Author: Denise Meyerson
CEO of The Focus Learning Group / a Multi-Award Winning Training Company / Telstra Business Women’s Awards Finalist
In 1995 there was a horrific and tragic accident on one of the major mines in South Africa. The cables controlling an underground train snapped, sending the cars hurtling down a 7,000-foot vertical shaft.
Following the accident, a commission of enquiry was established and one of the first people called to give evidence was the Training Manager. What training materials were used? How was the locomotive driver assessed in terms of his competence? What assessment processes were in place? When was the driver last trained?
Thankfully as a result of the findings, huge improvements in health and safety were made. And, the focus on the vital importance of a robust competency based training system was made abundantly clear for all of us in learning and development!
The good old Certificate IV, difficult as it is, does have a critical role in our learning and development eco-system. We need to have total confidence that when we train and assess our learners, that they are able to perform to the required standards. It is easy to get lost in the detail and to become frustrated by the amount of paperwork associated with assessments. Nonetheless, the primary role of the trainer / assessor is to ensure that the learner can do what they say they can do and that this meets the national evidence and performance requirements.
The TAE qualification for all its challenges remains our best way of creating a compliant way of signing off learners so that they perform tasks to the appropriate levels + have the background knowledge that they need to perform to these standards. Standards, that have in fact been developed over time by top experts and through industry consultation.
There are downsides and it's up to training and learning professionals to manage these well:
1) When we sign a learner off as competent, this only reflects one slice of time.
We see them in that moment or possibly on one or two other occasions. However, they do not remain competent at that level for ever more. Poor habits creep in. Human nature takes over and suddenly, that level of competence that was signed off at one point in time, has slipped considerably. Performance management and competency assessment goes hand in hand! One does not replace the other.
2) The units of competence are not written to standards of excellence - they are the minimum requirements to perform in a role.
Organisations set their own standards and benchmarks and these need to be communicated via induction and other forms of training. A competency sign-off won’t be sufficient if you want teams to perform to high standards, or even to your own set standards.
3) In an academic framework, we have exams and tests being undertaken and marked in one central place.
Vocational assessment systems and processes are devolved across many organisations with a whole range of assessors with different levels of understanding. Although this is supposed to be consistent, there are often gaps and depletions. If the training and assessment team is not being kept current, there is the chance that someone is signed off competent when in fact they have not met the requirements.
So, what do you do if you are committed to the high value of vocational training and you want to do it right?
- Ensure that your training and assessment team is current and provide them with ongoing professional development.
- Be prepared to think about your industry as a whole and participate in validation activities where possible.
- Keep your ears and eyes open for continuous improvement opportunities so that you are open to ways of doing things differently with the ultimate goal of enhancing your practice.
- Set a strong code of practice within your assessor team so that everyone knows the risks of signing off learners when they aren’t competent.