ALEC Profile Part 3: Strategic Situation and Competitive Environment


Here’s part three of our updated and online ALEC organisational profile. Next up, I need to update our business plan and turn that into an online resource as well.

3.1 ALEC Competitive Environment

Competitive position

The last few years have seen our several of our major competitors either stop delivering or stop receiving dedicated funding for the NCALNE (Voc) which is our main education product.

This places us in a stronger competitive position. However, our relative size has remained the same. This is probably due to the constraints around the funding that we receive. Currently, there is little incentive for our potential customers to pay the full cost of undertaking the NCALNE (Voc) course of study so we are limited to delivering up to the number of places that we are funded for.

Data on what our competitors are delivering is extremely limited. We estimate that there are around 140 adult literacy educator grants (ALEG) awarded to providers by the TEC. We receive over 60% of these which places us in an competitive advantage compared to others. This doesn’t take into account providers delivering the NCALNE (Voc) internally with alternative ways of funding it.

Competitive changes

Our main competition from several years ago, Workbase is no longer delivering TEC funded professional development in ALNE. This is a major competitive change for us. It’s unclear whether any other organisations are delivering externally. There is currently no updated online or other source for this information.

Aside from our competitors slowly disappearing from the marketplace, there are two key sea changes currently underway.

Changes to the ALNE Qualifications through the Targeted Review of Qualifications (TRoQ)

The ALNE qualifications are currently under review with the ALNE working party having recently submitted a draft of the three revised qualifications to the governance group for approval. When these are approved we will have three entirely new qualifications with new outcome statements in place for further development in 2014 and eventual delivery from 2015. The changes are:

  1. The The 40 credit level 5 New Zealand Certificate in Adult Literacy & Numeracy Education (Vocational) or NZCALNE (Voc) will replace the NCALNE (Voc). This is likely to become a compulsory qualification and condition of funding for tutors delivering levels 1 and 2 training in SAC or Youth Guarantee funded training.
  2. The 80 credit level 5 New Zealand Certificate in Adult Literacy & Numeracy Education (Educator) or NZCALNE (Ed) will replace the NCALNE (Ed). This will become the specialist qualification for literacy and numeracy specialists.
  3. The 120 credit level 6 New Zealand Diploma in Adult Literacy & Numeracy Education or NZDipALNE will replace the NDipALNE (which no one is delivering anyway). This will become the qualification for people to have beyond either of the two level 5 NZCALNE quals and is focused on developing and recognising literacy and numeracy leadership including from within trades and vocational training.

Our involvement in the working party for these qualifications puts us in a competitive position to start delivering the revised qualifications from 2015. We may also look at expanding into delivery of the NZCALNE (Ed) and NZDipALNE.

Currently, there is support from the TEC for us to continue our collaboration with Pathways Awarua in the development of content for the Diploma.

Changes to the Education Act Section 159

The other major competitive change underway relates to possible changes to the Education Act which will allow the TEC to make NCALNE (Voc) a compulsory qualification.

From 2015, it is a likely requirement of SAC and Youth Guarantee funding that tutors at levels 1 and 2 have gained the National Certificate in Adult Literacy Educator (Vocational or Educator). If this requirement is confirmed we will expect TEOs to show they can meet it (TEC General Plan Guidance for 2015 and 2016 Guidance for TEOs seeking Plan-based funding from the TEC from 1 January 2015, p.17)

If this goes ahead, demand for the NCALNE (Voc) should increase dramatically. We are confident that our work with Pathways Awarua will allow us to cater for increased demand via online and distance training especially for geographically dispersed private training providers.

Comparative data

Currently, there is no comparative data available from our competitors. We have made our outcomes public via our blog. However, it’s unlikely that our competition will respond in the same way. This kind of data is potentially commercially sensitive to these organisations, particularly if it’s negative, and we’re unlikely to obtain unless the TEC requires them to make it transparent. We have tried requesting this data under the Official Information Act, but the results were incomplete and the resulting data was not helpful for this purpose.

3.2 Key strategic challenges and advantages

Business-related

Taupo ILN-funded course closure

We decided early in 2014 that we needed to close our local ILN course. This was due to decreasing learner numbers locally as well as rising fixed costs. This course had always struggled to meet its outcomes and we decided to narrow our focus on the professional development side of our operations. The NCALNE (Voc) work was profitable and had much lower fixed costs due to the decentralised nature of the operation.

We already pivoted several times with this course. Our initial application for TEC funding was for an embedded customer service and retail focused course. However, in mid 2009 we identified the need to deviate from this and focus on the more basic generic LN needs of our learners.

We also identified a need to redesign and redevelop this course to better meet local needs. In-depth self assessment in 2010 resulted in a further change of direction to incorporate digital literacy training including online and blended delivery of a set of basic computer and IT literacies.

While these changes combined with moving to a much nicer location helped us address some issues around how to attract learners, the course still struggled in terms of delivering the required 100 hours of training to learners. With lower than normal learner enrolment at the start of 2014 we decided the risk of a large TEC cost recovery at the end of the year was worse than the immediate financial and opportunity cost of stopping the course.

The advantage that we have is that we are a small organisation and we have been able to move quickly to address the financial and resource implications. By cutting the ILN course we’ve been able to make a much needed course correction that has brought us back in line with our original vision for a small, decentralised and online organisation working with contractors with minimal bureaucracy.

ALEG Funding

The number of ALEG study grants that we’ve received from the TEC has remained more or less constant over the last several year. We are aware that the ALEG grants have been part of a diminishing fund. However, the TEC has recognised that there is still considerable work for the ALNE sector to do before embedding literacy and numeracy is “business as usual”. In any case, we are happy to recommit to a lean organisational structure.

In the past, we have been able to access extra funding for TEC special interest projects including work with Corrections, NZ Police, and NZ Defence. While, these were one-off projects to stimulate professional development in key areas, we remain open to working with the TEC again in this way should the need arise.

We currently charge a per candidate fee to the organisations that employ our learners. One advantage of working Pathways Awarua is that the platform will allow us to develop additional online business models including a lower-cost, assessment only option for learners in different situations.

Operational

Teaching approach

Our main learner and stakeholder groups come from industry and other training providers. For our NCALNE (Voc) course this means that some of our candidates train and assess others out in the workplace in the real world. Others are one step removed from the workplace in that they teach and train solely within the environment of an education provider. Accordingly, one ongoing operational challenge is to serve both groups.

This means we need to:

  • ŸFocus on best practices including effective teaching and learning in adult literacy and numeracy education.
  • ŸMaintain an appropriate balance between theory and practice, with a tendency towards practical application wherever possible.

An advantage that we have here is that we are well connected in the ALNE community. Because of this we tend to find out about new research and resources as soon as they become available. Again, because of our small size and dynamic course model, we can implement new material quickly.

Capability

Future directions and longer-term challenges include building our capability to:

  • ŸDevelop further web-based support to supplement our live training delivery including video content. Our website rebuild is underway and we hope to have this completed later this year.
  • ŸDevelop digital resources available in electronic format via our website. We have an online shopping site set up and ready to launch as well later this year.
  • ŸInvestigate a relevant and contextualised action research paradigm to build sector knowledge in a practical way. This is one of our strategic challenges for the next several years as we investigate how to deliver the revised level 6 New Zealand Diploma in ALNE and possibly diversify further into the revised NZCALNE (Educator). Participating in the ALNE working group for NZQA is definitely an advantage here.

Another ongoing operational challenge is to meet and maintain the various compliance requirements of the ALNE domain as well as other NZQA and TEC requirements.

Implementing the Baldrige Performance Improvement System

In 2007 when we wrote our initial application to NZQA for registration, we self-consciously aligned our quality management thinking with a simplified version of the Baldrige performance improvement framework. This was before NZQA shifted to an evaluative framework.

An ongoing strategic challenge is now to align the Baldrige criteria with the now well-established NZQA EER framework. Our 2010 evaluation by the NZQA approved the existing QMS so we have continued to work with and simplify the system for our own purposes.

Another future challenge for us may be to connect with the regional Business Excellence Awards which also use a version of the Baldrige criteria. Our QMS and this Profile were originally drafted with this purpose in mind.

ALEC’s modified Baldridge QMS model is outlined below:

Baldridge ALEC

Environmental

Our www.alec.ac.nz website has resulted in more information online and less printing. A full digital version of the current Study Guide, Assessment Guide, and Readings for the NCALNE (Voc) is available online. We’ve also used our website to promote several organisations that we support with regards to sustainable initiatives.

Our 2014 website update and rebuild combined with initiatives underway with Pathways Awarua will continue to shift the balance of information from print-based to online.

Human resources

Training facilitators

One major strategic challenge relates to the fact that there is a shortage of literacy and numeracy facilitators and specialists with the right credentials, experience, and fit with our vision, mission, purpose, and values.

Finding good people to do this training remains a challenge due to the fact that we explicitly do not want purely academic delivery of our content. Our special character includes a delivery approach that is “hands on” and practical. But we also want our facilitators to have advanced degrees in this field.

This means that an ALEC training facilitator needs to have the following qualities:

  • Recognised as an ALNE subject expert.
  • Credentials including advanced degrees in ALNE or related fields.
  • A practical, plain English, “hands on” facilitation style.

ALEC’s main advantage here is that we have a very strong brand and a good reputation for delivering quality.

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