Reflections of 35 years in VET

I feel privileged to have had a brilliant career in vocational education and training (VET), and it is not over yet. After 35 years of working in VET , I felt that it was time to reflect on the path I’ve travelled.

My career has not been built on academic achievement or the attainment of qualifications. It has been built on making the most of opportunities, a strong work ethic, and the accomplishment of goals. I have worked as a trainer, instructional designer, project manager, quality manager, RTO auditor, program manager, RTO manager, and VET adviser.


I was given structured training in how to train people while serving in the Australian Army Reserves during the early 1980s. At that time, I was working for Telecom Australia as a sales and customer services officer. And in 1986, I commenced working as a full-time role-model instructor. This job was for delivering sales, customer service, and product knowledge training.

As part of the selection interview process, I was required to deliver a mock training session. I was able to demonstrate good training structure, good interpersonal and communication skills, good use of training aids, good questioning techniques, etc. because of my previous training and experience in the Australian Army Reserves. The members of the selection panel were impressed. They asked if I could also deliver ‘Train-The-Trainer’, and I said yes.

A condition of employment as a full-time trainer was to undergo an accreditation process. Our performance as a trainer was observed by the training manager. An observation checklist covering a range of performance criteria was used. The following photo shows me and work colleagues graduating in 1996 as ‘accredited’ trainers.

For two years, I delivered sales and customer services training, product knowledge training (specialising in business phone systems), and trainer training. Also, I was involved in the design and development of these training programs.

I discovered a passion for reading non-fiction books about personnel effectiveness and training. Two books that influenced me in my early days as a trainer were:

  • How to be an effective trainer by Barry Smith and Brian Delahaye gave me the basics
  • The Winning Trainer by Julius Eitington gave me the insight into advanced facilitation skills

It was a privilege to have been given the opportunity to deliver the Train-The-Trainer training course to Victorian trainers employed by Telecom Australia. It allowed me to learn more deeply about how to design, develop, deliver, and evaluate training. And as a young person, in my mid-20s, I had found my vocation. It was at this time that I decided that ‘training’ would be my career.

Instructional designer

In 1988, I was promoted to the position of instructional designer. I was developing competencies and designing training programs for Telecom Australia’s national salesforce. Some influencers on me and my work were:

  • Dick and Carey’s systematic approach to instructional design
  • Donald Kirkpatrick’s four levels of training evaluation
  • John Keller’s ARCS model of motivational design
  • Telecom Australia’s Vision 2000 program
  • AT&T’s approach to training.

I became an avid listener to audio cassettes, especially when driving my car. Zig Ziglar, Denis Wailey, Tom Peters, Tony Robbins, and Stephen Covey were some of the people I would frequently listen to. I was constantly getting great information and positive ideas that I could implement.

I joined the Australian Institute of Training and Development (AITD) in 1989. First, I was chair of the membership committee and we introduced the AITD professional grading scheme. Then, I become treasurer and vice president of the Victorian Division, followed by acting as the president at a turbulent time when the Australian Human Resources Institute (AHRI) tried to takeover the AITD in the early 1990s. Founding members of the AITD become extremely active and the takeover was blocked. I learnt many things during this time including how to manage the proceedings at hostile meetings. Also, for a brief time, I was an AITD national director representing the Victorian Division.

In 1992, I was on a committee that reviewed the first competencies for Australian trainers: Category 1 and Category 2 for Workplace Trainer. This was at the beginning of today’s competency-based training and assessment system in Australia.

And it was the dawning of the ‘New Age’, and I become fascinated by accelerated learning methods and neuro-linguistic programming (NLP). This was a good excuse to increase my repertoire of training methods: more games, more fun, more butchers paper, more colour, mind maps, playing baroque and New Age music, meditations and self-reflections. But I should note that there can be a dark side to these powerful training methods.

Innovation and quality

In 1993, I was promoted to a role with the responsibility for conducting research and implementing innovation throughout Telstra’s training services. This included investigating and developing a range of training technologies and methodologies. It was great being at the leading edge of computer-based learning, learning management systems, learning centres, and using video conferencing for delivering training.

Also, this was at the time when there was a focus on improving quality. I had the opportunity to develop a quality management system for Telstra’s national training design and delivery unit. I continued to be an avid reader, and my learning and self-development was influenced by:

  • ISO9001:2000 Quality management systems and associated standards
  • The Team Handbook by Peter Scholtes and other contributors
  • Improving Performance by Geary Rummler and Alan Brahe
  • Kepnor Tregue’s project management methodology and tools.

During the mid-1990s, I discovered a little book that had been written by Malcolm Knolwes about 20 years earlier. This book’s title is, Self-directed learning: A guide for learners and teachers. For me, although small in size, this book contains important ideas about facilitating adult learning. Many people do not buy books these days. However, the internet has much information about andragogy, self-directed learning, and how self-directed learning can be applied in the digital age.

At this time, I was part of the management team, and my manager reported to the senior executive who reported directly to Telstra’s CEO. My work opportunities allowed me to hone my skills at operating professionally, and producing documents to the highest levels of corporate standards.

Project manager

Between 1997 to 2001, I was a senior project manager with the responsibly to lead some significant strategic projects, such as:

  • Design, development and implementation of training programs for engineers, technicians, and sales staff for Telstra’s first broadband internet service
  • Design, development and implementation of Telstra Values training program that had a target audience of more than 45,000 executives, managers, and employees across Australia and overseas.

RTO auditor

After 21 years in Telstra Corporation, I made my way to TAFE. I started working as an internal auditor and quality management consultant at Holmesglen Institute (of TAFE). My role as an RTO auditor allowed me to learn about VET compliance and the delivery of nationally recognised training for a wide-range of industry sectors.

Program manager

After a couple years at Holmesglen Institute, I was promoted into a commercial area with the responsibility to manage various programs, including traineeships.

Then, I moved from TAFE to Master Builders Association (of Victoria). And I had the responsibility for builder registration, management, leadership and other training programs relating to the building and construction industry.

RTO manager

From Master Builders, I moved to the Housing Industry Association as the training manager. During this time I had to opportunity to apply my capabilities at management, team leadership, compliance, establishing a budget and training calendar.

VET advisor

From the Housing Industry Association , I moved to the Australian Industry Group. During this time, I represented the education and training needs of industry and employers on a range of committees and working groups, including:

  • Represented industry on the FDF Training Package industry reference committee
  • Represented industry on the Australian Government’s National VET E-learning Strategy
  • Represented industry on Victorian industry training advisory boards (ITABs)
  • Represented industry on Victorian accredited and re-accredited courses committees
  • Represented industry on the committee that developed the Australian Government’s ‘Preparing Secondary Students for Work: A framework for vocational learning and VET delivered to secondary students’
  • Participated at federal and state minister roundtables.

My work covered such things as reforms to the VET system, apprenticeships, and VET in Schools. Also, I conducted training needs analysis for businesses seeking government funding from the Industry Skills Fund.

Training trainers

I started training trainer in 1986. Since then, I have trained countless number of trainers to become qualified. I have delivered the following:

  • TAA40104 Certificate IV in Training and Assessment
  • TAE40110 Certificate IV in Training and Assessment
  • TAE40116 Certificate IV in Training and Assessment
  • 21697VIC Diploma of Vocational Education and Training Practice
  • TAA50104 Diploma of Training and Assessment
  • TAE50116 Diploma of Vocational Education and Training

It has been a privilege to work for industry associations, employer and employee associations. It has been a privilege to have been a part of the Australian VET system (be it a small part).

I have had military experience. I have worked for major corporations. I have worked for several TAFEs, and several private RTOs. I have worked for several industry associations. I have worked for employer and employee associations. And now I operate my own microbusiness.

My brilliant career

I feel that I have had a brilliant career in VET. And it is not over yet.

I am working towards leaving a legacy. Recently, my goal has been to design and develop the best training and assessment resources for the delivery of Certificate IV in Training and Assessment qualification. And I am regularly publishing information and ideas about VET from my On Target Work Skill website.

After 35 years experience, I feel privileged to be able to help the next generation of trainers to enter the VET workforce. It may seem that I have returned to where I had begun – as a trainer. But I am a better trainer now because of the vast experience that I have had.

Also, I have taken on a new role – as a tutor. I have established a TAE Tutoring service to help individuals who are struggling with their TAE studies. Many people can find that the Certificate IV in Training and Assessment qualification is difficult and they need assistance that their RTO is unable to provide.

The moral to my story is that it is possible to create your own career pathway based on work experience rather than the attainment of qualifications. My career progression has been based on a willingness to learn while working. The workplace is a great place to learn.

I am grateful for the opportunities that I have had. And I am looking forward to the future as I continue to learn more, do more, and share more.

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.

2 thoughts on “Reflections of 35 years in VET”

  1. Alan, you are an inspiration. Thank you for all your help in helping me achieve my Cert 4 upgrade. Could not have accomplished it without your guidance.


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