Chance for a new compact with employers – comment by CEO Craig Robertson

Chance for a new compact with employers – comment by CEO Craig Robertson

When it comes to vocational education and training in Australia, I have always been curious about the term industry and even more about industry engagement. The interest has been piqued by the discussion paper from the federal department on the subject.

The paper states: The VET system must be improved to meet the rapidly changing needs of employers and businesses so they can grow and be internationally competitive, create new jobs and strengthen their labour market resilience. Followed closely by: These (areas for improvement) include strengthening industry engagement across the national training system, increased responsiveness to employer needs and skills change, and boosting student outcomes through better qualifications.

The task of qualification design and content rests with organised industry, working within a logic dating back to the 1980s. As I said last week, organised industry, including unions come together to agree the competencies that best represent the tasks of an occupation, trying to avoid wage blow-outs or compromising worker interests.

The competencies prescribing each qualification (occupation) cover the technical skills, plus the competencies for working safely and working with others (if they abide by the concept of competency introduced in this country in the 1980s). Packaging rules then dictate the must-do units and gives flexibility to the provider to add optional units to suit their business model, whether for students or local employers. A provider cannot be all things to all students, or all employers, however, because there are limits to funds and costs of compliance.

What is the magic industry ingredient, then? Despite the disruption to occupations and economic structures caused by automation (and super-charged by COVID responses) there are still industry-level standards of operation that are important for worker effectiveness. Take for example, safety standards for using a fork-lift, wiring a house, lifting a patient, front-of-house hospitality and the one we can all relate to – the standard for a decent coffee. When most people hear the term industry and VET I’m sure they have this concept in mind.

With this settled, structures and processes are needed for determining and settling those standards. The discussion paper acknowledges industry as industry associations and unions as part of the industry advisory arrangements but also adds employers, implying VET needs to do more for businesses as they appear unhappy.

If there is concern that businesses are not getting what they need, then there can only be two reasons. Firstly, they may disagree with the competencies their industry association negotiated into the training package, or secondly, they do not understand that the competencies have been defined for application across the industry. I suspect it is a bit of both but it doesn’t justify giving employers determination over qualifications. Sure, they have a clear voice into the process but where do their requirements stop?

I reckon businesses are sensible enough anyway to know that an industry-wide standard cannot deliver every skill they need in a worker, nor do they buy the rhetoric that VET graduates are job ready for the jobs they have in their business.

The discussion paper gives the opportunity to bring a stop to the tortured language around industry and settle on a clear view on what we mean by it. A new consensus can then be forged with business about what they can realistically expect from VET.

It is fair for them to expect that graduates have the skills and knowledge to the highest of industry standards so they bring new thinking and attributes to jobs. After all, the core logic of education systems in economies is to be the point of aggregation of knowledge and know-how to be passed on and dissipated through graduates to industry and society.

If it is graduates with skills and knowledge at industry-level standards then let’s reconstruct the industry advice to define those standards The extent to which current training packages are a reasonable facsimile of industry-level standards is a discussion for another time, as is the extent to which organised industry dictates the scope of teaching and learning for all forms of VET.

Divining industry and business in VET is one thing. How this meshes with the logic of students-at-the-centre-of-VET as announced by governments and recommended by the Productivity Commission, is another.

Good things to come back on in future weeks.

Victoria's snap lockdown shuts TAFE, colleges and universities

TAFEs, private colleges and universities across Victoria will be closed until Thursday, except for remote learning, under the snap COVID-19 lockdown that came into force Friday night.

The five-day lockdown is in response to the emergence of the hyper-infectious UK variant of COVID-19.

Described by Premier Dan Andrews as a “short, sharp blast” the stage 4 restrictions mean people must remain home except for essential shopping, caregiving, essential work and education, and exercise for two hours per day.

All higher education and training facilities will be closed, with remote learning only. Some TAFE campuses will be postponing all in-person classes for the full week, until Friday.

Schools will be closed except for vulnerable children and children of essential workers.

Early learning, day care and family day care centres will remain open.

WA government promises to freeze TAFE fees until 2025

The West Australian government has promised that, if re-elected at the March 13 state election, it will continue the freeze on TAFE fees until at least 2025.

Under the ‘Lower Fees, Local Skills’ program, fees for 180 priority qualifications were reduced by up to 72 per cent. The courses are in areas including defence, METRONET, construction, engineering, information technology, hospitality, agriculture and community services.

The government has allocated $282 million to extend the program for another four years.

In addition, a fee freeze on all other TAFE courses introduced in 2017 and a $420 cap for students who leave school early will continue.

There has been a surge in TAFE enrolments, with figures showing that, as at January 10, there had been 25,631 applications to enrol in TAFE, compared to 17,993 for the same time last year – a 43 per cent increase.

The Minister for Education and Training Sue Ellery said the response to the pandemic has seen fee reductions for courses that match up with the skills employers currently need and those occupations with high projected jobs growth.

“Our government had already drastically reduced TAFE fees prior to COVID-19 and expanded on these as part of the WA Recovery Plan,” she said.

See more

Gold Coast aviation training set for take-off

For the first time on the Gold Coast, TAFE Queensland together with Airways Aviation will deliver a nationally-accredited aviation diploma with students graduating as a fully qualified commercial aeroplane pilot.

TAFE Queensland General Manager on the Gold Coast Karen Dickinson, said the partnership puts students in a very strong position when they graduate and join the aviation industry.

“TAFE Queensland is proud to deliver the Diploma of Aviation with Airways Aviation to give budding Gold Coast pilots access to world-class flight training,” said Ms Dickinson.

“Undertaking practical flight training at a busy international airport will expose students to every aspect of aviation operations and allow them to put all the components of their qualification into practice,” she said.

Successful completion of the diploma gives graduates the knowledge and practical skills needed for a successful career as a commercial aeroplane pilot in broad range of aviation pathways including air charter, aerial application, tourism, regional airlines, aeromedical, search and rescue, air freight, aerial survey and even defence.

Airways Aviation General Manager Helena Tierney, Director Business Development (Gold Coast) Simon Hislop, TAFE Queensland Chief Executive Officer Mary Campbell, and TAFE Queensland General Manager (Gold Coast) Karen Dickinson.

Indigenous chefs get a start at top Sydney restaurants

Top Sydney restaurants including Rockpool Bar and Grill, Catalina, Icebergs Dining and Aria have kicked off pre-apprentice courses for aspiring Aboriginal chefs in NSW.

The National Indigenous Culinary Institute’s ‘Skills for Success’ program will see 10 students mentored by leading chefs in their own restaurants, and undertaking their formal training with TAFE NSW.

The program has trained more than 200 participants since 2012.

The Minister for Skills and Tertiary Education Geoff Lee said the program offers an incredible introduction for budding Aboriginal chefs.

“This creates a direct training pathway for the participants to follow to be employed as paid commercial cookery apprentices in fine dining restaurants,” he said.

Apprentices from the National Indigenous Culinary Institute team up with Rockpool’s Neil Perry (centre).

TAFE enrolments surge in Victoria

TAFE enrolments in Victoria have surged under the Free TAFE initiative, according to latest figures released by the Victorian government.

Enrolments in January 2021 were up 83 per cent on the same time last year and inquiries to the TAFE and the training line in January 2021 were up 45 per cent compared with the previous month, the Minister for Training and Skills Gayle Tierney said.

The Free TAFE for priority courses program began in 2019 and allows eligible students to apply for courses that directly lead to the jobs most in demand.

“More than 39,700 students took part in the program in its first year which was 88 per cent higher than the commencements in the same courses at the end of 2018,” Ms Tierney said.

There are currently more than 50 priority courses and pre-apprenticeship courses, including the new Certificate IV in Mental Health Peer Work, the Certificate III in Health Services Assistance, and the Certificate III in Civil Construction Plant Operations.

Deadline looming for NSW training awards

There is just a month left to apply for the 2021 NSW Training Awards, which now have a broader range of ways to nominate worthy recipients.

Following a review of the awards last year, there are many more categories of people who can nominate individuals for awards, which is designed to attract a bigger field of applicants.

There are seven individual award  categories and five organisation awards.

Training Services NSW has published a series of five webinars to help explain the new format and the application process.

Applications close March 14.

See more

APTC recruiting Fiji-based executive director

Applications close February 24 for the position of Executive Director at the Australia Pacific Training Coalition (APTC).

The position is based in Suva, Fiji, and will oversee a workforce of more than 200 at APTC country offices in Fiji, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea and in-country representatives in Tonga, Kiribati, Nauru and Tuvalu.

More information

Diary Dates

WFCP (World Federation of Colleges & Polytechnics)
Lessons from the pandemic – Resilience

26 February 2021 (Sydney time)
More information

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

Year13 Expo
17 – 19 May 2021
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

National Apprentice Employment Network
National Conference
17 – 19 August 2021
Hobart, Tasmania
More information soon

National Skills Week
23 – 29 August 2021
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