Importance of interpretation and contextualisation in the Australian VET system

Units of competency are often ambiguous or vague. This is not a design fault of the Australian VET system. It is a design feature. When writing the units of competency, the Training Package Developers aim to describe elements and performance criteria as broadly as possible. This allows a single unit to cover a range of circumstances and situations.

The elements of competency and performance criteria need enough details to concisely describe the outcome to demonstrate competence but not too much detail to restricts customisation to meet client, industry, or workplace needs. The process of customisation starts with interpretation and contextualisation.

Trainers, assessors, and designers need to become VET detectives. We need to investigate. We need to read the clues given to us in the units of competency. We need to piece together a clear, concise and coherent understanding about what competence looks like.

Interpretation

We will need to spend time understanding, clarifying, and interpreting a unit of competency. The following is an example of an interpretation for the BSBOPS101 Use business resources unit.

What is a business resource? A business resource includes equipment used in an office. And a typical piece of equipment used in an office will be a printer. Therefore, one interpretation of ‘use business resources’ can be ‘use a printer’.

Other equipment may include:

  • Phone system and intercom
  • Binding machine
  • Laminator
  • Coffee machine.

The BSBOPS101 Use business resources unit can be used to cover all types of office equipment. It is the Registered Training Organisation (RTO) that is required to customise the unit to meet the needs of a specific workplace or the typical needs of industry. The RTO has the responsibility to determine the range of office equipment that will be covered during the training and assessment.

Contextualisation

An RTO must contextualise units of competency to reflect client, industry, or workplace needs. However, any contextualisation must ensure the integrity of the outcome of the unit of competency is maintained. In other words, the elements, performance criteria, and assessment requirements cannot be removed.

Units of competency have been written with broad or non-specific words that need to be specified, clarified, and contextualised. For example:

  • Policies (what policies?)
  • Procedures (what procedures?)
  • Equipment (what equipment?)
  • Tools (what tools?).

And performance criteria often use adverbial phrases such as ‘within a designated timeframe’ and ‘according to organisational requirements’. These must also be contextualised. What is the timeframe that a task must be performed within? What are the requirements required by an organisation? What is the workplace or industry standards?

The following is an example of contextualisation for the BSBOPS101 Use business resources unit. A typical business resource is the printer. However, there is a plethora of printer types, makes, and models. Training can be contextualised by covering how to use and maintain a particular printer or a range of common types of printers, such as:

  • Use Konica Minolta bizhub C558 printer
  • Use HP OfficeJet Pro 9010 printer.

Different printers will have different characteristics, features, and functions. The training would need to include learning how to:

  • Switch on
  • Select paper tray
  • Select print quantity
  • Select double or single sided printing
  • Select collating options
  • Replace paper
  • Change toner cartridges
  • Clear paper jams.

An RTO should cover a range of printer types when delivering the BSBOPS101 Use business resources unit. Therefore, the contextualisation of ‘use business resources’ could include using a large networked multifunctional printer and using a smaller desktop printer. Each type of printer would have unique characteristics to be learnt.

Interpretation Manual

The above example has used the BSBOPS101 Use business resources unit from the BSB Business Service Training Package (Release 7.0). The developer for this Training Package has published a Companion Volume available from the VETNet website. It is known as an Interpretation Manual. Not all Training Packages will have a document like this.

The Interpretation Manual for the BSB Business Service Training Package gives advice to RTOs about how requirements within units of competency may be contextualised for a workplace environment. [1] This manual provides the following interpretation summary for the BSBOPS101 Use business resources unit.

This information from the Interpretation Manual is useful but there are other terms from the BSBOPS101 Use business resources unit that still need to be interpreted and contextualised.

Range Statements

Another source of information to assist with interpreting and contextualising can be Range Statements from superseded ‘old format’ units of competency. I am using the term ‘old format’ to describe units that complied with the pre-2012 Standards for Training Packages. Training Packages have transitioned from the ‘old format’ to the ‘new format’ between 2015 and 2020.

The ‘old format’ units provide some really useful information. These units of competency remain available from the training.gov.au website. The following is an example of using the ‘Range Statements’ to help clarify the requirements for the BSBOPS101 Use business resources unit.

Step 1. Go to the BSBOPS101 Use business resources unit on the training.gov.au website.

Step 2. Click on the link to go to the superseded BSBADM101 Use business equipment and resources unit. You can tell from the BSBADM101 unit code that this is in ‘new format’.

Step 3. Click on the link to go to the superseded BSBADM101A Use business equipment and resources unit. You can tell from the BSBADM101A unit code that this is in ‘old format’ (the code has a letter at the end).

Step 4. Scroll down to the Range Statement for the BSBADM101A Use business equipment and resources unit.

Step 5. Use the Range Statement to help clarify the requirements for the BSBOPS101 Use business resources unit.

Range Statements from the superseded ‘old format’ units of competency can assist with interpreting and contextualising. And these Range Statements can save you time.

Brainstorming and consultation

You will need to use your knowledge and industry experience to interpret and contextualise units of competency. This may include brainstorming ideas with your RTO colleagues. Also, it would be wise to consult with employers, industry experts, industry representatives, and relevant people from the workplace.

In conclusion

Some people complain that units of competency are vague or lack details. These people may need to stop complaining and start contextualising. Having said that, there are some poorly written units of competency that should be reported to the relevant Industry Reference Committee (IRC) to be fixed.

Ambiguous units of competency are a feature of the Australian VET system. This allows training to be customised to meet client needs. We must start by interpreting and contextualising a unit of competency. This will have an impact on what training is delivered and how a unit of competency is assessed.

We need to interpret and contextualise units of competency so that we can communicate clearly, concisely, and in plain English to learners. Learners need to understand what they are going to learn and what will be assessed.

Reference

[1] Business Service Training Package Version 7.0: Interpretation Manual

Australia’s VET system

Australia’s vocational education and training (VET) system is complex and forever changing. People studying for their TAE40116 Certificate IV in Training and Assessment qualification may find useful information on this website. Tap or click on the following ABC logo to find out more.

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This article supplements the TAE resources that have been developed by On Target Work Skills.

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Training trainers since 1986

Author: Alan Maguire

35+ years experience as a trainer, instructional designer, quality manager, project manager, program manager, RTO auditor, RTO manager and VET adviser.

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