Easy miles may be behind us – comment by CEO Craig Robertson

Easy miles may be behind us – comment by CEO Craig Robertson

The Prime Minister last week raised the prospect of the other side. He was not proselytising his faith but more the task facing Australia in recovering from the massive economic impact from the COVID-19 hibernation strategy.

Government ministers are talking about growing economic activity to generate jobs and revenue, but raising personal or corporate taxes to help pay down the debt seem to be off the cards. It appears to be a pro-business, low-tax strategy.

There are some complications on this front. I am not an economist (as you no doubt realise) but for the past decade or so our economic strategy has rested on population growth and export, both of which are strangely intertwined.

Michael Janda, the ABCs business correspondent pointed out in October last year that Australia’s economic growth for the year to June 2019 was 1.4 per cent and population growth was 1.6 per cent. As he said, “it doesn’t take a mathematician to work out that if the population hadn’t grown that strongly Australia’s economy would have gone backward because every person you add to the economy consumes more, works (and) adds to the overall pie”[1]

Skilled and temporary migrants, including the ever-increasing rate of international students form a substantial part of our growth. Average population growth in Australia over the last few years has been about 1.6 per cent per annum, or around 400,000 people, with migration making about 60 per cent and births forty per cent.

Of our top four exports – iron ore, coal, education and gas – two are in jeopardy. Coal exports are under pressure over the longer term as concern for global warming rises and the virus may limit travel of temporary visa holders to Australia for at least the remainder of 2020 and 2021, if our treatment of current temporary visa holders here in Australia doesn’t scare them off. Spot the problem?

Last September, the Centre for International Development at Harvard University released its Atlas of Economic complexity which ranked Australia 93rd in the world, between Senegal and Pakistan. The rank is based on the value-add of exports. As Aaron Patrick of the Australian Financial Review said at the time, the “enormous wealth generated by iron ore, coal, oil and gas masks, and probably contributes to, an economy that has failed to develop the industries needed to sustain its position among the top ranks of the developed world.”[2]

The Centre concludes that a country’s productive structure can be understood as a combination of two processes (i) that by which countries find new products as yet unexplored combinations of capabilities they already have, and (ii) the process by which countries accumulate new capabilities and combine them with other previously available capabilities to develop yet more products.[3]

Where does that leave the pro-business strategy? Australia ranks poorly on innovation, and higher education ranks one of the lowest OECD countries in its engagement with industry.

There’s a good starting point though. TAFEs have a rich history of engagement with industry and businesses, across the nation. Their role is far more than the inert delivery arm for training packages.

National Cabinet was told by the Governor of the Reserve Bank and head of the Commonwealth Treasury that it cannot be business as usual on the other side. A normative view would have vocational education, just like higher education, as the means of acquiring new capabilities (new knowledge and skills) to combine with available capabilities to develop yet more knowledge and skills – in the mind and hands of individuals. That’s where product and service sophistication comes from.

While it may be hard miles, the sector cannot return to business as usual beyond COVID-19.

I am now proselytising, with a faith based on what I have seen  – TAFEs adapting with new models of delivery in this present crisis, just as one example – and they can be a key agent for a pro-growth strategy, with a human side!

I will return to the tax issues in weeks to come.

[1] The Money, ABC Radio, 3 October 2020
[2] Australian Financial Review, 8 October 2019

Victoria makes $261m injection into TAFE

The Victorian government has announced $261 million in emergency funding for the state’s TAFE system to deal with an expected drop in student numbers due to COVID-19.

The funding injection includes a $191.9 million guarantee to lock in funding at expected pre-COVID-19 levels and an additional $68.9 million in crisis support to ensure Victoria’s public training system can respond and recover from the pandemic.

Premier Daniel Andrews said that like universities and other higher-education providers, the economic impacts of coronavirus have hit the training sector hard.

“The funding will help our TAFEs and training providers transition to delivering more online and remote learning, keep staff on, and continue teaching skills that will be critical in the fight against coronavirus,” he said.

“We need a skilled, adaptable workforce to get through this crisis and rebuild – that’s why we’re backing TAFE.”

The package will provide TAFEs, dual sector TAFEs, Learn Local providers and AMES Australia across Victoria funding certainty until at least the middle of the year. These providers teach around 330,000 vocational and community education students.

TAFEs on board in support of elite athletes

TAFE Directors Australia (TDA) and the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) have been working together to establish the Elite Athlete TAFE Network (EATN), enabling TAFE institutes across Australia to provide education and training, including specialised support, to athletes looking to pursue an applied education or vocational pathway.

The program is an expansion of the existing Elite Athlete Education Network and is based on feedback from athletes who were looking for the types of courses TAFEs provide; applied education and skills training that is flexible, utilises online study, and is connected to employment.

The programs within the Elite Athlete TAFE Network allow athletes to successfully manage the dual tasks of high performance sport and tertiary study at a TAFE.

The AIS has signed agreements with the Canberra Institute of Technology, Holmesglen, TAFE SA and TAFE Queensland, and it is working with TAFEs in other states to expand the reach for athletes.  Several TDA member dual sector university TAFE divisions (RMIT, Swinburne University, Federation University and Central Queensland University) are also on board as part of the EATN.

The AIS puts a large focus on continuous, lifelong learning, and education is an important component of the strategy to support athlete wellbeing through mental health, careers, education, and community engagement initiatives.

“The nature of high performance sport means athletes are often required to relocate during their sporting careers,” AIS Careers and Education Consultant Ros Holding said.

“TAFE is best placed to offer courses that are nationally recognised, online and can ease the burden of moving part way through a course. TAFE courses are also ideal as pre-requisites for many degrees should the athlete decide when the time is right to pursue higher level qualifications,”

TDA welcomes the collaboration with the AIS and we look forward to sharing the success stories and athlete student experiences both in the classroom and on the sporting field.

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Digital careers expo to showcase post-school options

TDA’s corporate affiliate, Year13, is holding an all-inclusive Digital Careers Expo to help youth navigate the transition from secondary school. We at TDA are pleased to be a part of this event and in helping youth pursue their passions.

This is especially important this year because those seeking post-secondary pathways straight into work, or even wanting to take a gap year, are unlikely to be able to do so.

In this environment those exiting, or who are recent graduates of, secondary school will find vocational education and skills training at TAFE is a good opportunity to explore their passions and their future.

TDA members TAFE NSW, Charles Darwin University, Wodonga TAFE and William Angliss Institute of TAFE are committed to supporting the Digital Careers Expo.

Supporting this event is a great space to promote the range of opportunities available post-secondary school for our youth.

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ASQA issues guidance for online VET delivery

The Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) has published a new set of compliance guidelines to assist VET providers offering distance learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The “beta” website is designed to help the many providers that have begun implementing distance learning techniques, including online delivery.

“ASQA is supportive of these adaptive techniques and does not intend to pursue regulatory action against providers taking adaptive measures when impacted by COVID-19, providing outcomes maintain the integrity of the VET course,” the guide says.

It says the material has been published earlier than normal as a means of supporting providers, and may change following consultation.

It covers areas including marketing and promotion, student support and progression, training and assessment, and record keeping.

More information

My Skills upgraded for online world 

The federal government’s My Skills website has been upgraded to cater to the growing demand for online training.

The revamped site enables searches for the expanding range of online offerings from training providers and for VET courses.

“As more Australians stay at home, we want them to be able to make the most of this time by upskilling and preparing themselves for future opportunities,” the Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business, Senator Michaelia Cash said.

The increased delivery of online learning would improve flexibility, whilst providing another avenue for Australians to update their skills, or to re-train, Senator Cash said.

See My Skills

Charities funding may help some international students 

The federal government has announced $100 million in funding to some 300 charities and community organisations that can help those impacted by COVID-19.

While the government has so far ruled out specific financial support for international students in Australia, one element of the package will see $7 million for the Red Cross to provide emergency relief and case work support for temporary visa holders.

Other services receiving additional funding include:

  • 200 Emergency Relief Providers providing emergency payments and access to services
  • Food relief delivered by FoodBank Australia, SecondBite and Oz Harvest
  • Additional funding for financial counselling
  • Additional funding to Good Shepherd Microfinance providing a range of microfinance services including the No Interest Loans Scheme.

Senator Rushton also said a new National Coordination Group to help lead the response to emergency relief across Australia.

Diary Dates

Youth Futures Summit (postponed)
20 – 21 April 2020
Melbourne Cricket Ground
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AVETRA Conference (postponed)
20/20 vision for VET: Research at the centre of future policy and practice
23 – 24 April 2020
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2020 VET CEO Conference (postponed)
Velg Training
15 May 2020
QT Gold Coast Hotel, Surfers Paradise, Queensland
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Velg Training & MRWED
22-26 June 2020
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National Manufacturing Summit 2020 (cancelled)
Manufacturing a Sustainable Future
6 & 7 July 2020
Gold Coast, Queensland
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‘No Frills’ 2020, 29th National VET Research Conference (cancelled)
NCVER co-hosted with TAFE WA, North Metropolitan TAFE
8 – 10 July 2020
Perth, Western Australia
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TAFE Directors Australia Convention 2020 (cancelled)
12 – 14 August 2020
Westin Hotel, Perth
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Worldskills Australia (re-scheduled to April-May 2021)
12 – 15 August 2020
Perth Exhibition and Convention Centre
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National Skills Week
24 – 30 August 2020
Various locations
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2020 National VET Conference (postponed)
Velg Training
17 – 18 September 2020
Gold Coast Convention and Exhitbiton Centre, Broadbeach, Queensland
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World Federation of Colleges and Polytechnics (cancelled)
2020 World Congress

14 – 16 October 2020
Donostia – San Sebastian, Spain
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Apprentice Employment Network NSW & ACT
Annual 2020 Skills Conference
5 November 2020
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VDC 2020 Teaching & Learning Conference
19 & 20 November 2020
RACV Torquay Resort, Great Ocean Road, Victoria
Registrations Open

Australian Training Awards
20 November 2020
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Worldskills Australia
28 April – 2 May 2021
Perth Exhibition and Convention Centre
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