Not all vocational training providers are stacking up

Complaints of dodgy providers of vocational education and training in aged care and child care show something has to be done to regulate private providers. Shutterstock

Vocational education and training is crucial to developing the skills of the workforce, but the quality of training and development is under question, and it is a problem – a major problem.

Public TAFE colleges Australia-wide have continued to experience funding cuts and private registered training organisations are poised to get a boost in funding to train Australia’s workforce.

The labour market needs skilled workers

Australia faces a future with a population of retirees who outnumber workers. In 2010 each Australian aged 65 or older was supported by five people of working age. By 2050 this ratio is forecast to decline to a mere 2.7 workers participating in the labour market to each retired worker.

The vocational training sector, including TAFE, needs to be boosted and highly regulated to ensure quality training so the workforce is well trained and active. However, we are faced with short-sighted government funding cuts and poor training, which industry is rightly questioning.

The Business Council of Australia has accused the government of removing funding from vocational training and TAFE because it is a “palatable” option compared to taking money out of schools.

Reports of dodgy providers and sub-par training

According to a recent news report, childcare centres have been blacklisting accredited training organisations they perceive to be “dodgy”. Evidence emerged that graduates from these “dodgy” providers were being turned away from childcare centres due to their presence on informal “blacklists”.

Private registered training organisations offer Certificate III/IV and diploma qualifications in childcare as the government has decreed that these qualifications are essential to work in the industry. But childcare managers reported that many registered training organisations use the well-known “tick and flick” method to make fast money without developing an effective training program.

The student may have paid thousands of dollars to buy a qualification from an organisation but the industry operators know that this provider was unethical. That leaves applicants for jobs in childcare high and dry.

Other yet-to-be-published research I have been involved in within aged care and transport and logistics has found the same concerns. As part of my research into staffing in aged care, a manager in a regional care facility told me there were numerous private training organisations that he would not use - in particular, one that provides a Certificate III qualification in personal care after a total of just 13 hours of training.

The 2011 Productivity Commission report, Caring for Older Australians, reported extensive concerns that effective training is crucial to “the creation of a sustainable aged care workforce” and adequate end-of-life care services “can only be provided in residential and community aged care settings if staff are adequately trained and resourced”.

Based on the research I have conducted, there has been no notable change since then. This seems to question the importance of caring for Australia’s old and young citizens.

Concerns are consistently expressed over the quality of training in numerous fields. Having interviewed many CEOs and directors of nursing in the aged care field, again and again they expressed concern at poor training and allowing poorly trained people with inadequate skills to be employed to work with older Australians, many of whom suffer from dementia.

The research in this field consistently reports that despite accredited training courses, there is wide variance in the quality of training provided by registered training organisations.

So how do we improve the quality of training?

First, improved regulation of registered training organisations is essential. It is bad enough to have reports of poor training in child and aged care, but if poor training extends to electricians, plumbers, builders and air-conditioning and refrigeration mechanics then we have an even bigger problem.

Second, there needs to be some research to support the ideological view that prevails in government that privatisation cures all. I have scoured the vast resources of academic commentary and I am yet to encounter compelling research that clearly identities the benefits of this march to privatisation.

Australia is in the midst of a massive demographic shift with dramatic repercussions for public policy. This includes a need to train and develop and retrain and redevelop Australia’s workforce.

Many training courses delivered by private providers may well be of a high quality, but too many are reported as not delivering accredited courses to the quality standard industry needs. There is an essential requirement to review the content and delivery of vocational education and training programs.

There is also a strong need to rescue TAFE colleges - they remain the place where people can be given a second or third chance to engage with the labour market.