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TAFE Metal Trades National Curriculum: The realities of implementing a flexible approach to technical training

Gary Collins
Curriculum Branch
Department of TAFE, WA

The TAFE Metal and Engineering National Curriculum Project was initiated by the Australian Committee of TAFE Curriculum (ACTC) in June, 1988. The project was established as a response to the proposals of the Metal Trades Industry Association (MTIA) and the Metal Trades Federated Unions (MTFU) for a new federal metals award (ACTC, 1989, p.1). The award is now in place and the TAFE system is preparing to meet the needs of the metals industry for portable, nationally recognised, modular course structures. In order to appreciate the extent of the metals project and to understand its reason for being, it is necessary to examine the work of the MTIA and MTFU in negotiating a new federal metals award.

There is now a widespread acceptance from government, employer groups and the trade union movement that Australian industry needs to improve its performance and position in the international market place. The metals and engineering industry, through the MTIA and the MTFU, has vigorously pursued micro economic and industrial relations reforms in order to improve the competitiveness of the industry. The major component of the reform process has been the restructuring of the metal industry award. The MTIA and MTFU overseas mission to Europe in late 1988 identified key factors in the European metals and engineering industries that could be applied within the Australian context. In the mission report (MTIA/MTFU, 1988, p.9), a number of vital areas are highlighted as requiring urgent action from government, employers and unions. These vital areas are inter-related components of the metals award restructuring process and include

The Federal Metal Industry Award was varied on 20 March 1990, and there is little doubt that the areas highlighted in the MTIA and MTFU mission statement were given due consideration in the preparation of the award. Occupational classifications have been rationalised, from over 300 in the old award to just 14 wage groups and approximately 30 classifications in the new award. Demarcation issues have been addressed by providing flexibility within the award to allow employees to undertake a range of duties consistent with their classification. Subclauses 6 k (i) and (ii) of the award state
  1. An employer may direct an employee to carry out such duties as are within the limits of the employee's skill, competence and training consistent with the classification structure of this award provided that such duties are not designed to promote deskilling.

  2. An employer may direct an employee to carry out such duties and use such tools and equipment as may be required provided that the employee has been properly trained in the use of such tools and equipment (AIRC, 1990, p.1).
Work activities are now related solely to the competence of the employee to perform the task and not to some vague skill distinction based on historical boundaries.

The wage system has re-established a direct link between wages and skills. Workers are rewarded financially for acquiring marketable skills. The acquisition of these skills provides for movement through the classification structure and forms the foundation of a metal industry career path. In the areas of work and management organisation, and management and union structures, the new metals award clearly heralds a move towards a more cooperative and consultative atmosphere. The need for all enterprises to establish formal consultative mechanisms to enable an open flow of information is clearly stated within the award. Workplace consultation should be structured to ensure that employers take note of the views of employees. Employee interests should be considered in the decision making process. This process is not designed to reduce management's responsibilities, but to promote effective communication thus enhancing the enterprise's efficiency (MTIA, 1990, p.4).

The final key area identified in the MTIA and MTFU mission statement is education, training and skill formation. The mission statement provides 31 recommendations in this area. The underlying principle of the recommendations is that all the parties involved in the metals industry restructuring process must establish a training and skill formation ethos. This commitment to the ongoing education of all workers in the metals industry has become embedded in the award process, where training and skill formation have become an integral part of workplace reform. The new federal metals award has formalised this commitment by stating that in order to increase efficiency, productivity and the international competitiveness of the industry, training and skill development must be given first priority (AIRC, 1990, p.4).

It is in the context of the development of a new metals award that the TAFE Metals Project was established.

All states and territories are represented on the TAFE Metals and Engineering National Curriculum Project. The main project team comprises a national coordinator and senior curriculum staff from all the states and territories. This team oversees the activities of all the TAFE staff involved with the project and reports directly to ACTC. In addition, the main project team members liaise directly with the National Metals and Engineering Training and Career Development Project established by the MTIA and MTFU and the Federal Department of Employment, Education and Training (DEET). The connection between the two metals projects ensures that any work undertaken by either project is in harmony with the work of the other (ACTC, 1989, p.5).

To provide for the needs of the new federal metals award, curriculum development has been carried out by curriculum staff and TAFE technical experts, drawn from lecturing staff in each of the TAFE systems. The first major step in the process was the agreement reached between all the TAFE systems to adopt the curriculum model proposed by the TAFE Metals Project team. The curriculum model was established using the recommendations of the MTIA and MTFU mission statement that all off the job training should be

The criteria established by the MTIA and MTFU provided the metals curriculum team with clear guidelines on the principles for trade and technician courses. The industrial partners were demanding The curriculum model designed by the TAFE Metals Project team uses the module as the unit of instruction as its foundation. The agreed definitions of a module and a modular course from the Metals Project are
A module is a specific learning segment, complete in itself, which deals with one or a number of aspects of vocational education at a given level of understanding or skill performance in accordance with stated aims and objectives. A module must be capable of being separately assessed and be capable of standing on its own or being linked to other modules in the same or related study areas.

A modular course is made up of a series of modules which may be completed singly or in a pre-defined sequence.

A module as used in this sense does not imply any predetermined methods of teaching/learning. It is not necessarily based on individualised instruction or self-pacing (ACTC, 1989, p.14).

The agreement reached by all the states and territories to adopt a national module descriptor should not be understated. Without a common structure on which to build the type of courses demanded by the metals and engineering industrial partners, the training provisions of the new federal metals award could probably not be catered for. Although past attempts at creating a national common core in certain metal trade areas had achieved varying degrees of success, the use of a standard national curriculum document is a major breakthrough. Armed with the national module descriptor guidelines, members of the TAFE Metals Project examined existing TAFE courses in the metals and engineering areas in all states and territories. Each state and territory suggested modules and modular structures for traditional trade areas.

The modules sit within the flexible boundaries of three streams created within the new metals award, Mechanical, Fabrication, Electrical/Electronic. Modules and modular course structures for the three streams were considered by TAFE experts representing all states and territories. Through an exhaustive process of examination and evaluation of each state and territory offering, a rationalisation of modules was achieved. The end result, or at least the result as of July 1990 (as the process is continuing), is that over 300 modules have been developed and agreed to by all the TAFE systems. These modules reflect the skills contained in traditional trade courses in the following areas

In addition, module development is continuing that will reflect the skills contained in the following traditional trade areas By the end of 1990, it is likely that close to 400 modules will exist, each one accepted nationally, identical in format, reflecting the agreed national module descriptor guidelines. The requirements of the MTIA and MTFU for nationally recognised, flexible, portable, modular and competency based courses have been satisfied by the work of the TAFE Metals Project. What remains to be achieved is the implementation of the modules in a format and structure that remains true to the principles on which the curriculum model is based.

During first semester 1990, pilot programmes using the national metals modules, commenced in the New South Wales, Victorian and Queensland TAFE systems. The selection of modules for the pilot programmes was performed separately by the three TAFE systems. Each pilot programme, therefore, is different in content to some extent. This is not an unacceptable position, however, because the metals curriculum model provides for flexibility in that modules may be chosen to suit local needs and still retain national recognition. In each of the three states, modules for the pilot programme were selected by examining existing trade courses and identifying modules that contained the same skills. Although each pilot programme has approached the delivery of the modular course in a slightly different way, all the programmes have emphasised student centred instruction and competency based assessment. There has been an attempt to introduce elements of self pacing into the pilot programmes.

Evaluation of the pilot programmes is on going as they continue to run throughout 1990. Certainly, the public pronouncements seem to indicate that the introduction of the new curriculum model has been a successful venture (NSW TAFE, 1990, p.6). I believe, however, that major difficulties have occurred in trying to satisfy the MTIA and MTFU requests for flexibility of delivery and competency based assessment. A major problem has been the financial constraints presently placed upon all TAFE systems. The implementation of a curriculum innovation such as the metals modules requires adequate funding. Some funds have been made available through the Federal government (DEET) to produce paper based, student centred resource materials such as workbooks. Production of this type of material however does not alleviate major structural problems, such as how can curriculum flexibility be achieved in existing college facilities with inadequate and often outdated equipment? How can students be released from lock step day release programmes with rigid periods of theory and practice, when many workshops are situated away from student withdrawal areas and classrooms?

My observation of the metals pilot programmes is that there has been a committed attempt by all those TAFE staff involved to stay with the principles of the curriculum model. Those principles demanded by the industrial partners are based on flexibility of delivery and progression by demonstration of skills and not by time served. I believe the system has beaten the pilot programmes. The funds are not available to alter or rearrange existing facilities and within the existing facilities the alternative delivery strategies and student assessment arrangements don't have a chance.

The political and industrial pressure for national implementation of the modules developed by the TAFE Metals Project is intense. At a joint meeting of the National Metals and Engineering Training and Career Development Project Board and the Australian Conference of TAFE Directors in June of this year, it was agreed that national implementation of the modules would occur in 1991 (ACTC, 1990, p.l). Implementation may well occur despite some states and territories not yet preparing nor even planning for pilot programmes. If implementation occurs nationally in 1991, it is realistic to assume that the problems already faced in New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland will be duplicated in the other states and territories. The bastardisation of the curriculum model that has occurred with the current pilot programmes will be repeated across the country. The changes in training provision requested by the industrial partners will be diluted. The curriculum model will be adjusted to suit the existing system, the existing system will not be restructured to accommodate the curriculum model and the industrial demands.

The problems associated with implementing a national curriculum innovation are immense. This paper has focused solely on the institutional component of the metals project, the off the job training. The major portion of skill formation in the metal and engineering industry takes place in the industrial setting, on the job. Without proper integration of the institutional and industrial components of the training, the reforms demanded by the MTIA and MTFU will not eventuate. If we are unable to effectively translate the training requirements in the institutional setting, what chance do we have in the industrial arena?

I believe there are solutions which will ensure that the type of training programmes demanded by industry, for both on and off the job training, can be delivered. By providing access to technical assistance, equipment and machinery, by providing access to workshop space and by providing expert staff to assist in the delivery of programmes, industry can facilitate the delivery of the metals modules in their true format. By accepting that some modules may well be better delivered in the workplace rather than within a college setting, TAFE staff can assist in the effective delivery of the metals modules. It is essential that all parties involved in the provision of training in the metal and engineering industry insist that all training programmes meet the requirements clearly stated in the MTIA and MTFU mission statement (1988, p.33-39).

These requirements will be best satisfied if we look beyond our present institutional training arrangements and apply some lateral thought in areas such as cooperative training ventures between TAFE and industry, interchange of TAFE staff and industry personnel, equipment leasing arrangements and increased on site delivery of accredited TAFE modules. Without initiatives such as those listed, some of which are already happening, and other such innovations, the introduction of flexible training arrangements will be hampered.

The metal industry employers have been provided with a clear message by the MTIA, a message which should also be directed to the TAFE system

MTIA places the highest priority on increased training because of one essential truth. That is, when the last ounce of extra productivity has been squeezed out of new technology, out of more flexible work arrangements and the elimination of demarcation, the only sustainable higher productivity opportunities will depend upon the quality of the people in our industry : how well they are trained and retrained (MTIA, 1990, p.8).
The realities of implementing a flexible approach to technical training in the metals area, particularly in times of financial constraint, are harsh. The problems and difficulties however, must not be used as excuses to retain the status quo, by adjusting the new to suit the old.


ACTC (Australian Committee of TAFE Curriculum). A Subcommittee of the Australian Conference of TAFE Directors. (1989). TAFE metal and engineering national curriculum project - 1988 Report, Project Stage One, April 1989. Sydney: NSW TAFE.

ACTC (Australian Committee of TAFE Curriculum). A Subcommittee of the Australian Conference of TAFE Directors. (1990). TAFE metal and engineering national curriculum project - 1989 Report, Project Stage Two, February 1990. Sydney: NSW TAFE.

ACTD (Australian Conference of TAFE Directors). (1990). Recommendations from a meeting between the Australian Conference of TAFE Directors and the National Metal and Engineering Training and Career Development Project Board, June 1990. Sydney.

AIRC (Australian Industrial Relations Commission). (1990). Draft Order S113, Application for variation - Metal industry award 1984 - Part 1. Melbourne: AIRC.

MTIA (Metal Trades Industry Association of Australia). (1990). Award restructuring: Consultation, training and award flexibility: Guidelines for employers in the metal and engineering industry. Sydney: MTIA.

MTIA & MTFU (Metal Trades Industry Association and the Metal Trades Federated Unions). (1988). Towards a new metal and engineering industry award: The report of the DIR, MTFU and MTIA mission to UK, Sweden and West Germany, September, 1988. Sydney: MTIA and MTFU.

New South Wales Department of TAFE. (1990). Award Restructuring Taskforce Newsletter - Number 5. Sydney: NSW TAFE.

Please cite as: Collins, G. (1990). TAFE Metal Trades National Curriculum: The realities of implementing a flexible approach to technical training. In R. Atkinson and C. McBeath (Eds.), Open Learning and New Technology: Conference proceedings, 81-87. Perth: Australian Society for Educational Technology WA Chapter.

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