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Specialist Change Agents for VET

Campus Review, 30 April 2003

A group of VET personnel recently met in Sydney to prepare for their new role as National Training Change Agents.

Eleven VET personnel were selected for this role on the basis of their previously demonstrated capabilities for managing change related to the implementation of the national training system. Their capabilities include the ability to assist groups of teachers to change their cultures from one focused on teacher-dominant curriculum to a one focused on client needs, in order to customise and implement Training Packages.

The National Training Change Agent pilot forms part of one sub-program of the 2003 Reframing the Future program, the Strategic Management and Change Management sub-program. Reframing the Future is the national staff development and change management program funded by the Australian National Training Authority and designed to assist with the implementation of the national training system.

Research by Reframing the Future has uncovered a range of cultural and structural changes needed within VET organisations if they are to become high-performing. To bring about these changes, Reframing the Future now funds two different, but equally valid, methodologies: the previously implemented approach, involving collaborative workbased learning groups of managers working through cycles of strategic management and/or change management, and this newly launched approach, the use of skilled individuals as change agents.

Susan Young, the National Director of Reframing the Future, points out that there is strong support in the literature for the role of the individual change agent:

  • One of the key theorists finds that, whatever approach is taken to change, it has to be managed; someone has to take responsibility for ensuring that change takes place. Usually one individual bears the responsibility for being the change agent.

The one-day workshop in Sydney introduced participants to the rationale for this pilot program; set out the theory which underpins change management and change agents in Reframing the Future; assisted the National Training Change Agents to identify their individual strengths and capabilities as change agents; and discussed the Change Agents' initial plans.

The workshop involved activities that will assist with the achievement of the following three objectives of the Change Agents' sub-program. Firstly, the sub-program will build the capacity of individual change agents within the VET sector to bring about change required to implement the national training system. Secondly, the sub-program will enable individual change agents to assist colleagues in their own and other VET organisations to implement the national training system. Thirdly, the change agents will address the need for an increased client focus in VET practitioners implementing the national training system.

Each of the change agents brings to their work in 2003 an identifiable strength with regard to implementing the national training system, and these strengths will be promoted to the sector. Examples of their strengths include an advanced understanding of Training Packages, assessment, on-the-job training or Recognition of Current Competencies.

Susan Young added that the 2003 change agents have strengths in being client-focused:

  • For instance, they commonly have strengths in understanding the training market; in being able to analyse and act on client feedback; and in being able to use client feedback to influence the strategic directions of their own organisation.

Reframing the Future's research shows that managing change is complex and change agents require advanced knowledge and skills. Knowledge needed by change agents includes an understanding of the common reasons for resistance to change and appropriate ways to respond to resistance. Sample skills include diagnostic and prognosis skills to translate information into intervention strategies and a proposed plan of action.

With the support of the participative evaluator John Mitchell, the participants at the workshop reviewed their own skills and knowledge as change agents and committed to expanding their skill base as a result of undertaking this project. The 2003 program will be evaluated and the findings used to inform any ongoing Change Agent activity.

The 2003 National Training Change Agents are Chris Cooper, Challenger Institute, WA; Chris Steele, SA Public Service; Sharon Johnson, TAFE NSW South Sydney Institute of TAFE; Kaaren Blom, CIT; Sandra Lawrence, Brisbane & North Point Institute of TAFE, QLD: Laurie Miller, Institute of TAFE Tasmania; Cinthia Del Grosso, TDT Australia; Gillian Robertson, Gordon Institute of TAFE, VIC; Greg Stuart, TAFE NSW North Coast Institute; Wendy Morrow, ACPET SA; and Wendy Davies, Manufacturing Learning Australia.

Reflecting the diversity of VET, the change agents represent a wide range of industries, including horticulture, transport, hospitality, public service, business services and metals. The change agents are also drawn from a mix of metropolitan and regional providers and from a range of TAFE and non-TAFE RTOs.

A typical activity for a change agent in 2003 might be to work within his/her own RTO or with a cluster of RTOs to review current training activities and plan for different training approaches in the future. Another change agent might work with a regional RTO or an interstate RTO to bring about changes related to a particular aspect of the national training system - for example, assessment or recognition of current competencies.

Susan Young adds that the program will have benefits for the participants and the sector:

  • Our aim is not just to bring about change in 2003 but also to assist highly-skilled VET professionals to model the acquisition and implementation of a wider range of change management skills. There is a role for specialist change agents in our system and we want to foster their growth.