THE PASSIONATE SKEPTIC
As an Australian citizen I write to you collectively, since you have equal and joint responsibility for a major impending problem in the motor vehicle repair industry. Although this letter is essentially about training and could go to the appropriate departments, the consequences of the issue are much wider and require a balanced policy response.
1. You will be aware that the Modern Australian Apprenticeship and Traineeship Scheme has begun coming on-line for the motor vehicle industry in 1997. The MAATS scheme has been driven by large industry groups. However, the motor vehicle repair industry is dominated by thousands of very small garages and workshops.
2. The current state of mechanical skills training is not good. In Victoria (only), there is no legal requirement for mechanics to be certified tradesmen, and around 50% of them are not. For those who have missed apprenticeship training (e.g. late starters, overseas trained adults) there is no easy, affordable way for them to obtain accredited bridging qualifications: a huge waste of human potential.
3. The MAATS scheme envisages that most training will be done in the employer's own workshop. That is, employers may elect to pass on a training allowance to established organizations like TAFEs, but the indications are that most are unlikely to do so. Instead they register as trainers themselves, regardless of their genuine fitness to train. An external assessor is hired to monitor standards.
4. Assessors must assess workplace trainees within a permitted time allowance of sixteen hours annually. Within this time frame they have to not merely assess, but somehow educate both trainees and their erstwhile trainers in the procedures, documentation and standards that are required to meet national competency standards in a trade.
5. Assessors participating in pilot programs have found that a significant percentage of employer/trainers, as well as their trainees, are simply unable to grasp the requirements of the traineeship program in the time available from assessor's visits. They are, on the whole, entirely innocent of national competency standards, and have little effective grasp of industry best practice.
6. There is absolutely no way that the vast majority of small motor garages can provide comprehensive training in automotive mechanics. They have neither the work nor the available skills (technical or pedagogical), nor the engineering resources to expose their trainees and apprentices to proper training. As it is, only a minority of existing mechanics are competent in, say, automatic transmissions, let alone emerging technologies such as electronic fuel injection.
7. TAFEs already have evidence from pilot schemes that around half those employers participating in MAATS industry training in the vehicle repair industry are not taking their responsibilities seriously. They are in it purely for the government training allowance. Where assessors try to impose a genuine standard in such cases, the outcome is likely to be a form of "doctor shopping", where the employer simply hires another provider.
8. John Batman Institute of TAFE, now newly amalgamated as Kangan Batman Institute of TAFE is a good illustration of where vehicle repair training is devolving from. JBI provided around 40% of training in vehicle industry repair in Victoria. The institution's internal practices were open to some improvement. Yet it is difficult to see how the pool of expertise which it had accumulated, together with its purpose-built facilities, can avoid being disbanded in the emerging situation where genuine technical training is effectively abandoned. Similar institutions around Australia will be facing the same kind of melt-down.
9. Industry manufacturers have been talking about the "throw away car", with mechanics as mere assemblers to bolt on replacement parts. A good deal of this is self-interested propaganda. Meanwhile, we have to keep our vehicles on the road. Nor will any sensible culture allow its technical workforce to be de-skilled in the long term. Other countries (the UK, USA) have been down the MAATS path and retreated.
10. Competency Based Training as a generic approach to learning has many problems which are too complex to canvas here; (e.g. see Karen Evans (1995) Competence-Based Education & Training: The British Experience, published as OTFE (Victoria) Issues Paper No.3). What is germane to the present issue is that CBT lends itself to reductionism, a spurious simplicity, which allows the kind of disastrous policy outcomes which we are seeing with MAATS.
11. You need no reminding that Australian governments face some intractable problems. For example, the theft of perhaps a third to a half of the Australian tax-base by corporate tax evasion and transfer pricing is criminality on a scale that would give any politician pause, (and I have not seen any political party with the nerve to broach it honestly to the Australian people). The unemployment of huge numbers of people whose skills are limited both by aptitude and opportunity is almost a test-case for the preservation of the nation-state, and won't be solved quickly. Against these nightmares, the national de-skilling of 100,000 motor mechanics, which will be the outcome of MAATS, is an act of sheer political folly. It is unnecessary, a lose-lose proposition. Please fix it.
"We trained hard, but it seemed that every time we were beginning to form up into teams, we would be reorganized. I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganizing, and a wonderful method it can be for creating an illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency and demoralization."
- Gaius Petronius, A.D.66