Vocational qualifications are generally designed to equip students for particular employment. As a general rule, the sooner you start talking to industry the better, so you can build your whole program to suit what industry wants. In general, industry consultation will keep your feet firmly grounded in current practice. If you think of industry as a client, it’s good business to start by asking: What does the client want? Training institutions consult industry to make sure that what they are doing is what industry actually wants.
This is due to the ivory tower mentality, where institutions can teach things that they find academically interesting or completely out of date, but are completely out of touch with what graduates must be able to do in the workplace. That's why industry consultation generally doesn't include consulting other educational institutions. You don't want to base your offerings on something irrelevant or outdated that somebody does in another ivory tower.
Similar protocols apply to professional education in higher education, and some professional associations have their own recognition or accreditation systems for university departments.
The training standard requirement
The training standards require that industry be satisfied with what
you do, so it will probably be much more like a continuing conversation than a single meeting. It is also part of your quality control. It becomes necessary when either the training institution or industry wants to interpret requirements in quite specific ways, or actual practice on the ground is changing rapidly. You may also have to deal with other standards, especially mandatory licensing standards.
The training quality standard suggests that consultation is an institutional responsibility of the training institution rather than part of the regular duties of an assessor. The training institution really must be able to show that the consultation covers the whole qualification, including the units that aren't being taught at the time.
However, as a qualified assessor, you may be appointed to conduct industry consultations. In most training institutions, the most practical and beneficial way is to have instructors and assessors do
consultation for the qualifications or units they teach and/or assess, use the consultation results in their preparation, but place records in institutional files.
I sometimes get asked, If the package was already consulted with industry, why consult again? Answer: Training packages are national and normally too broad and generic to apply in a specific, local context. In particular, packages don't dictate the purposes of your program.
Who is industry?
If you are assessing people in a particular company, you can be very specific in what you require because you can specify particular procedures and legislation, etc. But if you are training students to get a job anywhere in the industry (e.g. TAFE), you need to cover all the kinds of cases that students will face across the industry.
A simple way to identify skill needs is to ask the right person. In the simplest cases, it will be the employer of your students or graduates.
An industry representative may be anybody currently in working industry with this knowledge who can give you independent advice. It may be a representative of an association or peak body, but does not have to be. You may also do industry consultation through a series of industry seminars and workshops, if it achieves the purposes.
Assessment is also more complex when dealing with complex networks of people who might do assessment very differently. This is normally the case for on-the-job practical assessments when risks have been identified, and especially so for extended practicums.
For compliance purposes, you are not required to ask a lot of people, but in more complex cases, you might also need to consult:
government regulatory bodies
employee and union representatives
industry training advisory bodies
team leaders or supervisors
managers or management boards
subject matter experts.
If you need to consult more widely, the way you run consultations will depend on the structure of the stakeholder bodies. Consider the difference between:
a large number of unassociated organizations
a small number of self-employed people
an international organization
a government department
the board of an association that represents the stakeholders, and
an industry training body.
Conflict of interest
What if the employer and the head of the training program are the same person? He/she might be consult themselves, and this is sometimes almost unavoidable. They can simply say, Yes, I agree with myself. Two different answers have been proposed:
• It is a role conflict and training institutions should consult more widely, perhaps to rival associations if possible.
• It is not outlawed, and advice does not need to be independent as long as the wider context is appropriate. They could represent industry if they had a wider accountability for their opinions.
Centralized or de-centralized?
Training oganizations face the decision as to whether they will do one consultation for a qualification that will cover all their sites and all their clients, or separate consultations for each site or each client. It must be a policy decision at management level due to the ramifications in compliance management and cost.
You may have to adapt for specific contexts or clienteles by using specific procedures and assessment tools. In some cases, assessment tools need to be specifically written for particular jobs in a particular company. In other cases, it works better to write generic assessment tools based on the package and then adapt them to the specific on-job situation.
Centralized consultation is best when:
Skills are fairly uniform across the industry and workers need to be able to move between employers.
The industry has a central body or association.
Occupations are subject to licencing.
Most workers in some industries are self-employed. That is, the industry is so decentralized that you can survey a sample of workers. (Surveys are highly centralized.)
It is financially advantageous to have one set of training materials and assessment tools for all sites or clients.
The risk of non-compliance, confusion, or cost blow-out is very high when each site or client has separate training materials and assessment tools.
Decentralized consultation is best when:
Skills vary greatly according to context. Variations affect not only the selection of units, but also the contextualization of individual units. For example, the same hospitality qualification might vary greatly between a lunch bar, a coffee and cake cafe, and a fine dining restaurant.
You are dealing with sites or clients that have highly specific requirements, especially skills that create a competitive advantage or deal with client's confidential internal information.
Your clients do not want employees to leave and move to a competitor.
It is financially feasible to create or adapt a separate set of training materials and assessment tools training for each site or client.
Increased concreteness and specificity will make assessment tools much more reliable.
The training organization has a simple, effective way to prevent non-compliance, confusion, or cost blow-out when producing multiple sets of training materials and assessment tools.
You may be able to contextualize in ways that clients find pleasing but which do not require major re-writes of materials and assessment tools. For example, you might produce a client-specific covers on materials, or make a relatively small number of changes or additions, or put extra items in class handouts. You might also leave aspects of competitive advantage or confidential internal
information out of the materials and cover them is cohort interactions, assignements, or open-ended questions.
What to do
Identify whose approval you need to start the consultation. This will normally be your training institution supervisor.
Decide how you will conduct the consultation.
You may do a consultation jointly with other departments of your training institution that are offering the same units or qualifications.
You may do one separately from other departments if your situation is different.
Select an industry representative (You may consult more than one industry person if necessary.)
Make an appointment beforehand if at all possible.
State the purpose of the consultation clearly and succinctly.
Clarify current workplace requirements
Ask them what you expect of them, and allay their fears.
Show your assessment plan and tools to your industry representative, and actively try to get their input and advice. Try to get them on side. By listening to their needs and concerns, they will more likely be sympathetic to what you are doing. Find out what they think and write down your results.
Confirm that your training goals and assessments fit what industry actually does. Adjust your strategies if necessary.
Find out what kinds of assessment tools would work in that context.
negotiate and get agreement to proposed assessment strategies, and be willing to revise them if necessary
Identify any useful improvements.
Determine whether you will need to meet again.
Make one record for each qualification of part thereof. Make sure that what you write is a good explanation of what you do. (Please don't treat it as just a form to fill in.)
Keep either a hard copy or a backed-up soft copy in your training institution records.
How to do it
You can do industry consultation in various ways.
Kind of consultation
Pros and cons
Integrate industry people, especially an employer, early in the process.
This is currently often seen as one of the best approaches, because the training institution can be far more sure that it is meeting employer expectations. This can be by either:
• functioning as an enterprise training institution (e.g. integrating assessment into routine workplace training, performance review), or
• having an industry person as co-assessor, or
• having a supervisor or colleague give an oral or written reference, or
• involving an industry representative in validating assessments.
Discuss and modify assessment tools
Pro: You have something concrete to discuss and change.
Contra: Beware that the industry person might feel that it is a fiat accompli and no further discussion is possible. It also tends to be a one-off meeting rather than an ongoing relationship.
Do an Internet search of current standards.
The easiest scenario is when the industry produces written and agreed-upon particular standards and procedures, and provides information of its needs, interests, and concerns. Simple enough; all you need to do is to respond appropriately.
In well-documented industries, you may be able to do all industry consultation by Internet search. A few consultations are that easy, although it is usually much more complicated. It is also best when written standards of international organizations are the main compliance requirement.
Participate in industry meetings that define current standards of practice
They may be an association or peak body conference, or a series of industry network meetings, seminars or workshops.
Interview an industry representative
The representative may be a representative of an industry association or peak body. Note: If you choose an interview approach, one interview does comprise and ongoing relationship.
Interview a supervisor or HR manager
This approach integrates training into the needs of a particular organization. If you meet supervisor or HR manager for various organization, be careful not to ask for confidential information, such
as information that relates to a competitice advantange. It can work better to link people along supply chains, so suppliers are linked with buyers. Note: If you choose an interview approach, one interview does comprise and ongoing relationship.
Getting a letter from an industry association
Once almost the mandatory approach, an industry association letter fails to integrate industry into the training and assessement process.
You should look at any of these that are helpful, as long as you comply with privacy regulations:
• job descriptions
• personnel records
• performance appraisals and review documents
• enrolment information
• outcomes of RPL assessments
• students' registration or enrolment information
• company brochures and promotional materials
• job descriptions
• performance appraisals and review documents
• publications from government agencies including OHS and regulatory authorities supervisor reports
This is a written description of what a competent person will be like. Just be careful not to be too idealistic. Profiles are very
Another way to do it is to survey people, but this is normally only recommended for a large-scale program, and is most appropriate when there are no central structures. It will produce insights that you could not have anticipated and cannot get any other way, but you need to avoid getting so much detailed information that you cannot use it or even interpret it.
Another way to analyze training needs is to determine the skills that each employee needs to contribute to achieving the organization's specific goals. That means that you systematically observe and ask a series of questions:
• What specific goals is the organization seeking to achieve? (What are the ends?)
• How is trying to achieve those goals? (What are the means?)
• What job roles are needed for achieving the organization's specific goals?
• What skill areas are needed for each job role?
• What specific skills does each employee need in each job role?
About required knowledge
You'll have to decide how you will teach and assess required knowledge. You generally have two options:
One option is to ask what applied knowledge to students need to do their particular job. This is most helpful for RPL students and for
people who learn on-job in a particular company.
The other option is to ask what general knowledge graduates need to work anywhere in the industry. This is most useful for colleges that prepare students to get jobs on the open market.
Best tips ever
If you do training on the job at work, industry consultation is a no-brainer. Just do what the employer wants.
Start with a brief job description of the job you're training for. Your conversation will start with something simple that both you and the industry understand well.
Make your training goals suit the goals of the business as closely as possible. If you do, employers will be much more supportive, and much more willing to state their real needs.
Consider career trajectories; some qualifications are linked to promotion opportunities.
Some traps: How not to do it
Except for training qualifications, consulting other training organizations in the industry is not consulting industry. They are training institutions, just like you, and might be completely out of touch with the actual workplace. It might be good for validation of assessment, but doesn't define current industry requirements.
A form? A letter? If you treat this as just a form to fill in or a letter to keep on file, then you won't meet industry requirements.
Running a consultation meeting
In the meeting, you need to clarify exactly who you will teach, define or confirm current requirements in the workplace, and develop an assessment strategy will work in that context.
Put the person at ease. Unless they have been consulted before, they will be unsure what you expect and will probably be unable to speak on behalf of their organization. Actively try to get the person on side so they feel free to give their input and advice.
Respect their time. They may have very little available.
Manage the tone. How business-like do you need to be? How much personal chat can you include? These will vary greatly depending on the situation.
You can negotiate. You don't have to to give industry complete control over what you do, but neither should you write up whatever you want and ask them simply to agree to it. It's a two-way
Use ordinary language. Avoid specialized training jargon; it often confuses people.
Don't be surprised if they don't really know what they want. They sometimes only say, Um, yeah, that sounds pretty good, and don't see a need to say any more. Perhaps it means you are not hitting the mark. However, people who think they don't know sometimes give excellent advice..
Use their business goals. If you're talking to an individual company, try to plug directly into their business goals. This will help training directly add value to their business. Besides, you'll probably do much better at getting their attention and support.
Expect bias. People give advice from their own viewpoint, so most advice will be biased in some way. Or they might give their
answer, not the one you are fishing for. By accounting for the different perspectives, and perhaps doing some negotiating, you should come up with a set of goals that everybody accepts.
Beware of power struggles, misunderstandings, and very different perspectives.
You might find yourself negotiating or brokering between different stakeholders. Your role also implies that you can be proactive and have some say as lead negotiator.
Determine how much knowledge is enough. Be careful, because it's not clearly implied in the units. How you see knowledge is subjective:
People with higher education backgrounds might include as much as possible, even when it isn’t really necessary.
People with skills-only attitudes might include too little.
Practicing professionals might tend to take the basics for granted, whereas they usually need to be spelled out for raw beginners.
In your report, say what you achieved by doing industry consultation. It's not really helpful to do it without reporting any benefit. (A common weakness is to report that it was done, but not any worthwhile result.) Did you ascertain that your assessment reflects current industry requirements? Did you need to change it? Will the assessment work in that industry environment? What would you do differently as a result of consultation?
Each organization has its own protocol. In principle, however, institutions can document consultation in many ways:
A survey report
Get a letter on letterhead paper. This may be:
A letter from the key industry representative
A collection of letters from key stakeholder groups
A proforma outline of what you did and your results, preferably signed by industry personnel.
The list below might help you outline what you'd put in a report on an industry consultation:
Name of person conducting consultation
Name of person or organisation commissioning this report
Apparent training need
Who were the industry stakeholders?
What comprised consultation (Visits to key stakeholders, Telephone
interviews, Survey, Onsite observations, Library or Internet search,
Description of prospective students
What specific lessons did you learn from consultations? What would you do differently?
Enclose a full statement of conclusions (including any applicable customisations or interpretations):
Does your assessment now reflect current industry requirements?
Will the assessment will work in that industry environment?
Outline of the training approach and steps to be followed.
Any specific delivery method(s) to be used
Submitted to whom
Things to look for
Employers might comment on the following topics:
• What they are looking for in employees
• Changes in systems, approaches and procedures
• Regulations or laws specific to the industry, including any recent changes
• Regulations or laws specific to the industry
• Aspects of the work environment that affect delivery and assessment
• Employer preferences about the way in which a program is delivered
• Trends in facilities and equipment
• Facilities, equipment and supervision that will be available for work placements
• How simulated work environments should be set up to reflect workplaces
• Advice on contextualising purchased assessment materials to suit workplace contexts.