Competency based approaches triumph in engineering

Ai Group recently completed a major national project addressing competency based progression and completion in the engineering trades. The Engineering Excellence project set out to build a system where employers play a key role in confirming when apprentices are competent.

This change reflects the centrality of the workplace in demonstrating competency, and the fundamental nature of the contract between an employer and apprentice.

The project was established under the Accelerated Australian Apprenticeship Program for trades within the Manufacturing and Associated Industries and Occupations Award 2010. Interestingly, few Registered Training Organisations (RTOs) had strategies to involve employers in the process, even though the industrial award required employers to agree with the RTO’s assessment before an apprentice can progress. Our project was designed to fix this.

Ten RTOs across the nation participated in this comprehensive project for over two and a half years and a great deal of useful resources have been developed as a result.

One of the key participants in this project, The Gordon Institute of TAFE in Geelong, Victoria, has a very good story to tell about its involvement. While engineering apprentice commencements fell across the country in 2015 there was an increase at The Gordon. This is significant given that the area has lost its largest contributors to engineering apprentices such as Ford, Alcoa and Shell. This increase has occurred as a result of the direct communications and reporting to local employers that occurred due to their involvement in this project.

There was also success of a different kind in Tasmania. As a result of their participation in the project, TasTAFE has developed an electronic profiling tool for employers to monitor progress and confirm the competency of apprentices. This has been very well received by employers and the tool has been made available to other trade areas as well. In addition, Hunter TAFE in NSW has adopted this approach and other participating RTOs are also considering its use.

As Ai Group Chief Executive, Innes Willox, said in launching the Engineering Excellence Report this week: “The implementation of competency based progression and completion is one of the biggest changes to the apprenticeship system for many years. This new report reinforces the shift from time-based assessment and the positive impact it is having on engineering trade apprentices and their employers.”

The results of this project are expected to have a positive impact on the completion of engineering apprenticeships. The latest individual completion rates are 56% for trades occupations and this could improve if apprentices are able to progress more quickly through their training under these competency based arrangements.

Is your business implementing competency based progression and completion for your apprentices? Contact Michael Taylor to find out more, or leave a comment below to share your comments and experiences.

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Michael Taylor is Ai Group’s National Policy and Projects Manager, Education and Training. He is responsible for a number of national projects across workplace literacy and numeracy, skills, and the management of a mature age workforce. Michael also contributes to policy formulation across a wide spectrum of education, training and skills.

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  1. Anne Brosnan

    I have just watched a video clip with Michael Taylor speaking about the Victorian Tech School Initiative
    I hope that initiative will bring schools and industry together to benefit students and their pathways

  2. Val Llewellyn

    I am bemused by the release of this study, as if this is some new revelation.

    The User Choice system of training, introduced into Queensland in 1997, encouraged workplace based, competency training. My organisation, Axial Training (RTO 2437) has been delivering this type of training predominantly in the Engineering sector since that time, and with outstanding results.

    This methodology requires the employer to be actively engaged in the training process, and to negotiate a suitable training plan with the trainer/assessor of the RTO, and review this plan every 6 months. This training Plan is centred around the skillets able to be acquired in that particular workplace, and the range of equipment and processes that will allow competency to be gained. Axial’s trainers visit the workplace on a regular calling cycle, and with the contribution of the employer, conduct both training and assessments. Final award of competency is confirmed by both Axial’s assessor and the employer.

    1. Michael Taylor (Post author)

      Thanks for your comment Val,
      You are bemused because you don’t seem to understand the purpose of the project. This is not about the introduction of competency based training. That would be absurd. Rather, the project was about assisting apprentices to progress through and complete an apprenticeship on the basis of the achievement of competencies rather than more traditional time-based approaches, typically of four year duration. It is the experience of Ai Group that very few RTOs have established processes and systems to facilitate competency based progression and completion – hence the need for the project. If you have arrangements in place to enable competency based progression and completion – congratulations. If not, you have more work to do before you can claim to operate a genuine competency based system.


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