Challenges facing VET – Overly prescriptive Units of Competency

Challenges facing VET


This article is an introduction and invitation to discuss the prescriptive nature of Australia’s units of competencies.  It will share some thoughts about how overly prescriptive Units of Competency transpire as a barrier for a progressive national VET system.

The national system

A nation seeks to have a national training system so that employers, industry and government can have access to skills that are endorsed as industry standards, now and into the future. Very broadly, as a nation we can then compete on the global market; we protect our workers; and products and services maintain reliable quality assurance.

“A training package is a set of nationally endorsed standards and qualifications for recognising and assessing peoples’ skills in a specific industry, industry sector or enterprise” (Commonwealth Government,

The VET sector has been identified as the key education sector to respond to the changing world of work. Our connectivity with industry and ability to be responsive rewards us an advantaged position…. if we play our cards right!

For example…

The newly formed Australian Signals Directorate (ASD’s) has a central role in promoting whole-of-government cyber resilience, underscoring the government sector’s reliance on mitigation of cyber incidents and any response to a security incident. (Read the policy here)

Academic Centres of Cyber Security Excellence and the accredited course 22445VIC

Advanced Diploma of Cyber Security is a direct and effective response to the skills needs. (Read more about Cyber Sprint Teams here)

another wild example…

Holmesglen collaborate (and sponsor) with industry and not-for-profit partners to develop creative solutions to tomorrow’s problems at the Centre for Applied Research and Innovation where their principles prioritise improved education, training and the relevancy of their courses.  (Read more about Holmesglen’s approach here)

Pretty cool stuff!

However, back to the nitty gritty!

Quality of training aside, the unit of competency (Unit) is a critical component of achieving consistent and reliable skills/knowledge across the country.

The problem…

I have found some very prescriptive units are increasingly difficulty to contextualise in the face of rapid and enormous changes in the work world. In fact, I believe the disconnect our training system (sometimes) has with industry, is because our Units are inflexible, many cannot be contextualised to relevant work contexts now, let alone in the future.

Do not misunderstand, I think our training packages, compared with other countries I have studied, represent an amazing and valuable repository of standards, benchmarks and indicators incredibly useful for a competency-based education system.

Generally, I have found industry stakeholders find performance criteria, elements and knowledge evidence helpful as a benchmark for contextualisation. Albeit, sometimes knowledge evidence is too prescriptive and quickly outdates the unit as a result.

A little story of training package changes for the changing world of work – when I worked as the Director for VET Strategic Policy in Northern Territory Government, the Industry Reference Committees’ (IRCs) four-year work plans came across my desk for comment. Always, there was a consideration for how the units needed to change for technology, globalisation, changing workforce etc. Each workplan specifically mentioned how they were responding to disruption of technology, globalisation and ageing demographics.  And yes, environmental scans are needed and are good and useful!  However, one training package really caught my interest – it was the Manufacturing TP if I remember rightly – could be wrong. They decided to focus on training their workforce in ‘change management’ including learning agility. I thought that was quite clever and progressive. Nothing surer than change, ‘change fatigue, ‘disruption’; those that have agile learning skills, win.


However, Performance Evidence (PE) and Assessment Conditions (AC) transpire as a significant barrier for our national training system to be relevant in the changing world of work. This is my position. The overly prescriptive nature of the PE and AC may be useful in some highly regulated sectors such as Early Years Education and some trades; however, they do little to systemically support a forward-looking and progressive national training system particularly in the context of such unprecedented change; AKA now!

In my recent study of RPL the inability for units to be contextualised to relevant workplaces so often transpired as a barrier for RPL candidates. This is even before considering skills/knowledge acquired through more informal environments such as community learning and family learning. In a climate where innovation and diversity are highly sought by employers – our overly prescriptive units seem clunky, outdated and suspiciously classroom based.

Deb Carr Image 1


A solution?

Perhaps… just an idea, we can have industry/employers more invested in assessing as in Germany’s system. Perhaps with increased industry/employer investment, assessment can still be rigorous without an overly prescriptive approach to assessment conditions and performance evidence.

Our government believes “Ongoing evolution is required to ensure VET continues to deliver the skills required by industry, and meets the needs of the economy” (Commonwealth Government, Perhaps we could take a leaf from the manufacturing sector and be less prescriptive with our curriculum and cleverer with our training system design!

Are overly prescriptive units, one challenge facing VET?

(13 December 2019)

What do you think?

Join the discussion of this and other Challenges at the VET PD Group – Community of Practice.

Practitioners, policy makers and instructional designers – If you have a specific interest in RPL please join us at…..  This group discusses and shares resources on the effective implementation, advocacy and support of Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) practice and policy.

About the Author:

Deb Carr is Managing Director at Think About Learning and Learning Coordinator for Brimbank City Council.

Her Linkedin profile is: 


About this series 

There are many challenges facing VET.  One of them is the need for the industry’s own voice to be shared in a way that adds more light than heat.

This article is one in a series that will seek to explore some of those challenges.   The full series is available from HERE.

Invitation to Contribute

Contributions from others that explore issues and ideas in a polite and non-inflammatory manner are welcome, and may be sent to

If you would like to present an alternate view to one published, then you are most welcome to that as well.

Full attribution and relevant links will be provided for contributors.



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