Stopping the less is more in VET – comment by CEO Craig Robertson

Stopping the less is more in VET – comment by CEO Craig Robertson

Have you ever measured the progress in your life by tracking your TVs?

My first was a portable that weighed a ton and if you watched more than two metres away the action was like being on the top deck of the MCG. I also remember the day my wife got a call from the bank asking whether she was making a large purchase from David Jones. The truth was I had painted the toy room that the kids no longer used and having had a bad day at work I felt completely justified in man cave terms to buy a flat screen TV. It just squeezed in to the 4WD.

The fact I needed a trailer to bring home the next one tells you something about TVs. (It’s for compulsory viewing of the Mighty GWS Giants and the Philadelphia 76ers.). And they are getting cheaper to buy – a US report has the price per square inch of TVs in 2017 as $1.78 compared to $6.60 in 2007 and $30.45 in 1997.

You may be wondering what outlandish point I am leading to. You choose. Is it that:

  1. VET training products are analogue, yet the world of work is digital?
  2. Students count as the 4.1m pixels of a large screen yet the only ones worth anything number just under 1m with 576,00 the really bright ones as TAFE students?
  3. Our funding policy is expecting more from VET at an ever cheaper price?
  4. TVs may have increased in size still no-one likes what’s coming out of them?
  5. Just like TVs we are importing skills from overseas because it’s cheaper than making them here and we’ve lost the technology to build them anyway? or
  6. all of the above.

Let me give you some facts. The Productivity Commission produces each year the Report on Government Services. The most instructive is the funding per hour of training (see second row below) and total hours of training delivered, in the millions (see third row).


2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017
$18.20 $17.58 $16.61 $16.05 $15.48 $15.79 $13.95 $16.26 $15.94 $17.19
337m 359m 392m 441m 485m 469m 467m 394m 377m 358m


You would expect funding per hour to gently increase over the years in line with costs of education. At decade end the rate is lower than in 2008 and it oscillates $4.25, or 23 per cent over the period!

Look at the hours of training against the $ per hour. For the years of high total hours the $ per hour drops, and reverses when the total is low. We simply adjust delivery to suit the dollars on offer.

Do trainer wages give? I wouldn’t think so. Expectation of vocational education hasn’t varied and the Wage Cost Index shows salaries going up close to 30 per cent in the period[1]. Does delivery give? It couldn’t be anything else. Clearly at the height of the ‘entitlement bubble’ between 2012 to 2014 unscrupulous providers were claiming the funds but cutting delivery corners. If ASQA is now discovering providers cutting corners how bad would they have been then?

An alternative is to blame low levels of government subsidy – after all, every business delivers to the dollars. There’s a dilemma though. The more money that’s paid, the higher the risk some providers will seek to profit. The Commonwealth had its own go at increased funding (uncapped even) through VET FEE-HELP and funds per course they allowed went through the roof. Notice the bind. Governments are reluctant to pay more because of the risk of good money after bad.

Governments need to go back to basics. Start with the real costs of quality delivery, pay for it and, by all means, account for it. The only option is to start with government owned entities and those providers states and territories can trust, not with those intent on boosting their bottom line.

The situation is getting worse. During the week, a respected commentator made note of variances of requirements across VET qualifications at the same level:


Diploma of Business 8 units (all electives)
Diploma of Forest and Forest Products 15 units (six core, nine electives)
Diploma of Hospitality Management 28 units (13 core, 15 electives)
Diploma of Air-conditioning and Refrigeration Engineering 33 core units plus electives worth 130 points


At the same time funding is failing to meet the basic costs of delivery, the expectations in training packages by industry is higher. There are too many examples of silly requirements in training packages. There is no guaranteed flow through in funding, no feedback to Industry to moderate their expectations and certainly no control from the national committee which endorses them for ministers. Joyce has recommended that the proposed Skills Organisations have industry paying for the training it specifies. If industry needs to pay I’m sure there’d be some sense.

You can accuse me of jiggery-pokery but this data is curated by the Productivity Commission, no less.

What’s my point? we are chasing the latest 82-inch Q900 8K QLED Smart TV on the budget of cathode ray tube TV, like the first I bought in 1984. You can feel free to choose A, B, D, E or F, however.

[1] The ABS Wage Cost Index rebased from June 2009. At June 2018 the index was 127.2. Accounting for 2008 would bring the rate if increase close to 30 per cent.

Government dismay at just 59 apprenticeships in the defence industry

The federal government has urged the defence industry to get more involved in the VET sector after it was revealed that the sector took on less than 60 apprentices last year.

The Assistant Minister for Vocational Education, Training and Apprenticeships Steve Irons told a defence industry skills summit in Perth last week “…I was “surprised when my department told me that across all the firms involved in the summit, there were only 59 apprenticeship commencements last year.”

“I also learned that this number has been higher in the past,” he said.

“So, what the government needs to know is how we can create the right environment to encourage you all to increase your uptake of apprentices.”

The Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business, Senator Michaelia Cash told the conference that the naval shipbuilding workforce alone was expected to grow to around 5,200 workers by the mid to late 2020s.

“These are fantastic opportunities for Australians and we need to deliver them,” she said.

Skill sets are booming

The number of skill sets in training packages has exploded from just 20 in 2008 to 1500 this year, according to the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER).

Reported enrolments in training package skill sets have almost doubled from about 58,000 in 2015 to more than 96,000 last year.

Enrolments in 2018 were dominated by just a small number of skill sets in a small number of training packages. Many with high numbers were compliance or safety-related, with some being refresher courses.

The largest number of skill set enrolments in 2018 was ‘Responsible service of alcohol’, followed by two ‘Work zone traffic control’ skill sets.

Skill set enrolments were concentrated in just two states – NSW and Queensland – which between them accounted for over three-quarters of enrolments.


See more

ASQA defends role in $2m private college scam

The Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) has refuted suggestions it is either complacent or heavy handed in dealing with training providers, in the wake of an ABC 7.30 report on a joint operation with the AFP to close a private training college.

The program revealed the operation to expose St Stephens Institute of Technology in Melbourne, which claimed to have more than 270 international students and 340 domestic students, earning $2 million in government subsidies.

“There was no teaching and there was certainly no students that were involved in any sort of actual education,” Detective Superintendent Danielle Woodward from the AFP told 7.30.

A former ASQA investigator and auditor, Larissa Kerneborne questioned how some unscrupulous colleges were allowed to remain open, and why ASQA was “losing cases” where it was attempting to cancel other registrations.

In a statement to 7.30, ASQA rejected any suggestion it “turned a blind eye” to poor behaviour by providers.

“The risk based approach to regulation employed by ASQA considers the risk posed by a provider based on a range of data and intelligence, which informs selection for compliance activities,” it said.

ASQA also said that under the risk based approach which focuses on providers considered more likely to be non-compliant, it follows that the proportion of adverse decisions will increase.


Watch School Scam

Parents play the biggest part in students' VET choices, study finds

Parents are considered the most influential figures in school student’s decisions about a vocational career, according to a new study.

The Griffith University research asked students, school teachers, VET teachers and parents to rank the relative importance of various influencers – parents, school teachers, the school, school guidance officers, peers and the community.

Parents were unanimously considered the strongest influence on students’ VET decisions.

However, only school students and VET teachers ranked school teachers as the second-strongest influence. School teachers themselves and parents ranked the influence of school teachers at 5 – well down the scale.

Students also rated the influence of careers advisers and fellow students quite low.

“For school students, parents are key partners in decision-making, therefore their engagement in enhancing the status of VET is vital, along with teachers,” the study says.


See ‘Enhancing the status of vocational education and the occupations it serves’

Perth to host Worldskills Australia championships

Perth will host the WorldSkills Australia National Championships in 2020.

More than 500 competitors and 20,000 local, national and international visitors are expected to attend the event.

It will bring together the best apprentices, trainees, educators, employers and industry professionals to compete for the title of national champion in 60 skill categories.

It will run from August 13–15 at the Perth Convention and Exhibition Centre. The last national competition to be held in Western Australia was in 2014.

The event is a pathway for medallists to become members of the Australian squad to compete at the next WorldSkills International Competition in Shanghai in September 2021.

'Lifelauncher' helping to navigate career choices

The NSW government has released a test version of a new careers website, Lifelauncher, which provides a simple way for students to explore career choices.

It provides a straightforward way to navigate through possible industries, careers and courses, and includes useful information about the outlook for various careers as well as salary information.

For students who are uncertain about what to do after leaving school, there are personality and subject quizzes to help identify areas of interest.

AVETRA issues 'call for papers' for research conference

AVETRA (the Australasian Vocational Education and Training Research Association) has issued a call for papers for its annual conference in Melbourne, 23 – 24 April next year.

Abstracts should relate to one or more of the conference streams: VET policy perspectives; VET practice perspectives; Careers and transitions; Contexts for VET; Voices of stakeholders; Big data stories; Open theme (papers that sits outside the above themes, but are still aligned with the conference theme).

Anyone wanting to present a paper on their recent research should submit a 250-300 word abstract by December 5 to

See more about the call for papers.

Speakers at the conference include:

  •  Professor Stephanie Allais, Research Chair of Skills Development, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, and Special Advisor to the Minister of Higher Education and Training. Her topic is: TVET in developing countries: Constraints and possibilities
  • Professor Rod McDonald, Principal, Ithaca Group, and former Special Advisor to the Australian National Training Authority; author of seminal report on VET research: No Small Change. His topic is: Research at the centre of policy and practice – is it too much to expect?
  • Professor Ann-Marie Bathmaker, Professor of Vocational and Higher Education, University of Birmingham. Her topic is: Leadership dilemmas and incompatible goals? Pursuing access, social inclusion, social mobility and employability in public further education.

Diary Dates

‘Supporting young people into their futures: research and practice’
14 November 2019
Ballarat, Victoria
More information

Community Colleges Australia 2019 Annual Conference
18 – 20 November 2019
The Stamford Plaza Hotel, Brisbane
More Information

ASEAN Australia Education Dialogue (AAED)
18 – 20 November 2019
Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
More information

Australian Training Awards
21 November 2019
Brisbane, Queensland
More information

Australian Council of Deans of Education Vocational Education Group
5th Annual Conference on VET Teaching and VET Teacher Education
9 – 10 December 2019
Charles Sturt University Wagga Wagga Campus
More information

AVETRA Conference
20/20 vision for VET: Research at the centre of future policy and practice
23 – 24 April 2020
More information

VDC 2020 Teaching & Learning Conference
14 – 15 May 2020
RACV Torquay Resort, Great Ocean Road, Victoria
Registrations opening soon