Skills shortage: Employers caught in a turf war over graduate certificate

Skills shortage: Employers caught in a turf war over graduate certificate

University groups have risen in opposition to a proposal to change graduate qualifications. A variety of groups have argued that employers and employees will be disadvantaged by the proposed changes and that the changes will exacerbate skills shortages.

But registered training organisations, the private organisations that deliver skills training across a wide range of industries, say the issue is a furphy, and an effort by universities to protect their turf at the expense of more effective, competency-based training.

The proposal that has raised the universities’ ire is to axe the one-year (full-time) graduate certificate and replace it with a longer qualifications: a two-year (full-time) graduate diploma or advanced graduate diploma. The Australian Qualifications Framework Council, which is charged with strengthening all qualifications from year 12 on, made the proposal as a means of improving standards in a consultation paper released last week. The AQF council proposes some flexiblity in the length of the graduate diploma — from one to two years. The executive director of the AQF, Ann Doolette, says: “The AQF council will take into account the views of stakeholders before it finalizes its review.”

Graduate certificates are increasingly popular, with 12,581 students completing one in 2009, up from 5,259 in 1998.

But the council argues that certificate courses are “not sufficiently robust as a stand-alone qualification”.

This issue is irrelevant to employers, says Dale Gillham, the CEO of registered training organisation (RTO) Wealth Within, which provides training for stockbrokers, financial analysts and financial planners.

“Universities and even more recently, TAFE colleges, have been losing a lot of funding,” Gillham says. “So they are putting out a lot of stuff to protect their position. Leaders would rather have people who can do the job. University qualifications are more about theory.”

RTOs develop courses against a set of competencies governed by the government’s Australian Skills Quality Authority, whereas universities can submit graduate certificates with any content – regardless of its relevance to the skills needed by industry – to get accreditation.

Gillham argues that career changers will get more benefit from a skills-based course than completing theoretical studies at universities. “There is always a benefit of employing someone with 20 years’ experience in the workforce even if it is in another industry, provided they have skills needed for their new career.”

RTOs can develop graduate certificate courses that meet ASQA competencies.

However, Gillham’s RTO does not provide graduate certificate courses because he does not see a need or demand for them. “We deliver skills-based courses that lead to a vocation and a job. If you train as a hairdresser, you can do the job. The employer does not have to teach you how to do it.” However, he does not preclude the idea of developing a graduate certificate (if the qualification survives.)

Australia Wide Business Training is an RTO that trains leaders and managers. “We are developing managers so they then have the skills to develop their own people,” says chief executive Larry Gould. “What industry wants right now are people with practical skills.”

Gould says his organisation is happy to work hand in hand with universities. AWBT’s highest qualification is an advanced diploma. “We are happy to feed into the university system. I think if we take people to the advanced diploma level with a mix of competency based skills and knowledge, then we can let the universities do their job.”

LeadingCompany tried repeatedly to contact spokespeople campaigning to retain the graduate certificate, including the Australian Technology Network, Universities Australia, and Innovative Research Universities, but was unable to reach them in time for publication. Their reported viewpoints are summarised below:

The case for graduate certificates

  • Graduate certificates are popular as a means for people without a bachelor degree to transition to a Masters degrees, such as Masters of Business Administration.
  • The graduate diploma, which is two years full-time and four years part-time, is seen as too long to provide a return on investment by employers and by people working full-time. The graduate certificate is seen as a practical time commitment.
  • The graduate certificate is used by people to change careers, making the experienced workforce more flexible.
  • The graduate certificate can often be converted to a graduate diploma by completing extra units, but is not as off-putting.
  • Universities want more flexibility to meet changes in demand, and claim the graduate certificate provides flexibility.
  • Universities require their lecturers to complete graduate certificates in teaching.

Sources: Innovation Research Universities, Australian Technology Network, Group of Eight, Victoria University, reported by Australian Financial Review.

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