Common sense in vocational learning today

Common sense in vocational learning today

Is common sense in vocational learning today an industry reality or a compliance fallacy?

The bakery and pastry industry contribute nearly three quarters of a billion dollars annually to everyday purchases that consumers make. However, I frequently hear in industry about the lack of common sense in the learning landscape today. I recently updated my teaching qualifications and returned to teaching pastry part-time. These opportunities come with a fresh perspective on how heavily regulated vocational education and training (VET) has become.

The Federal Court in June 2020 ordered a South Australian business to pay $571,000 in penalties and $100,000 in expenses for pretending to be a VET provider and offering fraudulent qualifications and courses. This underscores the need for a regulatory environment to ensure legitimacy and integrity in the VET sector. However, educational compliance has led to a series of products designed for auditors and not the intended users – students and teachers.

Imagine a customer and sales person reviewing the complete terms and conditions for a loaf of bread before purchase. Should a selection of pastries be added, then each product requires the same negotiation. This regulatory culture has created a fear of non-compliance and creates a “tick and flick” mentality that undermines the educational intent. It changes attention in the classroom from craft and competence to granular compliance.

The national regulator for VET is the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA). They oversee every type of VET qualification in Australia. The scope of this responsibility is inherently challenging. Anni Yaringa, an assessment expert for VET, acknowledges that “people’s lives and careers can be at stake when assessing “competence””. Her view is critical to informing educational and assessment design and would likely underpin the regulators approach. However, if not well designed and implemented, every observation of students’ performance becomes a critical control point. HACCP certainly does not work this way, neither should educational design.

ASQA recognises existing problems and this year stated the “overarching goal is to move from input and compliance controls, to a focus on self-assurance and excellence in training outcomes.” An example of the regulatory burden is to prove you are current in skills and knowledge- not as a teacher/assessor but as a technical professional. Learning from what you do in your daily craft, the outcomes produced and what you would do differently, is a model defined as reflective practice. This is difficult to do when your only opportunity to do so is in the classroom within a prescriptive compliance framework that leaves little if any time for industry participation.

Unfortunately, what has taken several years to embed as a compliance culture is going to take several more to allow training providers to rebuild their confidence in blending compliance and educational needs. Ongoing development for those who deliver and receive teaching qualifications is also required. The goal should be to emphasise what is being taught and assessed. Educational regulation should not sit upfront in the classroom, but be embedded into policies and procedures via the support of good quality assurance systems.

Our industry education should consider the strong relationships between manufacturing, food service and hospitality as well as retain aspirational elements, such as sugar work. The educational resources must be readily adaptive to industry culinary trends, poor industry practices (pay) and now pandemics. This approach would instill ongoing adaptive currency in the classroom and make proving currency obsolete as the curriculum drives the currency.

I hope the regulators maintain their commitment to looking beyond the compliance horizon and see more broadly the positive potential of its relationships with education and our industries.

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