Building on success of ‘test and try’ initiative

When Sue Kennedy came on board as the pilot lead for the ‘test and try’ initiative, the Training Services NSW Project Manager inherited a program that had enjoyed some great initial success. However, there was also a clear opportunity to improve the effectiveness of the initiative.

We try not to play favourites at the Educational Pathways Pilot Program (EPPP), but we’re big fans of the Smart & Skilled to school students via GTOs initiative. The initiative gives students a unique opportunity to try out a vocational pathway before committing to an SBAT or further training.

Under the pilot, students complete a pre-apprenticeship or pre-traineeship course with an approved Smart and Skilled Provider which has been facilitated by a Group Training Organisation (GTO). Along the way, students gain an insight into the field, some valuable industry experience and exposure to a local employer. They also graduate with between two and four units of competency that can be credited towards further training, helping them fast-track their vocational education.

Over the course of 2020/21, the ‘test and try’ initiative has seen 36 students move into further training and that number is set to increase following the conclusion of some recent courses. However, there’s always room for improvement and, with that goal in mind, Sue Kennedy recently convened a meeting with pilot staff, GTOs and Head Teacher Careers to hash out a plan to make the initiative even better.

“I didn’t want to be overly prescriptive with what we’re doing, but rather open things up for discussion,” says Sue.

Nikola Vercoe from Novaskill, an existing GTO participating in the 2021 Program added, “Novaskill are really excited to engage with the EPPP program for another year, as we really value our relationships with local schools and we appreciate the work going into the program to help promote VET pathways for students”.

The meeting was a chance for all the stakeholders involved in the delivery of the initiative to come together, share their experiences, ask questions and figure out a plan of attack. According to Sue, everyone contributed to what was a very fruitful discussion.

The participants canvassed a wide range of issues, from student recruitment to the delivery of courses, but a few key themes soon emerged. Everyone agreed that the pilot could benefit from greater accountability, communication and flexibility.

“The success of the pilot comes down to all the parties working well together,” says Sue.

During the meeting, participants talked about how long it takes to get a course up and running. Some schools said they needed a minimum of eight weeks lead time, but when they unpacked that timeframe they discovered that it could really be done in six weeks. One of the things that will help streamline the process is putting a bit more rigour around the process up front.

“Moving forward, at the inception of a program, the GTOs are going to meet with the schools and the Partner Training Provider for a physical meeting where they formulate a clear plan,” says Sue.

Sue also took everyone through her vision to tighten up the criteria that GTOs will have to satisfy in order to participate in the initiative, and her plan for greater accountability. To keep everyone on track, and to ensure that students don’t miss out on valuable places, Sue has introduced quarterly performance discussions.

“If a GTO says they’re going to fill 10 places and they don’t get that number, we need to know why and how we can help ensure those places are filled,” says Sue.

Pilot improvements aside, the meeting was also an opportunity to connect the dots between the in-house expertise at Training Services NSW and participating GTOs, and for people to share valuable advice. For example, Sue suggested that Partner Training Providers look into applying for the free Personal Protective Equipment on offer to eligible students as part of the Skilling for Recovery program.

“We know that money can be a barrier to participation for some students in the EPPP pilot areas, with some families simply not able to fork out $100 for a pair of boots, so it was a great reminder to schools that these opportunities exist,” says Sue.

In the end, the meeting was a great opportunity for everyone involved with the initiative to get on the same page and to reveal the enormous potential of the ‘test and try’ initiative.

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