Deep institutional capability – comment by CEO Craig Robertson

Deep institutional capability – comment by CEO Craig Robertson

Authorities are investigating the disappearance of the toilet seats from the Central Police Station of New York. Police have nothing to go on (boom boom)!

A weird warning for Australian VET. Let me explain, using universities as a reference point.

Have you ever wondered what justifies self-accreditation enjoyed by universities, beyond an accident of history? Why is it in a world where governments stand guard over most aspects of society that they are not concerned about the knowledge imparted through universities. Sure, there are culture wars and spats between left and right ideologues, but nothing pointing to controlling knowledge. Perhaps because University houses freedom of thought, freedom of speech and freedom of association as the warp in the democratic fabric of society.

There is another. Because nobody else knows better!

We respect bureaucrats who run regulation and the political class which oversight them. I doubt though they can handle the education holy trinity. Can they frame the ontological outscape, discern the epistemological endeavor and critique pedagogical parsing of the higher education endeavour? (I had to look those words up! But in my simple language – can they determine what is knowledge, how it is best structured and how it is best transferred?).

It is not embedded in the Chancellor, Vice Chancellor, or in the Chancellery. It is in the institution and its rich academic processes. The University production function is the holding, curating, transferring, and advancing of knowledge. It takes place in a complex institutional network across the globe where deep traditions in fields of knowledge buttress breakouts of unfounded thought. Put another way – the academy is a pretty good bull**** detector!

Governments may prod and pull and prioritise some knowledge over others, but the respect of University as the house of knowledge is upheld.

Some readers of the Productivity Commission’s recent review of VET could be led to believe the sector is simply the sum of millions of efficient transactions between provider and student. Millions of competencies – which the sector has codified and commodified so the invisible hand can weave its magic.

Concern about how these transactions are organised may be warranted but of far greater importance to Australia at present is the role expected of vocational education. (We’ve spent the last 20 years fighting over how to organise ourselves and failed to seriously review our vision and purpose.)

Most governments around the world establish vocational education systems for technology transfer.[1] Or, in institutional terms, vocational education systems hold, codify and curate production techniques and service processes for transfer from generation to generation – of industry and student.

Some may argue this is an innate attribute of industry and enterprise. There is no doubt that productivity improvement is a function of enterprise but giving away the technology runs counter to basic competitive behaviour. Governments recognise these market failures through their own industry interventions – such as Industry Growth Centres.

There may be an assumption that these production and service processes are reflected in national industry training packages as the basis of technology transfer. This is, first, an impossibility and second, they simply describe job roles to guide delivery.

So where is this capability held in VET? If it can’t be found in the VET market and we want industry to act with self-interest in our competitive economy, then it can only rest with government in the public interest and best through a government institution – TAFE.

It need not necessarily be monopolised by TAFEs but there is a risk to governments if it is not treated as a public good. Capture within the non-public part of the VET system without clear rules to guard against proprietary behaviour risks its own form of monopoly.

It is time for a new vision for TAFE beyond anything that increased user choice or open competition for training package qualifications can deliver. In the current context of economic upheaval and the inevitable emergence of new industries and transition of businesses, there needs to be a system, difficult though it may be to conceptualise or codify, where these ‘technologies’ are held, refined and passed on for the good of Australia.

We have universities as the houses of academic knowledge. A clear public good. It is no different for TAFE as the house of technology transfer.

It is no accident that China is building capacity in its VET institutions. Canada has invested in its Polytechnic network and many European countries are translating their vocational education into technical university models.

If we wish to restore sovereign capabilities, then we need a mature debate about vocational education institutional capabilities which need to underpin it, otherwise the new form of manufacturing or defence industry we aspire for will have nothing to go on.

[1] You can argue it is for students, and I wouldn’t disagree, but success is a strong productive economy in which students operate with agency.

Skills ministers agree COVID-19 has re-shaped the jobs outlook 

Australia’s skills ministers agreed on Friday to push ahead with national VET reform in the face of the COIVID-19 crisis and a vastly changed jobs outlook.

The Commonwealth, state and territory ministers said strengthening Australia’s skills and training system was a major priority, noting that “the jobs created as we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic are not likely to be the jobs that were lost.”

“Through signing of the Heads of Agreement for Skills Reform, seven jurisdictions have committed to immediate reforms to improve VET quality and relevance along with a set of high-level reform priorities which will be worked through in detail as part of the negotiation of a new national skills funding agreement,” the Communique said.

They also agreed:

  • The VET reform roadmap – the blueprint for reform – is to be updated to reflect the impact of the pandemic and “intensive stakeholder feedback”.
  • While apprentice suspensions have increased since the onset of COVID-19, there has been a decrease in cancellations and withdrawals, attributed to the Supporting Apprentices and Trainees Wage Subsidy and JobKeeper program.
  • The need to support apprentices and trainees most affected by COVID-19, in areas such as hairdressing, automotive, hospitality and tourism, with construction likely to be significantly impacted over coming months.
  • The next steps for Release 2.0 of the Manufacturing and Engineering Training Package (MEM R2) and the workplace hours requirements in light of the economic crisis.
  •  The new model for Commonwealth-State relations to replace the COAG arrangements.

JobTrainer should fund productive skills, TDA tells Senate committee

TDA has urged the federal government to prioritise skills that will improve people’s productivity as it prepares the list of courses that will be funded under the $1 billion JobTrainer program.

Addressing the Senate Select Committee on COVIV-19 last week, TDA Chief Executive Craig Robertson said there was a danger that JobTrainer funds could be directed to short courses for jobs that will be fragile and may not survive a rapidly changing labour market.

“What we need to do with this expenditure is to think through what the productivity-enhancing skills are going to be,” he said.

A key area of growth will be in digital skills, or “blue tech” as more firms see the benefit of working online, he said.

“At the moment, qualifications don’t include that element, so it would be really good to include broad, cross-cutting types of skills in that area, rather than aligning them with a particular job.”

Another priority should be broader capabilities, or employability skills such as teamwork, creativity, communication and problem-solving.

“They are cross-cutting, transferable skills – I think we need to use this opportunity of $1 billion to deliver some of those skills,” he told the committee.

The JobTrainer program is aiming to create around 340,700 places nationwide to train school leavers, or re-skill people who are looking for a job.

Mr Robertson said that TAFE’s national footprint meant that it was in an ideal position to work with the states and territories to provide the majority of this training.

WA unveils state's biggest ever TAFE upgrade

The West Australian government has unveiled what it says will be the biggest TAFE capital works program in the state’s history.

Premier Mark McGowan said the $229 million ‘Rebuilding our TAFEs’ program is a critical element of the WA’s economic recovery and will include $167.4 million to upgrade TAFE campuses across the state.

“The upgrades will create world-class learning opportunities for students while generating a pipeline of jobs, which will deliver a boost to the economy and help Western Australia get back on track,” he said.

It will include:

  • Significant upgrades to the two North Metropolitan TAFE campuses. Balga campus, built in the 1970s, will get a $32 million upgrade, with a multistorey building to replace 22 transportable classrooms.  A total of $17.6 million will go to the Joondalup campus for new technology laboratories.
  • South Metropolitan TAFE’s Armadale campus, split over a number of locations, will be replaced, with a $22.6 million state-of-the-art campus.
  • South Regional TAFE in Albany will get a $17 million upgrade.
  • North Regional TAFE’s Broome campus will see a new $10 million hospitality and student services centre, and the Kununurra campus will get a $6 million health and hospitality training centre.
  • A $2 million for upgrades to Central Regional TAFE, Northam.

Read more

AISC approves new ICT skill sets

A series of new skill sets in ICT have been developed and fast-tracked in response to the COVID-19 crisis.

The skill sets are in areas including cloud design and maintenance, cyber skills, data analysis and the Internet of Things.

The new products were approved by the Australian Industry and Skills Committee’s Emergency Response Sub-Committee, and follow work by national, state and territory skills ministers, and the Industry Reference Committee.

Read more

Young carers can apply for $3k bursaries

Young people providing unpaid care and support to a family member can apply for bursaries of $3,000 each to help continue their education or training.

The Young Carer Bursary Program offers 1,000 bursaries of $3,000 each year.

There are more than 235,500 unpaid young carers aged 25 years and under in Australia.

The bursaries are available for high school, college, TAFE, school-based apprenticeships, home schooling and undergraduate degrees.

Applications for the Young Carer Bursary Program are open until 8 September.

Read more

States look at new model of apprenticeships

TAFE Queensland is spearheading a trial of a new higher-level apprenticeship that will combine a traditional apprenticeship with cutting-edge skills in Industry 4.0.

The Minister for Training and Skills Development Shannon Fentiman launched the Higher-Level Apprenticeships Pilot that will see more than 40 students undertake a Diploma of Applied Technologies. The government has committed $300,000 to the pilot, in conjunction with TAFE Queensland and Ai Group.

Elsewhere, the West Australian government has been urged to consider radical reforms to the apprenticeship system, including “dual and combo trades”, and shortened apprenticeships in non-licensed trades.

The Review of Skills, Training and Workforce Development, released last week calls for a review of the apprenticeship system to address increasing complexity and high level skills needs.

It suggests new apprenticeships in civil plant operations, truck driving, rail and civil infrastructure, operator and maintainer roles in big industry, and maintenance of autonomous vehicles and equipment.

The review also recommends examining alternative apprenticeship models, including dual and combination trades, options for front-ending apprenticeships with a theory block, the “chunking of skills” over the apprenticeship, and utilising RPL more effectively.

“Many industries including resource, agriculture, defence and civil construction are seeing the need for highly skilled individuals with skills crossing two or more traditional trades,” the review said.

Laureate sells its Australian and NZ divisions

The NASDAQ-listed Laureate Education has announced the sale of its Australian and New Zealand operations, including Torrens University in South Australia and Think Education, to US-based Strategic Education.

The US$642.7 sale million also includes Laureate’s Media Design School in New Zealand.

The three operations have approximately 19,000 students enrolled in technical, undergraduate and postgraduate programs.

Torrens University, a private university, was founded by Laureate in 2014. Think Education, a VET and higher education provider, was acquired by Laureate in 2013, seven years after it was established.

Karl McDonnell, Chief Executive Officer of Strategic Education, said: “We’re excited to be expanding our business into the Australian and New Zealand markets. We have been impressed by the growth and impact the three Laureate institutions have made and look forward to welcoming Torrens University, Think Education and Media Design School into our network.”

Strategic Education was formed in 2018 through the merger of Strayer Education, founded in Baltimore in 1892, with Capella Education, the parent company of Capella University, formerly The Graduate School of America.

Diary Dates

AVETRA 2020 Researcher Development Series
Webinars designed for early career, emerging and practitioner researchers
June 2020 – March 2021
More information

National Skills Week
24 – 30 August 2020
Various locations
More information 

VDC 2020 Virtual Teaching & Learning Conference
19 & 20 November 2020
Registrations Open

Australian Training Awards
20 November 2020
More information

TAFE Directors Australia Convention 2021
29 – 30 April 2021
Westin Hotel, Perth
More information coming soon

Worldskills Australia
28 April – 2 May 2021
Perth Exhibition and Convention Centre
More information