What does the Future hold for Qualifications?

Updated: Feb 1

Are Qualifications as we know them reaching the end of their useful life?

In the journey from school through Vocational Education, work-based training and University a person who achieves a learning outcome or competency relevant to an identified individual, professional, industry or community need is generally awarded a qualification.

In Australia, the Qualifications Framework (AQF) regulates qualifications across the Australian education and training system, encompassing higher education, vocational education and training (VET), and schools.

Qualifications on the AQF are regulated by the Australian Skills Quality Authority for Australia’s vocational education and training (VET) system (except specific arrangements in Victoria and Western Australia) and the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA) Australia’s independent national quality assurance and regulatory agency regulates higher education.

We have become very accustomed to using qualifications as a proxy to demonstrate a persons’ ability or readiness to undertake a particular occupation and this system has served us very well over the last two and a half decades but how well will it serve us into the future?

In recent times Micro-credentials, which are mini-courses in a distinct area of knowledge and skill, have become popular. This is not a new concept as before this digital badges enjoyed a level of popularity too. The closest comparison to Micro-credentials on the AQF are Skill Sets which are a single unit of competency or a combination of units of competency that link to a licensing or regulatory requirement, or a defined industry need. Skills Sets and Micro-credentials sound similar, don’t they?

So, if we have skill sets and qualifications why do we need Micro-credentials, Badges or other similar certifications developed independently by industry-based organisations?

Industry groups, RTOs, employer organisations and governments have all voiced concerns that qualifications (and their building blocks) regulated on the AQF are very cumbersome, complex and too hard to change. As a result, qualifications quickly fall out of date, and in some cases have been out of date for a long time. Whereas these comments were primarily targeted at the VET system I think we can assume the same will apply to higher education.

Currently, some of these Micro-credentials are aligned to a skill set or are developed as an accredited course however the vast majority are not housed on the AQF and are not regulated centrally. If employers are turning to more useful products, such as Micro-credentials or badges and corporates are doing more and more of their training in-house rather than using the education system, most if not all of which are not regulated on the AQF, will this put the integrity of the whole qualification system in jeopardy? So, what's the alternative?

Maybe an interesting solution might be to explore the establishment of a skills framework. As part of the education reforms in New Zealand, it is planned that Skill Standards will replace Unit Standards as the core components of vocational programmes of learning. A more mature example of this concept however may be something like Skillsfuture in Singapore.

The attributes of the Singaporian Skillsfuture skills framework are:

Sector Information that describes the employment landscape including manpower and occupational/job requirements for the sector.

  • Career Pathways that show how the occupations/job roles in the sector are structured and show progression based on sector norms.

  • Occupations/Job Roles describe the skills and work context of the worker performing the occupational/job role.

  • Skill Descriptions provide an overall introduction to the skill by summarising the performance expectations of the skills.

  • Training Programmes that link the Skill Descriptions to occupations/job roles list programmes that are available in the market. Programmes are not limited to academic qualifications, and continuing education and training programmes.

In a recent announcement, the Minister for Employment, Workforce, Skills, Small and Family Business, Stuart Robert introduced a new Industry Clusters model that will replace the 67 Industry Reference Committees and six Skills Service Organisations that are expected to be fully operational by 1 January 2023. The reforms seek to ensure courses and qualifications in the sector are driven by and better meet the needs of industry, as well as students.

The reforms are also expected to drive system improvements, ensure qualifications are updated faster so they meet the needs of industry and help students upskill or reskill for new and emerging jobs. This move seems to be positive and looks to address the key concerns stated by employers but is it going to be enough?