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Issues In Educational Research, Vol 12, 2002
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Training Packages: Debates around a new curriculum system

Erica Smith
Charles Sturt University
The vocational education and training system in Australia has been rocked by continuous change for the past fifteen years. The three most radical changes have been the move to competency-based training, the privileging of industry as opposed to students as the most important stakeholder group, and the opening up of government funding to private providers as well as to TAFE, the public provider. In 1997 Training Packages became the basis for all future curriculum in the Australian VET system. Like any curriculum change, the introduction of Training Packages has aroused controversy but so far there has been only a limited amount of empirical research. This paper summarises the debates about Training Packages, using the existing body of research and comment, interviews with key national and State figures in Training Package development, and the author's experience as a Director of a State Industry Training Advisory Board involved in the development and review of several Training Packages. The paper identifies some of the basic underlying difficulties with Training Packages which, it is argued, stem from their being written for the workplace while their primary field of application is in educational institutions.


Training Packages form the basis of a new curriculum system in the Australian vocational education and training (VET) sector. Consisting of industry-based competency standards, together with qualification and assessment guidelines, they are gradually replacing all previous forms of curriculum approaches. Their introduction has been dogged by controversy. In the early 1990s, when competency-based training (CBT) was being progressively introduced in Australian VET, Cherry Collins (1993, p.11) described the reactions of those involved with its introduction:
The enthusiastic commitment of the campaigner; the 'no choice' acceptance of the bureaucrat', the 'we can subvert this and get it to work educationally' argument of the educational policy adviser; the cries of pain from those seeing good education being replaced by jargonistic ritual; the exploration of research which suggests that at least part of the competencies agenda cannot work; and the arguments that the whole current discourse is dangerous because it shifts the balance of power in the wrong direction and threatens crucial educational purposes in a democratic society.

Collins could have written exactly the same paragraph in 2001 about the introduction of Training Packages, the early 21st century Australian manifestation of competency-based training. This paper uses Collins' statement as a framework for discussing reactions to Training Packages and the experiences of some of those working with them.

Research method

While much of this paper is based on secondary sources, three forms of primary source have been utilised. Formal telephone interviews took place during 2001-2 with key figures at three levels in the VET system: a senior manager at the Australian National Training Authority (ANTA) (Lewis, pers. comm. August 2001), an Executive Director of a national Industry Training Advisory Body (ITAB) (Allen, pers. comm. August 2001) and an officer responsible for the implementation of Training Packages in a State Training Authority (Owers, pers. comm. October 2001). These interviews were semi-structured, to allow the participants' own ideas to surface (Merriam, 1988:74) and the participants, public figures, were willing to be named (Babbie, 1999: 402). Secondly the author's previous research projects into competency-based training in Australia (Smith, Hill, Smith, Perry, Roberts & Bush, 1996; Smith, Lowrie, Hill, Bush & Lobegeier, 1997; Lowrie, Smith, & Hill, 1999) had given a deep understanding of teachers' and VET officials' views about, and concerns with, competency-based curricula. The most recent of these three projects had involved some investigation of teachers' understandings of Training Packages (Smith & Lowrie, 1999), which at that time were just beginning to be introduced.

Finally and, perhaps most importantly, the arguments and findings from the literature were validated by the author's own experience in employment as the Executive Director of a State ITAB during the period late 2000-early 2002. In this role there was close involvement both with the development and review of seven Training Packages, and with more general developments relating to Training Package implementation at a State and Registered Training Organisation (RTO) level. The ITAB was the South Australian Wholesale, Retail and Personal Services (WRAPS) ITAB. Evidence from this source is referred to in this paper as 'field sources'. Events at which notes were taken included meetings with

Other sources included meetings of national industry reference groups overseeing Training Package development; working parties on various issues; telephone and face-to-face conversations with RTO staff and people in industry; and various VET events such as attendance at the National Training Awards in 2000 and 2001.

This primary data gathering was not carried out solely for the purpose of research. While notes were taken of the meetings and other events, they were primarily for the purpose of normal working duties. However since the author was a researcher by profession, and intended to return to that role, events were interpreted in the light of the researcher's academic understanding of the issues being discussed. Some, but not all, of the participants in the events knew of the researcher's academic work.

The researcher's experiences in her working role were thus a form of participant observation; Wiersma (1986:235) describes the role of the participant observer as 'attempt(ing) to assume the role of the individuals under study and ... experience their thoughts, feelings and action.' According to Ellis (1994: 121) this form of field research provides 'the most realistic picture of the complexity and dynamics of the events being studied'. Those observers who are fully involved in the processes they observe are generally described as 'complete participants' (Babbie, 1999: 264). Advantages of participant observation over other methods such as interviewing include that 'volunteered statements' gathered in the normal course of events are less likely to 'reflect the observer's preoccupations and biases' (Becker & Geer, 1982), and that events can be interpreted in the context of the culture and language of participants (Jorgensen, 1989) and in their full 'complexity and dynamics' (Ellis,1994: 121). However it is also accepted that participant observation has its drawbacks such as possible ethical exploitation of participants (depending partly on whether the researcher has revealed his or her identity or not), the possibility of being judged a traitor or a spy (Jarvie, 1982), and the inevitable fact that the participant observer, as a participant, will actually affect events (Babbie, 1999).

The events recorded in this paper, however, were not gained during a conventional participant observation process. While it is not unknown, as Jorgensen (1989) points out, for a research project to grow from a researcher's previous and even concurrent experience, most participant observation events are deliberately entered into for the purpose of research. This was not so in this case. Field notes were used as research notes only after the period of employment was completed. In a sense, then, the process was closer to Ellis's (1994: 127) category of 'serendipitous observation' which is defined as 'evidence which falls into a researcher's lap ... rather than something he or she sets out to discover'. Whatever the most appropriate term for the data-gathering process, working for an ITAB, a pivotal organisation at State level in the Australian VET system, provided an excellent opportunity for understanding the processes and players involved in the implementation of Training Packages. It also enabled early and easy access to key documents which, because of the researcher's position, could be interpreted in the light of an understanding of issues of concern to participants (Altheide, 1987, in Jorgensen, 1989: 93).

Training Packages, their origins and their development

Competency-based training in its current form was introduced in Australia from the late 1980s onwards. The basis of CBT is three-fold. National competency standards were the basis of CBT in the 1980s and 1990s, but various reviews of the VET system (eg Allen Consulting Group, 1994) identified some problems with the system. In particular a disjunction between competency standards and VET curriculum was identified. However, curriculum and teaching staff in TAFE have sometimes viewed a disjunction as positive, in that flawed competency standards, in their view, needed extra curriculum content added to them (Smith, et al., 1997). These opposing views are symptomatic of a much wider debate about the desirability and efficacy of CBT, which raged throughout the 1990s in Australia and elsewhere (Smith & Keating, 1997).

The Australian National Training Authority (ANTA) determined, in late 1996, as a result of a decision by the Ministerial Council for Employment, Education, Training and Youth Affairs, to introduce Training Packages. National Industry Training Advisory Bodies (ITABs) were asked to produce lists of Training Packages which would cover their industry areas (Lewis, pers comm, 2001). The WRAPS (Wholesale, Retail and Personal Services) ITAB, for example, proposed seven Training Packages (Retail, Wholesale, Hairdressing, Beauty, Funerals, Floristry and Community Pharmacy) which have now all been developed. Some ITABs might have fewer Training Packages on their list; others, for example Business Services or Community Services, preferred a small number of Packages, each covering several related industry areas (Lewis, pers comm, 2001).

Each Training Package consists of a number of units of competence (competency standards), and instructions as to how they can be packaged to make qualifications. The Training Packages also include details on assessment and, in the support materials (formerly called 'non-endorsed components'), may include learner guides, resources for teachers and so on. Around eighty Training Packages are now in existence and may be viewed on the National Training Information Service web site (www.ntis.gov.au) which is managed by ANTA. Training Package qualifications are national qualifications, and training providers can no longer accredit courses in industry areas covered by a Training Package except under a restricted range of circumstances. Thus the number of available courses in the VET sector is rapidly being reduced.

The process of Training Package development is usually carried out in two phases. The first phase scopes the industry and makes general recommendations. The second phase develops the competency standards and eventually produces the complete Training Package. ANTA's National Training Quality Council is required to sign off on both phases. There are strict guidelines as to how the Package is developed and how it looks (Allen, pers comm, 2001); these guidelines are produced by ANTA and have changed over time (Lewis, pers comm, 2001). Both phases of development involve extensive consultation both nationally and in States and Territories. Usually State ITABs are asked to assist in identifying relevant people to contribute to consultations in each State. These will include people working in industry and teachers from VET Registered Training Organisations including TAFE (Allen, pers comm, 2001). Originally RTOs were not invited to be part of this process but are now involved; in addition State Training Authority input will often include an RTO, particularly a TAFE, perspective (field source 1) Extensive efforts are made to identify appropriate industry people to advise on development and subsequent implementation purposes, sometimes with some difficulty where an industry is not cohesive or where few employers are planning to use the Training Package (field source 2).

Training Packages are reviewed every three years, which means that the review process (which is similar to the development process) needs to start within eighteen months or so after the original package is endorsed (Misko, 2001; field source 3). Revisions to Training Packages may be very extensive, as is the case for the current review of the widely-criticised Training Package for Assessment and Workplace Training (field source 4). While constant review is meant to ensure that the Packages keep up to date with changes in industry, as well as meeting criticism from those who deliver them, the TAFE Directors Australia (2001) have argued that the three-year review period is too short, since it means that many students, for example apprentices whose courses may run for three years, will graduate with competencies which are already out-of-date.

The dangerous discourse

Like CBT itself, the introduction of Training Packages has aroused much controversy among academics and other writers on educational policy and curriculum writers. Some commentators fear the extension of economic rationalist ideology into education. Some see Training Packages as offering a chance for advancement for the working class. These two positions are discussed in this section.

The position held by many academics and by some curriculum staff within the VET sector is that the curriculum is seen to be based on Taylorist job descriptions, leaving little if any room for 'education' or the development of the adaptability needed in the so-called 'new world of work' (Billett et al., 1999). Turner (2001) recently presented a detailed discussion of Training Packages' similarities to scientific management principles. He maintains that in the drawing up of units of competence, jobs are broken down into tiny parts which are all too readily used for the basis of training programs. Turner (2001, p.7-8) warns,

If we continue headlong down the Training Package path, we may well end up with a workforce of automatons who are proficient in narrow, specific fields but unable to 'think for themselves', as the education system failed to emphasise the importance of the intrinsic value of learning, and the significance of the relationship between different bodies of skill/knowledge.
In the ideal world of Training Packages students do not even go to a VET provider; they learn on the job and are issued with qualifications which are gained solely in the performance of their normal work routines. Training Packages are written with workplace delivery very much in mind, and the difficulties this presents are discussed later in this paper.

There have been many critics of Training Packages' perceived narrowness. Wheelahan (2001) for example, suggests that students not only need to know about different ways of doing things but also need to know how to critique ways of doing things. Thus not only are Training Packages likely to be quickly outdated, because they describe current ways of working, they do not offer the chance for people to learn about how things might improve or how workplaces might be arranged differently. By contrast, earlier forms of VET curriculum taught off the job offered a more obvious opportunity for examining different ways of carrying out particular workplace tasks and asking students to compare them.

Some commentators, however, see Training Packages as an opportunity to validate and valorise what working class people do in workplaces. The following statement, from a process industry manager, is typical.

The training program has brought benefits to our employees in the form of the increased self-esteem and confidence which comes with gaining a national qualification. Australian Training, 6(4), p.25
Silverman (2001) presses Paolo Friere (whose writings are concerned with adult education in and for social action) into service, saying that Training Packages give the opportunity for 'praxis' which he describes as learning through reflection upon action. Such writers consider that the opportunities to learn within their workplaces might enable workers, assisted by teachers, to effect social or political change. For example, Kell (1999) suggests
The move away from institutionalised learning and the pressure to generate curriculum might release teachers to take up quite different interventions in workplaces to change the lives of workers.
Training Packages can be delivered in the workplace, either by the enterprise itself, if it is a Registered Training Organisation (RTO), or by workplace staff under the supervision of an external RTO such as a TAFE college, enabling workers to learn without leaving their work stations. Moreover, workers who have previously not had their skills acknowledged can be assessed against a qualification without learning anything new. This is regarded as a desirable outcome by ANTA despite the fact that there is no 'added value' (ie no additional skills learned) to the system (field source 5) . The workplace focus of Training Packages can make it easy for employers to believe that it is apppropriate to train their workers only in what is needed in their own workplace and yet still award a national qualification signifying competence in a field of practice (field source 6).

There is much to be said for the extension of qualification frameworks into areas of work which were previously unrecognised as skilled. In the past, too many occupations have been regarded as skilled only because of the actions of the associated trade unions in these (usually male) occupations in defining their work as skilled (Shields 1995). However the notion that learning takes place best in workplaces flies in the face of the reality that workplaces are at best busy and focused on production rather than on learning, and at worst exploitative, oppressive and dangerous. Many authors including Billett (2001), Butler (1996) and Casey (1993) have pointed out the disadvantages of learning in workplaces, despite their authenticity as environments for practicing tasks and understanding work in context.

The cries of pain


VET teachers, many still reeling from the changes in their work associated with the introduction of CBT (Smith et al., 1997), have been among the critics of Training Packages. They fear the 'thin' curriculum associated with strict adherence to workplace tasks and the lack of opportunity for students to develop underpinning knowledge and reflective and critical approaches to the area of study. Teachers, closest to students of all stakeholders, are also aware of students' lack of respect for a curriculum which is based solely in workplace tasks. An ethnographic study of CBT in the UK (Riseborough 1993) and a study (Smith 2000a) of Australian young workers in apprenticeships and traineeships, have both revealed that students consistently want to learn more, and more deeply, than content and skills that relate only to their everyday workplace tasks. However some commentators strongly support a thin curriculum; for example one submission to the recent Senate Inquiry into the Quality of VET stated that
The old system of Training Providers loading up students with great quantities of theory, because this is a Provider's only chance to equip a person for the future, has been replaced by the opportunity for them to tailor learning to the immediate needs of students. (Senate Employment, Workplace Relations, Small Business and Education References (EWRSBE) Committee 2000a, p.159).
As is commonplace when teachers resist educational change (Smith 2000b) teachers and trainers' concerns have mostly been dismissed as the reaction of 'dinosaurs' unwilling to change. They are depicted as being 'wedded to traditional means of training delivery' (Senate EWRSBE Committee 2000a, p.149). Such comments prevent reasoned discussion of the challenges associated with Training Package delivery.


Cries of pain have not just come from teachers. ACPET, the Australian Council for Private Education & Training, which represents many commercial VET providers, has described Training Packages as 'rigid, uniform and standardised'.

The concerns of ACPET (2000) include the following.

Most VET in Australia is delivered by TAFE (Technical and Further Education), the public provider. TAFE has also expressed grave reservations about Training Packages. A position paper by the TAFE Directors (TAFE Directors Australia 2001) sets out a number of objections. These include


While many employers are 'enthusiastic campaigners' for Training Packages, the enthusiasm of some could (by the cynical) be seen to relate to employers' access to government funding associated with Training Package delivery, especially when implemented as part of apprenticeships and traineeships (field source 7). Moreover, there are voices of dissension. A Tasmanian tulip-farmer gained notoriety in 2000 (field source 8) at an ANTA conference by speaking out against Training Packages (Robert-Thomson 2001). Some of his comments included the following. However, Robert-Thomson does acknowledge that some faults of Training Packages are 'less the fault of the package than the way in which it has been sold, implemented, interpreted and regulated' (Robert-Thomson 2001, 21). It needs also to be noted that the process of Training Package development is continually evolving and many concerns, such as the lack of educational input, are being addressed, at least to some extent (Lewis, pers comm, 2001).

The enthusiastic campaigner

From the enthusiastic campaigners for Training Packages, statements such as the following are commonplace. Such statements often set up 'straw men' and make many assumptions about what came before, which is invariably characterised as bad. Such assumptions include the following. These straw men have appeared from time to time in the VET sector, most recently with the advent of CBT and subsequently with the advent of the training market (eg Ryan, 1996). Yet these straw men are at odds with surveys of employer satisfaction and graduate satisfaction with VET, published by the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER), which have consistently shown high levels of satisfaction (eg NCVER, 2002).

The bureaucrat's acceptance and the subversive educational policy adviser

Once Training Packages are endorsed, State bureaucrats and educational staff have the task of turning them into practice within their VET systems. In this process it is sometimes difficult to differentiate between acceptance and subversion: the main aim is to get the new system working without too much disruption and too many disastrous consequences. Three main areas have been involved and are discussed here: curriculum, workplace context, and assessment.

Curriculum is dead: Long live curriculum

A pronouncement by the then Chief Executive Officer of ANTA five years ago to the effect that following the introduction of Training Packages, curriculum no longer existed, has remained to haunt proponents of Training Packages ever since (Lewis, pers comm, 2001). In practice of course, no such thing could be true, Even if Training Packages were not called 'curriculum', and 'syllabuses' or 'modules' no longer existed as documents, curriculum in the sense of what was to be taught and how, still existed and always will. In the early days of Training Packages, Sobski (1998), a senior NSW education department official and ex-TAFE Director, was among those who argued for the continuation of curriculum development as a process. She argued that 'it is ... important that, for people who wish to acquire specific skills and knowledge, there is a program of learning available based on a structured learning program - in other words, a curriculum' (Sobski 1998, p.14). Not surprisingly, NSW TAFE has continued to fund the development of centralised 'curriculum' ie teaching syllabuses derived from modules which are mapped against Training Packages. However in most cases teachers are expected to develop their own curriculum from the units of competence.

Some writers such as Waterhouse (2000) see the need for teachers to develop curriculum from Training Packages as an 'opportunity'; in Waterhouse's opinion, 'creating space for innovative educators to explore and colonise'. Moira Scollay, the Chief Executive Office of ANTA, has said,

The concept of Training Packages was developed upon the premise that teachers and trainers can recognise what learners know, what more they need to know and how they might learn best. The key to the successful application of Training Packages in any learning environment is the ability of the teacher/trainer to develop customised learning strategies within the framework of competencies and assessment that the Packages provide (ANTA 2000a, p.3).
Others see this reliance upon individual teachers' or trainers' expertise as a possible route to disaster, with smaller and/or less scrupulous providers perhaps leaving it to under-qualified teachers to struggle as best they can to teach to units of competence. These units, moreover, are written in language which has been described as 'incomprehensible to all but the select club of competency standards developers and workplace assessors' (field source 9). The Senate Inquiry into the Quality of VET reported receiving submissions that many teachers ' need more assistance than is currently available ... to carry out these tasks effectively, particularly in relation to identifying and/or developing learning strategies and teaching programs' (Senate EWRSBE Committee 2000a, p.150).

Making Training Packages work for those who do not work

As already mentioned, Training Packages are difficult to deliver when students are not employed in the field of practice. This is important because most TAFE students (and TAFE delivers 85% of accredited VET training) are not employed in the field in which they are studying (Hager, 1995). ACPET (2000, p.19) has identified two particular areas of difficulty. These difficulties are generally overcome through a variety of strategies (Boorman 2001): by 'fudging', by work placements - with all their attendant difficulties (Smith & Harris, 2001), or by refusing access to students who are not employed (Boorman 2001). 'Fudging', however, does not seem a good basis on which to plan a large proportion of VET delivery. Specific 'fudging' strategies include scenarios, role-plays, practice firms, community projects and TAFE restaurants & hairdressing salons (Boorman 2001). While such strategies have some validity and have been in use in the VET sector for many years, they are not the same as 'real' workplaces and carry their own attendant difficulties. Moreover there are varying interpretations of what counts as a 'workplace or simulated workplace' (field source 10).

Assessment and workplace competence

Following some confusion in the early 1990s, by 1996 some TAFE systems had come to accept that, while they were utilising competency-based training, their students were not necessarily 'competent'; because students had gained a qualification did not mean they were competent in the workplace. At least one State had reverted to the use of the term 'pass' (Smith & Keating 1997, p.160). However, Training Packages threw this carefully worked-out compromise into disarray as there is no doubt that under a Training Package, a student must be deemed workplace competent to 'pass'. This is because the language in the units of competence is so unequivocally rooted in the workplace. For example, an element ('identify client competency needs') of a unit ('analyse competency requirements') in the Training Package for Assessment and Workplace Training contains the following performance criteria. It is difficult to imagine being able confidently to assess somebody as competent in this element except by being closely involved with him or her in the workplace over a period of time. Thus institution-based providers become severely disadvantaged compared with enterprises who are RTOs. In South Australia this difficulty is recognised by having two 'pass' grades (Owers, pers comm 2001). One (AP) is an Academic Pass, given when off-the-job training is completed, but the students cannot be awarded the Training Package qualification until they have been deemed as PA (Pass Achieved). PA can only be given in the workplace and is assessed during placements for institution-based students. For apprentices, it may not be awarded until the end of the apprenticeship, well after the completion of off-the-job training (field source 11). Undoubtedly other providers will have fixed upon similar compromises with which they feel happy. Partnerships with assessors in the workplace comprise a suggested solution but there are many reasons why this solution might be problematic including lack of control by the provider (who is responsible for awarding the qualification and hence the quality of assessment) over what happens in the workplace.

Quality issues

While Training Packages do not necessarily lead to poor quality training, there is certainly anecdotal evidence from some providers and employers about quality issues (field source 12). Where there is no specification about delivery methods, and 'nominal hours' cannot be enforced, there is room for unscrupulous providers to tick students off as competent in order to gain funding which may depend partly or wholly on completion. As ACPET (2000) puts it,
The shift from nominal hours of attendance to competency-based assessment had apparently also created a window of opportunity or possibility for costs to be cut further by substituting face-to-face tuition with self-directed 'home study', with potentially negative implications for the quality of learning.
Moreover some providers confine their learning resources to those issued as part of Training Package resource materials. For example, it was difficult to find an RTO in South Australia willing to offer a particular Certificate II traineeship until the learners' guides (self-paced materials relating to specific units of competence) became available two years after the Training Package was endorsed. A conclusion that could be drawn from this is that the RTOs did not have staff able, willing, or with sufficient time to devise a curriculum or teaching program (field source 13).

Many concerns about quality in relation to Training Package delivery were raised in submissions to the Senate Inquiry into the Quality of VET in Australia. These included the following.

Some but not all of the concerns about quality have been addressed in the new Australian Quality Training Framework which has been in full use since July 2002. Relevant provisions of importance include the requirements for those delivering as well as assessing Training Packages to possesses certain qualifications or demonstrated equivalence, and the requirement for RTOs to maintain records of teaching and assessment strategies for each qualification offered (ANTA, 2001)

The exploration of research

Research is slowly beginning to flesh out some of the arguments about Training Packages. Research-based papers presented at the 2001 conference of the Australian Vocational Education and Training Research Association (AVETRA) included Like early research into CBT implementation, these projects have focused mainly upon how providers have implemented Training Packages. Following the CBT pattern, one might expect subsequent projects to look at how they have affected teachers' work, and at some point in the future, attempt to map the effects upon student outcomes and perhaps employer perceptions might follow. CBT research, for example Smith et al, (1996) Smith et al (1997), Lowrie, Smith & Hill (1999) and Billett et al (1999), has covered this spectrum. However, as with CBT, it will not be possible in any meaningful way to examine student outcomes, since, with the prevalence of non-graded assessment, comparisons with either 'old style' CBT or pre-CBT courses cannot be made (Smith et al 1997).

Misko (2001, p.5-9), based on available research, summarises the advantages and disadvantages of Training Packages as follows.



Interestingly the British experience with National Vocational Qualifications (NVQ), introduced in the mid-1980s, has seen many of these advantages and disadvantages alike already highlighted and played out (Smith, V. 1999).

Down (2002) has recently completed the most comprehensive research project to date on the effects of Training Package implementation on groups of stakeholders. Her study involved interviews and focus groups with staff from STAs, RTOs, ITABs and enterprises as well as twenty students. This research according to Down (2002) revealed a more positive attitude to Training Packages than a previous research project (Down & Stewart, 2001) eighteen months previously. Down's (2002) research indicated that Training Package implementation has resulted in a number of shifts in practice and in attitude, including closer links between VET providers and workplaces and wider use of competency standards within enterprises. She found evidence that a greater proportion of VET students were drawn from workers rather than from those seeking work. Down also identified a number of areas of concern (2002: 11-12) including poor assessment practices, equity issues and lack of direction for teachers and trainers.

Difficulties associated with the workplace focus

As Boorman (2001, p.10) puts it, 'Ownership of national vocational qualifications by industry is a hallmark of Training Packages.' This ownership, while it has clear advantages, also has disadvantages. Training Packages are seen to belong in workplaces not in educational institutions. It is this privileging of workplaces in the Training Package discourse which appears to be the major problem in the smooth operation and wide acceptance of Training Packages. This problem is manifested at three levels. Firstly, it is a problem at a philosophical level, because many teachers, trainers and others in the VET system will never accept that the sole purpose of VET is to train people in specific workplace tasks. As McBeath (1991, p.15) has said,
In spite of the undeniable responsibility for vocational and adult education to provide efficient and relevant training, based on the needs of the employment market, most TAFE educationists would find it difficult to surrender the principle, inherited from a long and rich tradition of educational philosophy, psychology and practice, of educating the student as a whole person.
Secondly, it is a problem in relation to access & equity, because the way in which Training Packages are written make it difficult for people not currently in work to be trained using them. Thirdly, there is a practical level, because this same issue means that teachers in educational institutions have to 'fudge' in order to 'pretend' that their students are in workplaces. In other words, a national curriculum system has been introduced to the VET sector whose nature makes life difficult for the vast majority of those delivering the curriculum and those studying. This may derive from an initial policy view that Packages were primarily for apprenticeships and traineeships (Lewis, pers comm, 2001). Although this view has now softened, it has left the sector with the problem of a curriculum system written for delivery in the workplace but actually delivered to a large extent in training institutions.


In concluding, however, one must not ignore the immense possibilities of Training Packages. The increased availability of structured training in workplaces is of real value to many workers. For example, in the fishing industry the new Seafood Training Package is expected to improve safety in an industry characterised by a lack of formal training except for skippers' licences (ANTA 2000b, p.16). Interestingly the ACPET report notes that those RTOs already implementing Packages were more satisfied ('only' 34% dissatisfied/very dissatisfied) than the average (43% dissatisfied/very dissatisfied). This suggests that people, once they were actually working with Training Packages, were finding ways to combat some of the problems they had feared (ACPET 2000). Down's (2002) research supports this view.

Moreover, the VET system is full of actors with the best intentions trying to produce quality curriculum which avoids the traps of Taylorism, potential poor quality delivery, and the management of students who are not employed. Nor has the system shown itself unwilling to change. Initial reactions of many senior VET players to criticism of Training Packages in the Senate Inquiry into the Quality of VET were defensive (field source 14), despite the fact that the Inquiry had declared in favour of the concept of Training Packages (Senate EWSRBE Committee 2000a, p.144) if not in favour of aspects of their use. But changes were brought in rapidly by ANTA to address many of the problems uncovered, including the new AQTF, as well as a series of changes in the requirements for those developing Training Packages.

While Training Packages offer many opportunities for a wide range of students and workers to access training in a wider variety of vocations (and locations) than ever before in Australia, their emphasis upon workplace delivery has led many to view them as narrow, static, unlikely to develop higher-order skills, and of little relevance to the learner's personal development. The challenge now is for the Training Package concept to continue to evolve so that it can meet these more fundamental criticisms as well as the criticisms of quality in delivery which are already being addressed. Such development in Training Packages needs to be underpinned by a strong research base which provides rigorous empirical evidence to add to the current debate which consists primarily of opinion, anecdote and 'best practice' stories published by government agencies such as ANTA. The recent work by Down (2002) needs to be continued with a broader and deeper range of research projects.


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Field sources

  1. Observation of STA representatives' comments at State ITAB/National Industry Reference Group (NIRG) (NIRG)/Industry/State Training Authority pre-submission workshop for Community Pharmacy and Funerals Training Packages, June 2001.
  2. Author's attempts to identify appropriate industry personnel for consultations with relation to Wholesale Training Package support materials development and South Australian implementation, March 2001-January 2002.
  3. Author's involvement in NIRG for review of Floristry Training Package during 2001.
  4. Author's attendance at several meetings and teleconferences of National Steering Committee for review of Training Package for Assessment and Workplace Training during 2001 and 2002.
  5. Remarks by ANTA officer to author at the pre-submission workshop for Community Pharmacy Training Package, June 2001.
  6. Discussion between two employers at a meeting of the Floristry NIRG, August 2001.
  7. Employers' beliefs that Training Packages would no longer be implemented in their industries, after withdrawal of government funding for some categories of traineeship training in 2001 in South Australia, as voiced by State ITAB Directors at ITAB/Departrment of Education, Training and Employment meeting, March 2001.
  8. Comments expressed to author by several delegates at 2000 Australian Training Awards November 2000, shortly after the ANTA conference mentioned.
  9. Remarks made by facilitator of ANTA Assessment materials workshop, Adelaide, September 2001
  10. Discussion at New Apprenticeship Centre meeting, Adelaide, March 2001, concerning interpretation of requirements of Hairdressing Training Package.
  11. Discussions at three Reframing the Future staff development workshops, South Australian TAFE Hairdressing teachers during late 2001.
  12. Discussions at State WRAPS ITAB directors meeting, February and July 2001, Sydney.
  13. Conversations of author with Group Training Company manager, Adelaide, August 2001, and observations of RTOs' reactions to release of Beauty Training Package learners' guides late 2001.
  14. Discussions with National ITAB and ANTA personnel during 2000-2002 in a range of settings.

Author: Dr Erica Smith is a Senior Lecturer in Vocational Education and Training at Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga campus. Her primary research interests are VET policy and curriculum, entry-level training and the school to work transition. Email: esmith@csu.edu.au

Please cite as: Smith, E. (2002). Training Packages: Debates around a new curriculum system. Issues In Educational Research, 12(1), 64-84. http://www.iier.org.au/iier12/smith.html

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