It may appear strange but it’s time to internationalise VET – comment by CEO Craig Robertson

It may appear strange but it’s time to internationalise VET – comment by CEO Craig Robertson

Internationalism is probably the last thing on our minds as our country winds down for a time to stave off the impacts of COVID-19. In reality we couldn’t have fended off its spread across borders. Global mobility created by our business and trade connections, through sport and within family groups was the vehicle for the pathogen.

Our interconnections around the globe are here to stay. Here are just some examples. The Economist’s World in 2020 tells us that Chinese residents made 10.5 million foreign trips in 2001 which rose by 1,326% to 149.7m in 2018. This is on the back of just 10% of the population owning a passport. With that 10% due to lift to 20% in the 2020s that travel will double. According to Gallup, 750 million people in the world would like to migrate. In the past, two-thirds have settled in the five English speaking democracies (America, Britain, Canada, New Zealand and Australia). Sydney alone has more foreign-born residents than foreign residents in mainland China.

These examples alone demonstrate globalisation will march onward even when the world recovers, whenever that will be. We in VET must ask whether it is internationalist enough for that future.

Often commentary about education exports dwells on international students to Australia. There is no doubt it’s been a boon to education, the economy and our multiculturalism.

The export options are wider, however. In my role I am amazed just how many countries are looking for reform of their TVET system. Motivations vary: pushing their economy up the value-chain; transforming their informal economy to service the first-world tastes of their expanding middle-class; skilling workers as the basis to attract direct foreign investment; alleviating poverty; activating labour which has drifted to the cities from the land; and exporting citizens (temporarily) for wage remittance home.

It’s unlikely to reverse. Brookings reported that in late 2018 for the first time, over 50% of the world’s population was living middle-class or higher standards. The first time since agriculture-based civilization began 10,000 years ago, the majority of humankind is no longer poor or vulnerable to falling into poverty. Education and skills played a major role in this development and will continue to do so.

The ramification of globalisation is deep for the Australian VET system. It is not too hard to imagine an automation world with work commodified and completed virtually from any spot in the world. A tele-doctor service for Australians doesn’t need to be operated within Australia.

Our skills system therefore needs to deliver capabilities and skills with world competition in mind – despite some who would say it’s a waste because Australian industry doesn’t need them.

We are faced with two possibilities. Either, we keep our policy that has VET aligned to (Australian) jobs and accept it’s not much good for export because other countries run different industry and occupation structures and regulation. Or, we face up to the challenge and internationalise our approach. It seems line ball at present. The AQF has been reviewed with internationalisation in mind, but we have a growing number of VET qualifications with mandatory assessments in Australian workplaces which render them undeliverable in the international context!

Facing down internationalisation is part of the reason I signed a Collaboration Agreement with Austrade this past week (pictured here with David Hazelhurst, Deputy CEO of Austrade). It signifies the passion of both our organisations to internationalisation of our tertiary education.

For Austrade’s part, advice about, and delivery of, Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) from Australia is one of the highest priorities identified by the network of offshore Austrade commissioners.

For ours, apart from the opportunities to diversify education exports, both on and offshore, we can bring attention to the need to ensure our approach to skills development translate to any economy. We need to catch and then stay ahead in the skills race to maintain our competitive advantage – for our education export, but more so that our skills-based workforce maintains comparative advantage.

Global competition in conjunction with automation is the furnace our workforce is about to enter. Process and task skills (which characterise our VET) will easily be burnt away. Knowledgeable and globally capable citizenry can be refined from the fire, if we start now.

If not, jingoism in VET is just as dangerous to our country as a careless approach to COVID-19.

Business as usual at TAFE – for now

TAFEs and universities will not be affected by the nationwide ban on “large, static, non-essential gatherings” which takes effect from today to deal with the spread of coronavirus.

The government on Friday “advised” against organised, non-essential gatherings of 500 people or more, but yesterday this was elevated to a ban, to be enforced by state legislation.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison also announced that all international arrivals, including returning Australian citizens, must undergo 14 days self-isolation.

The ban on mass gatherings will not apply to schools, TAFEs, universities, private colleges and businesses, which are considered “essential”. But they will be required to implement social distancing measures, including ceasing handshakes.

TAFEs around the country are operating largely as normal for the time being, and are providing updated advice for students and staff.

Ai Group Head of Workforce Development Megan Lilly said that TAFEs could handle a two week shutdown, but anything longer would need coordination and individual case planning.

“Given TAFEs are much more focused on applied learning, the impact has the potential to be more significant,” she told the Daily Telegraph.

Queensland Teachers’ Union president Kevin Bates told the paper that TAFE’s older teacher workforce needed to be borne in mind in dealing with the spread of coronavirus. The union was working closely with TAFE Queensland to ensure that learning could continue, given that so much is based on simulated workplaces.

A number of planned VET conferences over coming months will be under a cloud.

The organising committee of the World Federation of Colleges and Polytechnics World Congress 2020, set for  October 15-16 in San Sebastian has released information for delegates.

It says that while the event is seven months away, the committee is in constant contact with Basque health authorities regarding the event.

“While different future scenarios are possible, the WFCP 2020 would like to assure all the professionals who are already registered in the world congress that all decisions taken will be focused on protecting their interests as well as guaranteeing their health and safety,” it says.

Further advice regarding the impact of coronavirus on Australian educational institutions will be decided by a new national “war” cabinet comprising the prime minister and state and territory leaders, based on expert medical advice from the Australian Health Protection Principals.

See the latest information from the Department of Education, Skills and Employment on the coronavirus.

Employer wage subsidy to help save 120,000 apprenticeships

Small business employers of apprentices and trainees will be eligible for a 50 per cent wage subsidy as an incentive to retain their skills base in the face of the coronavirus outbreak.

The federal government’s stimulus package announced last week provides $1.3 billion to assist small firms to hold on to some 117,000 apprentices and trainees whose jobs could be under threat.

The subsidy will provide an estimated 70,000 businesses with fewer than 20 employees a maximum of $21,000 for apprentices in-training as at 1 March 2020.

Where a small business is not able to retain an apprentice, the subsidy will be available to a new employer irrespective of size.

Group training peak body, the National Apprentice Employment Network will coordinate the re-employment of displaced apprentices and trainees through its network of host employers.

Employers will be able to apply for the subsidy from April after an eligibility assessment by an Australian Apprenticeship Support Network (AASN) provider.

See the business stimulus fact sheet

Automation set to turbocharge the need for VET skills

A new report showing the impact of automation on jobs was yet another clear sign that Australia’s vocational education system must gear up for change, TAFE Directors Australia (TDA) said last week.

The report – Technology Impacts on the Australian Workforce – released by the Australian Computer Society shows some 2.7 million Australian workers at risk of being displaced by automation technology by 2034 and 4.5 million needing new capabilities to engage with technology.

“These changes are due over the next 15 years and it’s time to prepare,” TDA CEO Craig Robertson said in a media release.

“When Australian industry was opened to global trade, around 400,000 blue collar workers, mostly male, were permanently lost to the workforce. We can’t afford that loss again,” he said.

While the federal government had established a Digital Technology Skills Organisation, it risked being captured by the old way of doing things in VET.

“The focus in VET qualifications on task specification for stable occupations, enforced by rigid compliance is anathema to the future of work that the report envisages.”

On 2GB’s Alan Jones program last Monday (starting at 1:42:00) Craig Robertson spoke of the capacity of the national TAFE network as the natural go-to point for applied education and training.

“With the Australian labour force changing so rapidly, there is a wholesale need to look at our preparedness and capacity to generate the skills that will be vitally needed,” he said.

Scott Cam kicks off national tour with TAFE alumni 

National Careers Ambassador Scott Cam last week kicked off a national tour with a visit to TAFE NSW Ryde campus to highlight the diversity of jobs and careers on offer through VET.

“VET is a truly great way to start your career, change your career, or boost your career. No matter what stage you’re at. I found career success through VET – and I’m not alone,” he told the gathering.

He met with Australian VET alumni members, Mary George and Morgan Clementson, both in successful hospitality careers.

Ms George trained at Le Cordon Bleu Culinary School at TAFE NSW Ryde where she completed a Diploma de Patisserie. She won a gold medal at the 2017 WorldSkills Australia competition and qualified for the WorldSkills International competition in Abu Dhabi.

Ms Clementson completed a Certificate III in Retail Baking (Bread) and a Certificate III in Retail Baking (Cake and Pastry) at TAFE NSW Illawarra and was awarded runner up in the 2013 Australian Training Awards Apprentice of the Year.

Mr Cam is set to embark on a national tour, meeting with students, school leavers and parents at a series of events to promote VET careers.

See more.

National careers ambassador Scott Cam with Mary George and Morgan Clementson at TAFE NSW Ryde campus last week

Macklin review a chance to revitalise Victoria's TAFE 

The current review of Victoria’s TAFE and the training system provides a rare opportunity to re-equip the VET sector for a new era of workers who will need fresh skills for the jobs of the future.

Writing in The Australian, TDA CEO Craig Robertson urged the review, being conducted by former Labor federal minister and deputy leader Jenny Macklin, to examine how best to align the TAFE system with modern industry and student needs.

“For a state ready to push in new directions, vocational education seems out of touch,” he said.

“Most VET qualifications are still designed for jobs in the old economy and are focused on rote tasks. TAFEs are obligated to ­deliver against these requirements even when local employers are telling them it doesn’t fit.

“Something is wrong with the model when literacy and numeracy, for example, are treated as ­optional extras, when many students need these skills to underpin technical know-how,” he said.

He said Victoria’s stand-alone TAFEs are now a unique approach in Australia and that the TAFE network represents an asset that can deliver to all parts of the state.

Free training for NSW bushfire regions

The NSW government has announced free training for people in bushfire-affected areas to assist in the clean-up and recovery.

The Deputy Premier and Minister for Disaster Recovery John Barilaro said the fee-free courses will be delivered by TAFE NSW and other providers and will provide immediate and much needed additional resources.

It will cover training in areas such as tree felling, rural fencing, asbestos awareness and forklift operations.

TAFE NSW Managing Director Steffen Faurby said TAFE NSW is committed to ensuring local communities have access to quality customised training to meet their needs.

“TAFE NSW continually collaborates with local people, businesses and industry to ensure that they can access the courses and funding they need to build strong and vibrant communities,” Mr Faurby said.

More information

New CEO appointed to Victorian TAFE Association

The Victorian TAFE Association has appointed a new Executive Director – Jeremy Irvine, who joins from the Australian Dental Prosthetists Association which he has led as CEO since March 2016.

Jeremy commenced his career at the-then Commonwealth Employment Service and then moved to Canberra where he worked as a policy analyst, public affairs manager and adviser in portfolios including employment services.

He also led the independent schools’ association of the ACT, and then the International Specialised Skills Institute, which provides scholarships to VET teachers to enhance and share skills.

Jeremy replaces Andrew Williamson who left last October to become Executive Director – International Education and Business Development at Holmesglen Institute.

TDA extends its congratulations to Jeremy on his appointment and extends its appreciation to Nita Schultz who has been running the association over recent months.

Apprentice system 'not broken, but wages 'too low'

The low wages of apprentices has emerged as a dominant issue in a new report by NCVER examining the real life experience of traditional trade apprentices.

The report found strong support among employers, training providers, apprentices and regulators for maintaining the current elements of apprenticeship training for the traditional trades.

The challenge of keeping up with technology was one of the key issues raised by stakeholders, with suggestions for raising the standards of training providers’ facilities and equipment, and modernising the content of units of competency.

The report said “all parties interviewed considered the wages for apprentices to be too low”.

“However, employers were in a catch-22 situation because, although increasing the wages of apprentices was perceived to be a way to boost retention, doing so may make apprentices less attractive or too costly for employers to hire,” the report said.

Some employers suggested removing the VET student loan scheme, “as they perceived that apprentices had no real comprehension of the difficulties of starting work with a debt that will need to be paid back.”

See Traditional trade apprenticeships: learnings from the field

The report is the second of a three-part series that is examining the wider issue of trade apprenticeships. The first part is Traditional trade apprenticeships: training activity, employer incentives and international practice

Year13 Youth Engagement Summit
19 March 2020
The Venue, Alexandria, Sydney
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Youth Futures Summit
20 – 21 April 2020
Melbourne Cricket Ground
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AVETRA Conference
20/20 vision for VET: Research at the centre of future policy and practice
23 – 24 April 2020
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VDC 2020 Teaching & Learning Conference
14 – 15 May 2020
RACV Torquay Resort, Great Ocean Road, Victoria
Registrations open

2020 VET CEO Conference
Velg Training
15 May 2020
QT Gold Coast Hotel, Surfers Paradise, Queensland
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Apprentice Employment Network NSW & ACT
Annual 2020 Skills Conference
11 June 2020
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National Manufacturing Summit 2020
Manufacturing a Sustainable Future
6 & 7 July 2020
Gold Coast, Queensland
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‘No Frills’ 2020, 29th National VET Research Conference
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
12 – 14 August 2020
Westin Hotel, Perth
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Worldskills Australia
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
Velg Training
17 – 18 September 2020
Gold Coast Convention and Exhitbiton Centre, Broadbeach, Queensland
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World Federation of Colleges and Polytechnics
2020 World Congress

14 – 16 October 2020
Donostia – San Sebastian, Spain
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Australian Training Awards
20 November 2020
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