Dr Phil Rutherford
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I have been one of those fortunate people who have had a varied and very interesting work life. For most of my formative years I have been primarily involved in systems and operational management with the military, government and private sectors. Over this period I worked with NASA, intelligence agencies and later on the Australian Special Forces. 

Since the mid 1970s, however, I have shifted away from operations and into training and organisational development and strategic management. In this I have held every position from trainer, training supervisor, training manager and manager of a training branch. I have also managed training companies, lectured at university and been involved in developing national and international policies on vocational education and training. In this I am perhaps the only person in the world to have worked in the development and implementation of all of the major VET systems in the world - the British, Australian, New Zealand and South African systems. I have also been asked to provide input to the International Labour Organisation's report on VET in South East Asia and consulted to governments in South America, the US, Europe and the United Arab Emirates.   

That might sound like a lot of experience in a very short space of time, but looking back I can see that I was not so much learning to apply skills and knowledge that others have learned and passed on - I was actually creating these competencies as I was trying out new ideas, adopting and adapting ideas used in other environments, or simply creating systems and processes where none existed.

Someone once put it to me that because I was forging new pathways and paradigms, many of the issues I would have experienced were only capable of being addressed at the time they became apparent. A little like the old saying where one "doesn't cross a bridge until they come to it". In my case I was actually building the bridge as I was crossing it so while my ideas appear radical and outside of what is generally known and applied this is because nobody else seems to have thought the same way I have. And it is probably why they have not achieved the same outcomes that I have achieved.

Somebody recently asked me how I knew that my ideas would work. Well, the truth is that I didn't - not until a very forward thinking person by the name of Colin Dobie suggested that I use the professional field of project management to demonstrate my ideas. You see I was convinced, and publicly expressed this on many occasions, that the low level results we had achieved in the UK and throughout Australia were capable of being achieved not only at organisational level but also at industry and national levels. He was so confident that I could back up my claims that he put me full time on his staff and gave me open access to his staff and their programs. For his wisdom the world should be very thankful because this allowed me to create a model that took the world by storm and changed the face of vocational and career based training forever.

Within a year I had designed and helped launch the first fully competency-based course to be run anywhere in the world. This was the three level Certificate IV, Diploma and Advanced Diploma courses in project management, all of them recognised by (at the time) the two largest and most influential project management representative bodies in the world (the Project Management Institute of the USA, and the Australian Institute of Project Management), and later to be the model for all National Training Programs.

These courses opened up pathways to higher and university level education for people who wouldn't ordinarily be approved for studies at these institutions and wholly supported the first professional recognition system, in the world, which was based not on what a person knows or the qualifications that they have, but on what they can actually do in the workplace.

More importantly, this program went on to be the only training or education course that public and private sector organisations view as critical to the achievement of not only individual work related objectives but also organisational, corporate, and societal / environmental objectives. One federal government department publicly stated that it is the only program that allows them to achieve the objectives handed down to them each year, and if this isn't a positive return on investment then nothing is.

I have since run this program in several countries and each time have watched as public and private sector organisations have either saved or made up to millions of dollars as a result of their participation. This is definitely one of those cases where if I had $1 for every $1000 somebody else made out of my programs then I would be a very rich and happy person right now.

And if they say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then I should be drowning in praise. This program is now copied (well, attempted) by just about every other training and education provider around the world, and all of the major project management institutions are trying to apply the same processes in their professional award system. There is, in fact, a lot of marketing by these organisations which states that their programs are the best training programs or award systems (no comment), but none of them can ever claim to be the first. 

But I'm not drowing in praise and nor am I seeking any because, aside from the fact that they've all missed some very important aspects which are basically rendering their programs as little better than what was there in the first place, they still limit the thrust of these programs to a training approach. In other words, rather than create an environment where people can learn and apply what they've learned in a workplace that can quite often be very complex or even chaotic, they continue to push the idea that there is only one way in which skills and knowledge can be gained - and that is through face-to-face instruction. Experience, common sense and figuring out things for oneself don't seem, to these training providers, to have anything to do with how smart people can gain new skills and knowledge, and greater success in their workplace, without the aid of a trainer.

As for professional recognition, one such awarding body I know of insists that one can only be deemed a competent and professional project manager if one has done their training course. (And, sadly, as I have a Ph.D they suggested that I don't need to do the training - all I need do is apply. Hrumph!). As a result they are trying to have us believe that when someone gains their qualification or award then that person is competent and can achieve great things in the workplace. But only then. It would be interesting to see the research which enables them to make this claim.

Project management is not the only professional field ripe for these processes. I have applied the same processes to many programs - leadership, sales and marketing, health care, engineering (specifically instrumentation and control engineering), and the military. I was even presented a naval commendation for the changes that I'd devised and introduced into the navy.

So, if you or your organisation are interested in achieving positive outcomes where it is most important that they be achieved (ie, out there where the pay packet is generated and performance reviews conducted), and not just get a qualification, then drop me a line at
phil_rutherford@ozemail.com.au. I'll be more than happy to put you on the right path.

Copyright P D Rutherford 2009. All rights reserved.