New gold in Victoria – comment by CEO Craig Robertson 

New gold in Victoria - comment by CEO Craig Robertson 

In Melbourne, the Old Treasury Building on Spring Street at the top of Collins is emblematic of the Victorian story, and its future.

It was built at the tail end of a decade of growth unknown in the world till then or now. The discovery of gold in regional Victoria grew the population tenfold in the 1850s. Large finds needed new banks and a Treasury to guide them.

Victoria holds records for the largest gold nugget and the richest shallow alluvial goldfield in the world.

Come forward to the modern era and these easy pickings are exhausted. Gold represents just a small portion of Victoria’s industry base.

In other gold fields around Australia, mining is open-pit using large excavation and extraction machinery. Production fluctuates along with world prices.

Less than 100 metres behind the Old Treasury building, a new wealth creation strategy is underway.

The Department of Education and Training is building ‘The Education State’.

It’s more than a tag line on number plates. It’s a plan in action to build the skills, knowledge and creativity of Victorians to put to the wheel of research, design and enterprise to power a new economy.

It’s mining for a different form of gold.

The machinery includes a refreshed (and refreshing) view on the place of TAFEs in this endeavour and a renewed focus on developing the whole student in school. Ten Tech Schools, full of the latest in technology, expose visiting school students to the possibilities open to them in a technology driven economy. Many are on TAFE sites.

Talent and enterprise form the new bullion.

Our task as educators is to unearth that talent. Sometimes that surfaces easily, at other times we need to dig. Let’s be clear, all students have talents. For some we must dig further.

Automation promises to transform industries and the way work is organised to generate value. Many process tasks will be done for us. It’s the deployment of talent in new ways that will work for us. Businesses will be able to use technology more than staff, so we must ensure all can engage in enterprise, directly into the market or to navigate work mediated via an employer where that arrangement exits.

In a world where value will be based more on how we engage, with each other and technology, we must nurture talent in everyone.

This requires new dimensions to our technical education and training – something more than can be expressed in competency.

Gold serves many practical purposes but also creates objects of great beauty. Public interest demands that we bring general and arts education into the mix as it will be the whole person who is better able to engage with others.

We must also impress on our students that they are global citizens, and offer them global exposure in the programs we offer.

The biggest change we, as educators, can bring to the world is to build a new sense of purpose in our students – one of hope of a bright future open to all, not just those lucky enough to have the skills of the moment.

Our task ultimately, despite the advances in technology and the changes it will bring, is to unearth and refine the talents of our students.

Our prime minister has an office a further 100 metres down the road. I hope the spirit of the Education State makes its way down, as our nation needs a new vision for tertiary education and the place of TAFEs.

This is based on a speech (undelivered) prepared for the Congress of the World Federation of Colleges and Polytechnics last week. Leaders of technical education from around the world discussed the theme – Preparing for the Skills Future, Now – searching for responses to the technology revolution expected to upend working life.

International education leaders confront tomorrow's skills challenge at Melbourne World Congress

Leaders, teachers and researchers in applied professional and technical education from around the globe have wrapped up a remarkable week at the World Federation of Colleges and Polytechnics Congress in Melbourne.

The 800-strong audience heard from some of the world’s sharpest minds on the impacts of technology-driven change on skills needs and the future of work.

Dancing with robots

Dr David Finegold, President of Chatham University in the United States (pictured with MC Leigh Sales) said one of the big questions was whether education is adequately preparing people for the next big phase of industrialisation, centred on artificial intelligence and robotics.

“It does mean that a lot of routine tasks will be automated away so that people will be able to concentrate on higher value tasks,” he said.

He predicts that advances in artificial intelligence won’t necessarily result in mass unemployment, but will have major implications for education, occupational structure and the distribution of wealth.

Charles Fadel, the founder and chairman of the Center for Curriculum Redesign said that while artificial intelligence would have a transformational role for the economy and society, it has severe limitations, including its inability to create, conceptualise, interact, and perform tasks needing complex motor skills.

“It is going to present enormous change and opportunity, but we are still in control,” he said.

The workforce of the future would need skills that produced versatile individuals with traits such as mindfulness, courage, curiosity and resilience. In an already crowded curriculum, a key question would be ‘What do we remove?’

And, yet, the universal race to upskilling is not without risk. Professor Dirk Van Damme, head of the Innovation and Measuring Progress Division at the OECD warned of “overheating”, fuelled by a worldwide explosion in qualifications, resulting in many people overqualified for the jobs they perform.

“We are qualifying more people, but there are also more doubts about the quality and relevance of the skills we deliver,” he said.

As a result of this disparity, and employers not being able to acquire the skilled people they need, the process of assessment is shifting rapidly away from educational institutions to employers, he said.

“That is absolutely dangerous for higher education, post secondary education institutions, because assessment and credentials used to be their main monopoly, and now that monopoly is gone.”

How education institutions are responding

Professor Qiuming Chen of Shenzen Polytechnic in China outlined how the institute was facing the technology challenge through close partnerships with industry, establishing specialist centres and agreed curriculum standards, and even swapping teachers and engineers and jointly building laboratories.

Dr Lee Lambert from Pima Community College in USA explained his organisation’s transition to a more dynamic model, after the state government withdrew its one-third funding.

Its move into industry partnerships saw the creation of centres of excellence and a leap into the future with employers focussed on applied R&D, ICT and healthcare – sectors all being transformed by technology.

“We have no reason to fear the robots as long as we work with the robots,” he said.

David Hughes from the Association of Colleges in the UK lifted the veil on a “confused and challenging” situation faced by his member institutions operating in a quasi-free market, with multiple stakeholders, while striving to meet the needs of students.

He described an environment of constant change to government policy, programs and regulation, dissatisfaction with outcomes, and a lack of understanding about the purpose of colleges and their potential.

Upending traditional thinking about skills and work

Dr Stephen Murgatroyd, a Canadian education policy expert, writer and entrepreneur said employers were increasingly looking for evidence of what people can actually do, rather than the qualifications they possess.

“Employers are not interested in diplomas and degrees, they are actually interested in what people do,” he said.

“The irony is that one of the groups that is doing really well is people with advanced trade skills.”

The shape of the emerging skills frontier was sketched by Dr Sean Gallagher from the Centre for the New Workforce at Swinburne University who warned that we are no longer “co-evolving with technology” but facing “exponential technologies”.

“I believe there is going to be work for everyone through learning, but a new kind of learning,” he said.

This would entail developing the “human competitive advantage” where we create safe spaces to explore the edge of technology, celebrate curiosity and imagination, and support risk taking without consequences.

Jan Owen from the Foundation for Young Australians reflected on the changing relationship between young learners, employers and training institutions.

“We know that interpersonal skills are going to be almost 100 per cent more required in people’s day-to-day jobs than they are today. And more people will be involved in self-directed learning.”

The idea of “separate, siloed training institutions” was anathema to a new era of dynamic, integrated learning required in the future, she said.

Is Australia getting it right?

Professor Stephen Parker, Education Sector Leader with KPMG described the looming industrial transformation as more of a “collision” than a revolution, and observed that in many parts of the world it has been accompanied by a rise in the position of universities and a decline in vocational institutions.

“It’s taken a country like Australia to the brink of a national crisis,” he said.

“We have chronic skills shortages in trades and technical areas, a vocational system at its lowest ebb since our tertiary sector took its current shape, and we have rising social resistance to skilled migration.”

He said that of the 24 skills shortage areas currently on the official list, only three were associated with university-level education, while 21 were in trades and technical areas.

He lamented that Australia has lost the ethos of “trained minds and skilled hands” that was central to the original vision of vocational education some 20 years ago.

Professor John Pollaers from the Australian Industry and Skills Committee came with his experience chairing the recently completed aged care workforce review, and what he says has been “the failure of industry and the community working together to address future skills”.

“What we found is that industry needs to lift their ownership of the training system to another level,” he said.

“We identified that the needs of the consumer and the market around the aged care community have grown much faster than the industry has been able to adapt.”

International lessons

Professor Stephanie Matseleng Allais from the Centre for Researching Education and Labour in South Africa challenged common developed world notions about the capacity of vocational learning to elevate developing societies at a pace or in a context suited to their needs.

Typically the TVET system in African countries has played a marginal role to university and general education, and often for remedial purposes.

“Our college enrolments are a fraction of our university enrolments,” she said.

There is a huge dichotomy between the small percentage of the population in skilled occupations, earning high wages, and the large number in uncertain, low-paying jobs, subsistence agriculture, survivalist enterprises or on miniscule welfare payments.

“It’s really hard to build technical and vocational education when you have that kind of labour market.

“It’s not that there is no demand for skilled workers – African countries import skilled workers – but that the structure of the labour market reinforces a vicious cycle of marginalisation of vocational education,” Professor Allais said.

Dr Shyamal Majumdar from the UNESCO UNEVOC International Centre emphasised the need for VET systems to reinforce the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals on education  – equitable, inclusive, quality education and lifelong learning.

While much of the discussion around VET focussed through an economic lens – jobs, skills employment and productivity – there was also a need to look through an equity lens, he said.

VET systems must keep pace with industrial innovation but also with social transformation and emphasise the importance of lifelong learning in a climate where people will return to the education system on multiple occasions during a lifetime.

What is the role of government?

The Minister for Small and Family Business, Skills and Vocational Education, Senator Michaelia Cash said the Australian VET system had served individuals, industry and the economy well for many decades.

Speaking via video, Senator Cash said the government was intent on promoting VET and removing barriers to industry needs following the introduction of a new student loan scheme to replace the failed VET FEE-HELP.

“Our reforms are paying off, with completion rates by students significantly higher,” Senator cash said.

“This is a good indicator that confidence is returning to Australia’s world class VET sector, and my commitment is to ensure that this remains the case”.

The Shadow Minister for Skills, TAFE and Apprenticeships, Senator Doug Cameron said questions needed to be asked whether the “tight tailoring of our qualifications to narrow and specific jobs roles” was providing the best training for the future.”

“Education should be transformative – it is my belief that the commodified and marketised version of vocational education and training works against that possibility,” he said.

“A vocational education system predicated on just-in-time training, constant short term skill upgrades, the fantasy of ‘building your own qualification’ – will not serve us well.”

Stay tuned for more

There will be further reflections on the congress over coming weeks.

Also, we will let everyone know shortly about the availability of keynote addresses, videos and photographs.

Bill Shorten opens up on Labor's plan for TAFE

Federal opposition leader Bill Shorten has given an expansive vision for vocational education and the role of TAFE under a future Labor government.

In an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald, he says that if elected, Labor will provide a funding boost for technical education, including “hard money” for TAFE.

In the article, ‘Shorten nails colours to TAFE flag’ the opposition leader says he believes that TAFE is “the education institute of the second chance” because it gives workers the skills they needed to start new careers.

“It’s quick, it’s effective. It can turn around people and it can retrain people,” he said.

In an opinion piece, political editor, David Crowe says “He (Shorten) is serious about spending more than the Coalition on TAFE and forcing employers to hire more apprentices. If Labor wins the election, the sector is in for significant change.”

Dr Craig Fowler joins the board of TAFE SA

The former managing director of the National Centre for Vocational Education and Research (NCVER) Dr Craig Fowler is one of three new appointments to the board of TAFE SA.

The other appointments are Jacqui McGill, former asset president of Olympic Dam for BHP Billiton, and business executive and lawyer Sam Scammell.

The Minister for Education John Gardner said the appointments are in line with the government’s determination that TAFE board members should be selected on merit, with relevant experience in skills, training, governance or industry.

“These appointments deliver on that commitment, as will further appointments to be made later in the year,” he said.

New funding on offer for skills in Tasmania

The Tasmanian government has opened applications for the next round of funding under the Skills Fund, which targets areas of skills demand in priority industries.

The Minister for Building and Construction Guy Barnett said more than $1.6 million would be available under the current round, funding some 950 training places.

The fund is open to endorsed Registered Training Organisations with applications closing October 23.

See more.

Palliative care learning toolkit released for enrolled nurse teaching

A new, free, online palliative care teaching resource has been developed in order to be integrated into Enrolled Nurse courses.

The PCC4U Enrolled Nurse (EN) Toolkit has been developed by the Palliative Care Education and Training Collaborative and funded by the Commonwealth Department of Health.

The toolkit is available to Registered Training Organisation’s to assist in the delivery of the enrolled nurse training package and contains a suite of learning and teaching resources to support inclusion of palliative care.

See a promotional video.

See more about the PCC4U EN toolkit.

Chance for SMEs to benefit from free trade agreements

TDA invites readers to a webinar to explore the exciting opportunities that are offered to Australian small and medium enterprises from the Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with China and Korea.

When:  2.00 – 4.00 pm (AEDT), Tuesday 13 November 2018
Who:   SMEs interested and capable of exporting, TAFE staff with international and/or industry roles
Key Speaker: Bill Cole, Partner, International Trade, BDO Australia

The webinar will cover:

  • the benefits of exporting and importing goods under FTAs
  • FTAs and your industry sector
  • Commercial arrangements
  • Engagement with China and Korea
  • TAFE’s as facilitators

Where:  Online – BlackBoard Collaborate
Register here.

Date set for 2019 TDA convention

An early reminder that the 2019 TDA convention will be held in Brisbane on 4 – 6 September next year.

Put it in your diary!

Diary Dates

China Annual Conference for International Education & Expo (CACIE) 
Beijing, China
18-21 October 2018
More information

New VET Research Perspectives
AVETRA (Australian Vocational Education and Training Research Association)
26 October 2018
Canberra Institute of Technology, Canberra, ACT
More information

Taking the Lead: Building Community
Community Colleges Australia Annual Conference
13-15 November 2018
More information

2018 Australian Training Awards
15 November 2018
International Convention Centre, Darling Harbour, Sydney
Tickets can be purchased here.

Engineering Next-Generation Learning
4 – 7 December 2018
Wollongong, NSW
More information