequently for trainers. The increase in human knowledge and rapid pace of changes in the world of work puts the VET system and content validity under pressure.
Changes in competency benchmarks requires continuously adding and subtracting skills and knowledge to training programs and, therefore, intensive involvement of trainers in professional development activities used to maintain industry currency.
The time required to develop Training Packages, conducting tasks or occupational analysis to develop the performance objectives, used by RTOs to design their training curriculum, put the system at risk of not being responsive enough to industry needs.
The concept of accountability inherited with the definition of competency-based education, is now conceived beyond the Training Package description and requires its interpretation for a specific use. Trainers need to master the skills of interpreting/unpacking training packages to create relevant training for students that will use the skills and knowledge learnt in the workplace context.
Where is our profession going?
The explosion of technology, including computer-based training and online learning, put new tools in the hands of trainers. Yet, how we conceptualise vocational training has also evolved. VET is no longer merely focused on acquiring skills through training, now consideration must be given to partnering with businesses to deliver impact.
The success of VET education lies in trainers accepting the concept and understanding how to implement it. Research indicates that trainers tend to teach the way they have been taught, this suggests that prospective trainers should be trained in a competency-based setting if they are expected to implement this type of education.
Trainers’ credentials must provide a solid base on instructional design, adult learning principles and competency-based education systems. Relevant trainers’ forums are required to share, moderate, and further develop perspectives and skills.
We are in the profession of talent development; our profession demands continuous professional development to respond to the dynamic forces that transform the world of work.
The value of trainers is not defined by compliance, yet the activities performed by trainers must meet quality expectations described by compliance, but we can’t be trapped in the Standards’ box.
Our job is to develop human capital and support the industry to perform better, but trainers also “... serve the needs of minorities, including older persons and the handicapped, and to provide for equal opportunity and non-discriminatory treatment. Such social growth factors are among our greatest assets and are needed in the release of human greatness." (Cloyd S. Steinmetz, The History of Training, ASTD, 1977)