A swallow doesn’t make a summer – comment by CEO Craig Robertson

A swallow doesn’t make a summer – comment by CEO Craig Robertson

The impact of the Joyce Review on the Australian VET system is open for debate, apart from three clear achievements – the National Skills Commission, the National Careers Institute and Skills Organisations (SOs).

The extent of Joyce’s vision of SOs leading to new forms of industry guidance to the VET sector is up for review because Australian governments through its skills reform consultation[1] are asking more fundamental questions about the role of industry. It is also asking key questions about qualifications, quality and professional development.

From how I read his report and from conversations with him, I take it the Joyce organising theory is all about aligning incentives. I can imagine him saying, “if industry is dissatisfied with the relevance and quality of training, as I heard, then put them in charge, and they will have no one else to blame if things do not go the way they expect.”

We have seen three SOs so far – each representing a slice of the economy. But a swallow doesn’t make a summer. It is one thing to trial but it’s a different matter if the rest of the economy needs to be catered for – thus the consultation.

There is a rich history we need to take into account when we consider industry arrangements for VET. Most of today’s design can be sheeted home to the Hawke-Keating era. Triggered by Australia Reconstructed (a report from an ACTU visit to Western Europe in 1986), it concluded Australia needed to open itself to global trade and some of Australia’s protected industries would wither, along with jobs.

Award Restructuring, which resulted, sought to bring together education planning and training along with enterprise restructuring in order to make learning relevant to the restructuring of the Australian economy. The competency movement was born and training focused on the necessary knowledge and skills required for the job to smooth the disruption in jobs. ‘Through the accumulation of these ‘vocational competencies’ the worker will become more capable, flexible, adaptable and useful’.

This last sentence was written in June 1993[2] at the tail end of the 1990s recession, remembered for its record youth unemployment. In this emergency and the Award Restructuring backdrop the Australian National Training Authority was established. Many in VET would say it was the zenith of industry engagement as the governing board consisted of captains of industry and they engaged directly with governments and ministers on skills formation priorities.

Come forward to today and there seems little appetite for structural reform of this ilk. The Productivity Commission in its report doesn’t venture down the path of industry engagement as a key consideration, apart from highlighting the role of the NSC.

Returning to Joyce. Aligning incentives is a good thing but achieving fair economic outcomes is another. The swallow is offering strange glimpses of a reshaped VET system. The Digital DSO has gone straight outside of the formal training system and enlisted non-accredited training and non‑registered providers for its first foray of reform. Mining has taken a measured and methodical approach seeking to evolve the VET system (as the sector which probably drives most innovation in Australia, it had every right to step outside of it but chose not to). It is too early to say about the health services SO, but with the aged care sector crisis induced by cash-strapped operators it will be interesting how it can reconcile the sector’s sustainability with the demand from the Aged-Care Royal Commission for higher order skills, and higher wages as a result.  Wallah! Here’s where the rubber hits the road.

ANTA and competency were born of the era of conciliation and arbitration between workers and employers – a balanced deal for both and for the good of the economy. The organising logic of VET is now 30 years old and the economy and the way it is organised has moved on. (If it were current then we would have seen skills feature in the dialogue between the industrial parties for IR reform).

We now have the National Skills Commission, but that is technocratic, and the National Careers Institute, but that is retail. No one can blame the current Industry Reference Committees holding on like grim death as the last vestiges of Industry in the system.

The nature of industry engagement is not a minor thing as the significance of award restructuring in smoothing the structural adjustment in the economy attests.

It’s hard not to see similar scale restructuring heading our way. Maybe it would be a good thing, IR aside, to bring the traditional industry players together to chart a new course for a new age.

TAFEs, universities closed in WA COVID lockdown

All schools, TAFEs and universities within the Perth metropolitan, Peel and South-West regions will be closed for five days until Friday under Western Australia’s immediate COVID-19 lockdown.

The emergency measures came into force last night following news of a hotel quarantine worker testing COVID-19 positive.

People will be required to stay at home except for critical work needs, shopping for essentials, medical or health reasons, and exercise.

The new school term was due to start today but has been postponed for a week.

TAFEs and universities in the affected areas will also close for the rest of this week, along with pubs, gyms, playgrounds, cinemas, hairdressers and large religious gatherings.

See the full lockdown details

Opposition reshuffle bids farewell to ‘training’ – now it’s all about skills

Federal Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese’s frontbench reshuffle saw responsibility for training shift from Shadow Education Minister Tanya Plibersek to Deputy Leader Richard Marles in a new “super portfolio” known as National Reconstruction, Employment, Skills and Small Business.

West Australian Senator Louise Pratt becomes the Shadow Assistant Minister for Employment and Skills.

The shift has some similarities to the government’s reshuffle in December which saw Steve Irons step down from the frontbench, and in doing so, taking away any mention of vocational education, training and apprenticeships in ministerial titles.

Senator Michaelia Cash remained Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business, and Alan Tudge became Minister for Education and Youth.

The removal of the words, “VET”, “training” and “apprenticeships” from government and opposition titles appears to reflect the heightened focus on linking skills with employment and job re-design in the post-COVID era.

See the full Shadow Ministry

VET workforce should have COVID vacccine priority, says community college CEO

Where should VET teachers and trainers sit on the priority list for COVID-19 vaccines?

Don Perlgut, the CEO of Community Colleges Australia believes that the VET workforce should be at the front of the queue, if students are to get back into the classroom.

“Face-to-face teaching is vital for VET students, who are often from a lower socio-economic background and are most affected by the digital divide,” he said.

Writing in Pearls and Irritations, he says that getting VET students back into the classrooms is a priority and that “trainers should also be considered a priority group for the Covid-19 vaccine”.

“Unlike Australian universities – almost all of which had ready-made online systems prior to the arrival of the epidemic – most training providers have had to “make do” with a mixture of blended, online and socially distanced face-to-face learning.”

He argues that with the federal government investing heavily through its JobTrainer program and a major increase in training as a plank in the national economic recovery, priority vaccination in the VET sector needs to be considered.

TAFEs occupy key place in NSW plans for higher education

TAFEs will play a key role in the expansion of higher education in NSW under a new five-year strategy released by the NSW government.

The strategy outlines a plan for the uptake of new educational models that combine higher education, VET and TAFE. It also includes a plan to simplify procurement arrangements between the NSW government, universities and TAFE, such as through a pre-qualification scheme or preferred vendor list.

The strategy suggests the establishment of formal protocols to facilitate partnerships between higher education providers, TAFE and industry.

The NSW Minister for Skills and Tertiary Education Dr Geoff Lee said the strategy is the result of extensive consultation across the higher education sector and NSW government.

As reported in last week’s TDA newsletter, TAFE higher education providers including in NSW recently secured almost 500 extra Commonwealth Supported Places through 22 new graduate and undergraduate certificate short courses.

See TAFE and independent providers embrace online courses in The Australian

See the NSW government’s Higher Education Strategy 2021-2025

TAFE SA keen to help Twiggy Forrest fix his labour problems

TAFE SA has responded to a plea for skilled staff from new R. M. Williams owner Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest, with an offer to train the workers needed to grow the iconic business.

Last week on a tour of the firm’s South Australian manufacturing plant, Mr Forrest lamented the lack of workers with the necessary skills for expansion.

“We don’t even have a TAFE which can provide the skills here in South Australia, so we’ve really got to start at ground floor and we’re prepared to start at ground floor and work our way up to get.

“We’ve lost so many skills here in South Australia, skills around metalwork and other trades which we really need to get back,” he said.

It prompted a quick response from TAFE SA chief executive David Coltman who said he wanted to look at ways of meeting the firm’s need for current and future workers.

“We would love the opportunity to work with R. M. Williams to meet their future training needs,” he said.

“TAFE SA already delivers a variety of fashion, costume and textile courses. As a direct result of recent industry feedback, we are introducing a new industrial sewing skill set from this February.”

Mr Forrest acquired the R.M Williams business last October and has plans for expansion, if he can get the workforce with the right skills.

More TAFE places, apprenticeships promised ahead of WA state election 

Something of an arms race is developing ahead of the West Australian state election on March 13 as both major parties roll out a series of big promises to boost the VET sector.

Labor has promised $30 million to create 4,000 extra places at TAFEs for Year 11 and 12 students with a priority on STEM courses, including pre-apprenticeships.

Premier Mark McGowan has also promised a $5.2 million program to attract 200 additional mature age apprentices by funding the gap between the wages of junior apprentices and those aged over 21.

Labor will also run a $3.4 million pilot program to provide 150 places for mature age apprentices and trainees in the building and construction industry.

The recently-appointed Liberal leader Zak Kirkup had earlier promised a new two-year incentive and retention payment worth $200 million to encourage businesses to employ up to 20,000 apprentices.

The incentive will be up to $10,000 for taking on a new apprentice and up to $5,000 for a new trainee. It would be on top of existing incentives, taking total payments for hiring a new apprentice to $18,500 and a new trainee to $9,250.

In addition, the Liberals have promised a $1,000 apprentice tools payment.

Diary Dates

AVETRA Annual Conference 2021
Recover, rethink and rebuild: All eyes on VET
19 – 23 April, 2021 (Online)
More information

VET CEO Conference
Velg Training
19 March 2021 (Online)
More information

Apprentice Employment Network, NSW & ACT
Skills Conference
16 June 2021
Dockside Darling  Harbour, Sydney
More information

30th National VET Research Conference ‘No Frills’
Past informing the future
National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER)
7 – 9 July 2021 (Online)
More information 

QLD Schools VET Conference
Velg Training
6 August 2021
Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre
More information

Worldskills Australia
25 – 29 August 2021
Perth Exhibition and Convention Centre
More information

2021 National VET Conference
Velg Training
9 – 19 September 2021
Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre
More information