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Redesigning para-professional courses for industry

Evan Thomas
ACT Institute of TAFE

This paper deals with two perspectives - specific relationships in ACT TAFE College, and theoretical relationships within an analytical model. The methodology and analysis used in this study was interdisciplinary involving historical, anthropological, sociological and curriculum studies concepts and principles, mainly through field work by a participant observer. (Garfinkel 1967; Schatzmann and Strauss 1973; Giroux 1981; 1982; Thomas 1985). The first perspective is historical and descriptive; the second is analytical and presented as a series of matrices.

The ACT Institute of TAFE in 1988 was serving about 28,000 students through about 800 course offerings (not all of which run at any one time) which employ full and part time teachers.

Facilities for technical and further education spread across three main and six satellite campuses and the recurrent budget for the operation has been about $40 million.

Until 1975 TAFE in the ACT operated as an outreach of NSW TAFE. From then until 1987 ACT TAFE operated from three colleges each of which had one or more satellite campuses. These facilities comprised a decentralised TAFE system administered by an Office of ACT TAFE under the auspices of the Federal Department of Education using teachers recruited through the Commonwealth Teaching Service.

By 1988 however, the three Colleges had been amalgamated within a statutory body called the ACT Institute of TAFE. A succession of budget cuts between 1986 and 1988 reduced the system - its course offerings, teaching positions and development plans, especially in the recreational courses. Furthermore, a new award for teachers consistent with the Second Tier policy and the restructuring was in place.

While these organisational changes were taking place a new system of national nomenclature and awards for TAFE courses was being introduced across Australia. The system was shaped by guidelines established by the Conference of TAFE Directors under the auspices of the Australian Council for Tertiary Awards (ACTA). These guidelines established six classifications for TAFE courses which are listed below.

100 Courses for recreation, leisure, and personal enrichment

Courses in this category are those offered for personal enrichment and enjoyment. Other outcomes, especially vocational are not the intent of the course. These courses can include technical content areas such as welding, typing, woodworking and agriculture as well as handicrafts, hobbies, life skills, and self expression.

200 Courses for entry to employment or further education

Courses in this category are those offered to provide remedial education or other preparatory activities or enable participation in subsequent educational or social settings. These courses are sub-classified as follows:

2100Basic education and basic employment skills - studies which aim to achieve basic skills and standards (for example, literacy and numeracy, EPUY, career exploration, link course).
2200Educational preparation - preparation for further education (for example, certificate entrance pre-certificate, tutorial mathematics for certificate students, Tertiary Orientation Program, Diploma entrance, etc).

3000 Initial vocational courses

These courses are sub-classified as operatives, skilled, technician/para-professional, and professional. In the cases of 3200 they are further subdivided.

Courses which prepare students for vocations requiring a level and range of skills less than normally required for tradesperson, for example, plant and machine operators, cleaners, etc.
Courses offered in a particular vocation, trade or craft requiring a high degree of skill usually in a wide range of related activities, performed with a minimum of direction and supervision.
3210Courses for recognised trades (including courses which grant partial exemption to recognised trade courses)
3211Courses which grant partial exemption to recognised trade courses (for example, pre-apprenticeship and pre-vocational (trade based) courses).
3212Complete trade courses.
3220Other skills courses

Skilled courses other than those for recognised grades.
3221Courses which grant partial exemption to Other skills courses (for example, pre-vocational, non trade based).
3222Complete courses
3300Courses which provide skills at a level beyond trade or trade-equivalent skills and may include skills needed for supervision, for example, Master craftsman, Trade Technician.
Courses that usually cover a breadth of specialised skills leading to employment in para-professional vocations. The work of graduates requires the exercise of judgement and may involve specialist functions. This work is carried out primarily in support of professional or other para-professionals or, in some situations, independently, for example, Certificate of Management (Qld).
3500Para-professional/Higher Technician
Higher level courses preparing people for para-professional vocations usually at higher occupational levels than those of Stream 3400 courses, for example, Higher Certificate, Fellowship Certificates.
A course at higher level than a Higher Technician Course.

4000 Courses subsequent to an initial vocational course

These courses comprise those offered subsequent to other courses or equivalent on the job experience. They are further classified at the level at which the skills are taught as follows:

4100At the Operative level
4200At the Skilled level
4300At the Trade Technician/Trade Supervisory level
4400At the Para-professional/Technician level
4500At the Para-professional/Higher Technician or higher level

The aims of the new nomenclature were to achieve uniformity of nomenclature and awards across TAFE in Australia and to set up the bases for compatibility of TAFE awards with awards in other post-school institutions, particularly Colleges of Advanced Education (CAEs). The achievement of these aims raised issues of articulation at both the inter and intra-institutional levels.

At the inter-institutional level the issues were concerned with differences between the entry requirements, accreditation guidelines and standards for TAFE courses on the one hand and those used for courses conducted by CAEs and universities on the other. Entry requirement differences were concerned with the relativities of Year 12 and Year 10 secondary school certificates and their equivalents, the status of courses bridging the academic attainments of applicants and entry requirements, and credit associated with vocational or life experience. Accreditation differences were concerned with the value of the vocational outcomes of TAFE courses in contrast with the academic focus of courses offered by the higher education sector.

At the intra-institutional level the issues were, in addition to the above, concerned with college specific entry policies, course transfer considerations, the validity of the new awards to local employers, departmental cross-crediting procedures and previous curriculum practices (that is, curriculum design, documentation, development, approval, accreditation, implementation, review and evaluation).

The two issues of concern in this paper are (1) those associated with the vocational/industrial implications of the new nomenclature and (2) those arising from curriculum redesign practices. The paper reports activities surrounding the redesign of associate diploma courses (3400 courses in the new nomenclature code) which is the qualification required for work as a technical officer or para-professional.

Vocational/industrial implications of the new nomenclature were associated with the question of whether or not the new Associated Diploma would lead to wage increases and changes to career structures.

The curriculum redesign issues were concerned with ensuring the vocational outcome of courses for technical officers continued to meet the needs of para-professionals rather than become part of a credential creep. Further the curriculum redesign needed to accommodate students' Year 10 and Year 12 entry levels - Year 10 because it was a level consistent with the College's open entry policy and Year 12 because of the guidelines relating to the entry levels suggested by the new nomenclature. Entry level based on secondary school certificates were seen, however, to give little indication of a student's capacity to cope with the course. This arose in the Australian Capital Territory because school based curriculum development appears to have led to a lack of uniformity in standards in the basic skills of students enrolling TAFE. A survey of users of basic skills courses at Bruce TAFE College indicated that seventy percent of users were Year 12 school leavers.

In its final form the model for redesigning Associate Diploma courses at Bruce TAFE College addressed by the vocational/industrial needs and curriculum construction issues through a system of "levels". Each level was related to vocational outcomes rather than a sequence of study or a set duration of a course such as is often used to compare courses in our institution with courses in another.

In an internal memorandum the Curriculum Department at Bruce described the levels in the following way.

On the basis of the subject objectives, each subject is categorised according to the following criteria:

LEVEL 4 - ANALYTICAL SUBJECTS. Subject material is largely analytical in nature. Based on advice from industry, the vocational outcomes are those expected at the borderline of para-professional/professional in the relevant industry.

LEVEL 3 - APPLIED SUBJECTS. This level includes subjects which provide standard application of vocational knowledge and skills. These applications should be consistent with general para-professional vocations, for example a TECHNICAL OFFICER.

LEVEL 2 - VOCATIONAL PREPARATION SUBJECTS. This level includes introductory vocational subjects. Achievement in Level 2 subjects might be aimed at occupational outcomes (for example the TECHNICAL ASSISTANT), and/or at preparing the student for Level 3 and 4 subjects. (It should be noted that the skills content of Associate Diploma courses is developed by teacher-practitioners and industry representatives and "accredited by an independent committee under the auspices of ACTA.)

LEVEL 1 - INTRODUCTORY/BASIC SKILLS SUBJECTS. This level includes 'basic skills' required for entry into a selected program, and which advance the student to a minimum academic level consistent with program achievement expectations. Achievements in Level 1 subjects will qualify the student for subsequent levels but need not have specific vocational outcomes.

The Curriculum Department at Bruce argued that the levels approach provided flexible entry levels and multiple exit points aligned with the needs and demands of industry. (These needs and demands were assessed through Program Advisory Committees set up by the College).

Further, Levels 1 and 2 were seen as addressing course student retention rates. Students without successful school achievements (as identified by standardised tests at Bruce) were disinclined to persist or even attend basic skills courses provided by Foundation Studies. Courses which had retained students were those that provided from the first day experiential learning, hands-on activity and intervention teachers to deal with mathematical and literacy difficulties (basic skills) in classes where difficulties were occurring in a vocational context. The building block approach to curriculum design which scheduled experiential learning for latter parts of the program and which dealt with basic skills problems through separate and additional remedial courses were less successful in retaining students at Bruce.

Fast tracks for students with appropriate entry level skills and/or experience judged as providing exemptions from subjects were built into curriculum management practices so that students could go straight through Levels 1 and 2. The fast track and core/electives aspects of the curriculum design were also aimed at encouraging students to build from the core and elective themes in Level three, a qualification which met their own interests or specific employers' requirements and provided the basis for further study. In effect, students with appropriate entry behaviours usually moved into Level 3 and two years full time study or the equivalent amount of part time study.

In addition to meeting vocational needs and providing student benefits there was implicit in the curriculum project the notion that if the levels design improved retention rates then courses would be more cost effective in both personal and social domains.

The levels approach to curriculum design was applied to thirteen Associate Diploma curricula which redesigned previous certificate courses developed to produce para-professional staff. Evaluation of the levels design noted that is merit lay in its focus on the ends-means links between students' interests and vocational outcomes.

In 1988 the Australian Council for Tertiary Awards rejected the levels concept and required Bruce courses to be rewritten around a Year 12 entry (or equivalent) plus two years full time study.

Please cite as: Thomas, E. (1988). Redesigning para-professional courses for industry. In J. Steele and J. G. Hedberg (Eds), Designing for Learning in Industry and Education, 145-149. Proceedings of EdTech'88. Canberra: AJET Publications.

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