Keeping the partnership together – comment by CEO Craig Robertson

Keeping the partnership together – comment by CEO Craig Robertson

The longstanding debate in my household has been the resources my wife and I brought to our marriage and how we each contribute to family life. OK, confession time. I entered the marriage with debt and my wife didn’t, and I’d been working for some time! How we shared the responsibilities for getting the kids to school still causes some mirth. Imagine the tears from my then seven year-old daughter relying on me to fix her precious long hair for school when a pony-tail was the limit of my dexterity.

Should we have gone with a pre-nup? Nup. But we did talk about who does what and how our efforts contributed to the longer term for our family unit. Standard really, although I reckon toilet seat up or down must be compulsory premarital discourse.

This brings to mind the state of the union in Vocational Education and Training in Australia.  As we lead up to skills ministers meeting at the end of November I thought I’d outline the history of Commonwealth and state and territory collaboration.

The nature of collaboration between the levels of government has been vexed when it comes to VET. Whitlam first contributed to TAFE buildings and then toward their operations. It was the first time a federal government recognised that the taxes it raised were the best source for growing vocational education. At this point Whitlam took over full funding responsibilities for universities.
Post the recession of the 1980s John Dawkins as federal training minister reformed teaching and learning to bring the curriculum closer to the needs of industry. The National Training Board was formed and the competency approach to defining the division and approach to learning was imported from England.

Post the 1990s recession “we had to have”, Keating’s Working Nation gave birth to the Australian National Training Authority (ANTA) and the National Training Board quietly retired. Collaboration between levels of government seemed to have a permanent solution and industry was brought formally into the mix. There was great progress on many aspects of VET and increased policy focus.

Enter the Howard era and collaboration turned to co-option. The series of ANTA agreements which transferred federal funds to the states and territories were more like purchasing contracts. The Commonwealth insisted on certain numbers of hours of delivery for its funding and set the priority areas for spending. Creative accounting by David Kemp as Howard’s skills minister resulted in the “Growth through efficiency” agreement. You guessed it – achieve more with less. This was followed in the next agreement with the push for “Work Choices” reforms in government owned entities. The ANTA ideal soured in 2005 and Howard abolished it thinking the federal bureaucracy had a better chance of success.

Rudd and Gillard returned to collaboration. Governments agreed shared objectives, sweetened by access to the bulk of the $2.5bn Productivity Places Program. In turn, states and territories had autonomy to set their own path to meeting the objectives.

Dazzled by the promise of new public management – governments working in tandem with the private sector – competition
for the training dollar was introduced with a vengeance. It promised quality as providers innovated to attract students. In turn, the overall impact of student choice of courses and providers, premised on access to good information, would optimise the flow into courses that would most meet the demand of industry. Victoria led the way with the Victorian Training Guarantee (VTG) followed by Skills for All in South Australia before a new national agreement was crafted. It called on states and territories to offer choice of course and provider up to a Certificate III for any of its citizens not holding that level of qualification. In return, the Commonwealth, which by that time had extinguished the bulk of its $2.5bn PPP, opened-up VET FEE-HELP so cash-strapped states and territories could impose fees for diplomas and advanced diploma courses offset by a student loan.

The rest is history and we are still recovering!

VTG and Skills for All and VET FEE-HELP were built on good policy grounds, except national regulation formed around provider standards was no bulwark against a class of provider intent on profit over student welfare. The competency definition of training output which celebrates education short-cuts was cream on the cake too easy for these providers to resist.

Calling on growth through efficiency the Turnbull and Morrison governments withdrew funding while still spruiking the federal contribution. It gathered the fees employers paid to bring in migrant workers to establish the Skilling Australians Fund as a replacement for the Skills Reform national partnership ending in mid-2017. The plan was to boost apprenticeship and traineeship numbers, again on condition with states and territories. The purchasing mentality returned. At the same time VET FEE-HELP was scrapped in favour of VET Student Loans, cutting the flow of about $1.5bn per annum in legitimate loans to something like $300m for VET Student Loans. States and territories, let alone decent providers, were left high and dry!

We are now faced with the 2019 federal Budget package – Delivering skills for today and tomorrow.  Funding that was earmarked for Victoria and Queensland was withheld to fund Commonwealth soft infrastructure in the form of Skills Organisations, the Skills Commissioner and Careers Institute.

Now it seems the Commonwealth has a wandering eye. In setting-up their own skills organisations they seem to prefer industry over states and territories.

Would any partnership weather such turmoil, even betrayal? Yet states and territories are being asked to go around one more time.

The Productivity Commission will assess the partnership by reviewing the national agreement for VET. The cost to the nation they’ve revealed this past week for inaction on mental well-being may be a useful template for identifying the costs to Australia from inaction on funding for vocational education.

As skills ministers approach their meeting in a few weeks time I hope they will survey the full history of the Commonwealth State partnership for VET. A trustworthy partnership with fair sharing of roles and decent financial contributions seems to be a pretty good blueprint for many aspects of life, even for vocational education and training. The question is whether the partnership is worth it?

Victoria launches year-long review of state's VET system

TDA has commended the Victorian government’s decision to hold a wide-ranging review of the state’s VET system.

CEO Craig Robertson said the pace of technological change and disruption stemming from artificial intelligence and digitisation warrants a fundamental look at how we prepare people for future jobs and careers.

The Minister for Training and Skills and Higher Education Gayle Tierney announced that former federal Minister Jenny Macklin will lead the 12-month review of the VET system.

Ms Tierney said the Macklin review would bring together experts from across the country to ensure Victoria has a quality system fit for the future.

“The Macklin Review will contribute to the reforms already underway through the COAG Skills Council,” she said.

See TDA’s media release

See the Victorian government media release

See the review terms of reference

TAFE and uni students receive $15k regional scholarships

Almost 1200 students have been offered scholarships worth $19.5 million to study at a regional university or VET provider next year, under the Destination Australia program.

The $93.7 program provides scholarships worth $15,000 a year.

A total of 35 tertiary education providers across 84 locations have been successful in the 2020 round. Details of the successful providers can be found here.

TAFEs received 15% of the available places, private providers received 11%, with the remainder going to universities. Given that TAFEs in some states did not apply, the TAFE share is a good outcome, and TDA encourages TAFEs to consider applying in future years.

The Minister for Education Dan Tehan said regional Australia has a lot to offer as a study destination, including smaller class sizes, a cheaper cost of living as well as the people and the lifestyle.

“Of the 690,000 international students in Australia, just three per cent were enrolled in regional Australia last year and our government’s $93.7 million Destination Australia program will help to change that,” he said.

More information about Destination Australia is available here.

See Minister Tehan’s media release

Opposition leader unveils Labor's plan for national skills agency

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese has outlined plans for a new national skills agency that would undertake skills forecasts and develop workforce plans for regions and key target groups.

In an address in Perth last week, Jobs and the Future of Work, he laid out Labor’s response to concerns about increasingly insecure work, wage stagnation and declining living standards.

Most media reporting was on the issue of energy policy but it also encompassed Labor’s vison for VET, based around high technology manufacturing including the creation of the new body, Jobs and Skills Australia.

Likening it to Singapore’s Skills Future, the new agency would undertake workforce and skills analysis, prepare capacity studies for emerging and growing industries, undertake plans for targeted groups such as the regions, older workers and youth, and review the VET system.

“It will ensure that the Commonwealth works genuinely with the states and territories to ensure that our VET system delivers the trainees and apprentices that our country needs,” he said.

“The TAFE system is the cornerstone of the Australian training system. It can be complemented, but never replaced.”

He dismissed the government’s proposed National Skills Commission as “a late and inadequate response from a tired government”.

Minerals Council skills pilot to create new training curriculum

The Minerals Council of Australia will be funded to establish a national curriculum for the mining industry, under a new Skills Organisations pilot program announced by Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

It is the third Skills Organisation pilot program undertaken by the government, following programs for human services care and digital technologies, announced earlier this year.

The pilot programs give the target industries the opportunity to shape the national training system to be more responsive to industry and employer needs.

The Minister for Resources Matt Canavan said more than a million Australians were employed in the resources sector and it was vital to have a well-trained mining workforce to take full advantage of booming demand for commodities.

“Creating a nationwide curriculum under this pilot will help enhance, expand and advance the skills of our resources workers, securing the sector’s future for decades to come,” he said.

MCA Chief Executive Officer Tania Constable said the organisation will seek to secure “greater national-level consistency and clarity across the system to realise the significant benefits for the VET sector, industry and learners.”

“The MCA is in the process of securing education partners that will develop new learning pathways to the modern mining sector for delivery in 2020.

“These include curricula pilots, a micro-credentials package and experiential program as well as defining a mining 101 program for apprentices and trainees,” Ms Constable said.

See more

Employers less happy with VET outcomes

Employers’ use of the VET system has declined over the last two years, according to the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER).

Across Australia, 50.9% of employers made use of the nationally accredited VET in 2019, down 3.5 percentage points from 2017.

Use of training by employers was down in general, with 74.1% providing informal training (down 7.3 percentage points from 2017), and use of unaccredited training steady at 48.8%, while the proportion of employers providing no training at all was up by 4.1 percentage points to 12.8%.

Nationally, 34.2% of employers had jobs requiring vocational qualifications in 2019, down 3.0 percentage points since 2017.

Employer satisfaction with vocational qualifications also declined, down 3.3 percentage points over the past two years, with 72.1% satisfied in 2019.

The Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman Kate Carnell said VET providers need to engage more with small business, which believes there is not enough focus on practical skills, and the level of training does not meet their needs.

“It’s important that VET providers understand the need to be flexible in their approach to training workers, even if that means tailoring courses to match the skills needed by small businesses,” she said.

See more

TAFE degrees offer relevance and employment, study finds

Students who undertake their bachelor degree at TAFE, rather than university, have largely made a deliberate decision because of the relevance to their career plans, according to a new study.

The study, Vocational institutions, undergraduate degrees: distinction or inequality, surveyed 463 students to understand the reasons behind choosing to do their degree at TAFE.

According to an article in The Australian, these students are well informed and “not settling for second best”.

A total of 64% said they chose to study for their degree at a TAFE institute because they ­enjoyed their area of study, 59 per cent said their study would enable them “to get a ­rewarding job” and 58 per cent said the course was part of their “longer-term career plans”, the article said.

The study examined nursing, design, early years education, fashion and business degrees at 11 TAFE ­institutes offering higher education. In conducting the survey, researchers interviewed 42 students and 13 graduates.

Chief investigator and Mon­ash Professor of Education Susan Webb said the degrees were “growing in significant niches that build on the heritage of ­established relationships with the industries” and reflected “the vocational education and training provision and experiences of these TAFE institutes”.

Traineeships soon to be free in NSW

The NSW government has made all traineeships fee-free, starting in January.

Traineeships in NSW through ‘Smart and Skilled’ will join apprenticeships in being fee- free, the Minister for Skills and Tertiary Education Geoff Lee and Minister for Education and Early Childhood Learning Sarah Mitchell said.

“Our investment in fee free traineeships, coupled with the $285 million initiative that’s made apprenticeships fee-free, demonstrates that we are serious about getting people into sustainable work and addressing the skills shortage,” Mr Lee said.

“It’s encouraging that the most popular traineeships are in early childhood education with over 10,000 students since 2015 taking up a traineeship,” Ms Mitchell said.

Education and training reviews – are we drowning in them?

With Australia, seemingly awash with education and training reviews at present, TDA CEO Craig Robertson will address the issue of which reviews to focus on and which to avoid at the Community Colleges Australia Annual Conference in Brisbane, 18 – 20 November.

Titled, ‘Navigating the seas of reviews’ it will examine how the sector should approach the many inquiries underway, or soon to begin.

“What reviews are just annoying swells? What are tsunamis that could wash out the sector and what are the rips that risk sweeping the helpless out of sight,” the abstract notes.

See more about the Community Colleges Australia Annual Conference

AVETRA announces key conference speakers

AVETRA (the Australasian Vocational Education and Training Research Association) has announced the keynote speakers for its annual conference in Melbourne, 23 – 24 April next year. They are:

  •  Professor Stephanie Allais, Research Chair of Skills Development, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, and Special Advisor to the Minister of Higher Education and Training. Her topic is: TVET in developing countries: Constraints and possibilities
  • Professor Rod McDonald, Principal, Ithaca Group, and former Special Advisor to the Australian National Training Authority; author of seminal report on VET research: No Small Change. His topic is: Research at the centre of policy and practice – is it too much to expect?
  • Professor Ann-Marie Bathmaker, Professor of Vocational and Higher Education, University of Birmingham. Her topic is: Leadership dilemmas and incompatible goals? Pursuing access, social inclusion, social mobility and employability in public further education

See more or email:

Diary Dates

‘Supporting young people into their futures: research and practice’
14 November 2019
Ballarat, Victoria
More information

Community Colleges Australia 2019 Annual Conference
18 – 20 November 2019
The Stamford Plaza Hotel, Brisbane
More Information

ASEAN Australia Education Dialogue (AAED)
18 – 20 November 2019
Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
More information

Australian Training Awards
21 November 2019
Brisbane, Queensland
More information

Australian Council of Deans of Education Vocational Education Group
5th Annual Conference on VET Teaching and VET Teacher Education
9 – 10 December 2019
Charles Sturt University Wagga Wagga Campus
More information

AVETRA Conference
20/20 vision for VET: Research at the centre of future policy and practice
23 – 24 April 2020
More information

VDC 2020 Teaching & Learning Conference
14 – 15 May 2020
RACV Torquay Resort, Great Ocean Road, Victoria
Registrations opening soon