Academic journal article Australian Journal of Education

Competency-Based Training: Evidence of a Failed Policy in Training Reform

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Education

Competency-Based Training: Evidence of a Failed Policy in Training Reform

Article excerpt

The political decision to implement competency-based training widely throughout vocational education systems in Australia, before rigorous evaluation through adequate pilot programs, was made because it was viewed as essential for increasing skill levels and work productivity. Recent data indicate that Australia's relative international competitiveness actually declined during 1994-97, suggesting an urgent need to reassess underpinning policies. Despite the marked reluctance of the Australian National Training Authority to commission studies specifically assessing the effectiveness of competency-based training, several independent studies have been carried out. These and other commissioned studies indicate some major problems with competency-based training which has not achieved stated objectives of increasing skill levels. Research also indicates that competency-based training has not been adopted widely by business and industry. The appropriateness of using public agencies to implement innovations which are untested, and may not be supported by the wider community intended to benefit from their introduction, is queried.

Introduction

The first impact of the technological and economic revolutions became apparent in Australia by the late eighties and brought recognition that more effective work and management practices, increased skill levels and better forms of training were required to counter increased international competitiveness and the effects of the globalisation of trade (Cullen, 1997; Industry Task Force, 1995). This led the Australian federal Labor government and the ministers responsible for vocational education and training in the states and territories to embrace competency-based training in 1990 as part of the Training Reform Agenda.

Competency-based training was viewed as the foundation for reform in vocational and postcompulsory education (Beevers, 1993; Smith & Keating, 1997), and the means of increasing skill levels and productivity. Beevers (1993) considers that the particular form of competency-based training adopted was seen `as a universal truth and cure-all for problematic issues such as economic deterioration and workplace restructuring' in addition to providing `equitable access to vocational education and employment as well as the means of constructing the clever country' (p. 89). There were concerted efforts to ensure that newer competency-based training approaches (Hager & Gonczi, 1993) were implemented widely throughout technical and further education (TAFE) systems in Australia, in workplace training and in high schools where trade subjects are being taught. Competency-based training still remains a major plank in federal Coalition government policy with competency-based standards and assessment as essential elements in training packages, although the concept of a Training Reform Agenda has been supplanted (Hawke & Cornford, 1998).

The controversy generated in academic and vocational education circles by the proposal to introduce competency-based training was considerable since it was seen by many as a simplistic solution based on a flawed ideology (see below). Despite claims by Smith (1997), that the debate has died down since `CBT (competency-based training) implementation has been inexorable ... and those "opposed" to CBT have lost the battle and perhaps lost interest' (p. 69), the debate over the effectiveness of competency-based training in raising the quality of skilling in Australia continues unabated (e.g. Foyster, 1997a, 1997b; Ryan, 1997a, 1997b). If anything, the debate has intensified as the focus has shifted from being largely academic to consideration of what has actually occurred in vocational areas where competency-based training has been introduced. The issues have become more serious since ineffective training will have substantial ramifications in the form of skill shortages and further reduction in international competitiveness (see Cullen, 1997). …

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