One national system, so many players – comment by CEO Jenny Dodd

One national system, so many players – comment by CEO Jenny Dodd

The current Universities Accord consultation and submission process highlights an important distinction between VET and higher education. That distinction lies in one word, simplicity.

Changes to higher education are relatively simple because the major players are few. The number of universities is small; there are less than 40 public universities. There are also some independent higher education providers, and most TAFEs are public non-university higher education providers. However, collectively they are not many.

University relationships are also smaller. There are three main players. They are the universities themselves, Commonwealth government (both research and education) and students. This simplicity is a marked contrast to VET where the number of players is enormous.

Firstly, the government relationships are numerous. There is both State/Territory and Commonwealth oversight of VET. While TDA will always advocate for the importance of local solutions for local employers and communities, this sits within the complex interaction between Commonwealth and State/Territory Governments.

Then there are Jobs and Skills Councils (JSCs). Given the nature of the national training system where TAFEs do not have control of their products, this is a complex scenario. Currently, this is even more complex with the various stages of organisation maturity of these JSCs.

The role of the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations (DEWR) has also increased in the suite of players. DEWR is responsible for qualifications that don’t fit into a JSC. DEWR is also driving VET reform which has so many balls in the air that is making future planning complex and somewhat tricky.

Universities also have one major client only – students. For TAFEs we have two clients – students and employers. While that makes TAFE good at designing solutions for employers, it adds to complexity. Work Integrated Learning, an important development in higher education, has been part of the TAFE model for ever and is further extended when the earn-while-you-learn VET models are considered.

Apprentices and trainees are the main part of earn-while-you-learn. Higher education colleagues are usually not aware that other players take a role in these relationships, that being the Australian Apprentice Support Network.

And then, of course, there are all the players involved with enterprise negotiations. Again, a key distinguishing factor between VET and higher education is VET qualifications are part of the Australian industrial relations system.

It is well to remember this complexity when we’re considering VET and higher education integration.

AUKUS: the journey starts on Australia's biggest skills challenge 

TAFEs around the country are set to play a central role as Australia develops the workforce capacity and skills for the $368m AUKUS nuclear-powered submarine program in partnership with the United States and the United Kingdom.

Described as “the biggest industrial undertaking in Australia’s history”, AUKUS will see an estimated 20,000 new jobs, many in the VET sector in areas of advanced manufacturing, engineering and trades, including welding, fitting, boilermaking and electrotechnology.

Skills academy to harness expertise

The centrepiece of the workforce build-up will be a dedicated skills academy in South Australia, with links to TAFE and the VET sector around the country, built on a similar model to that in the US and UK for their nuclear submarine programs.

The government estimates 4000 construction jobs will be required to build the submarine construction facility at the Osborne naval shipyard in South Australia. A further 3000 jobs will be needed for the $8 billion expansion of HMAS Stirling in Western Australia which will be home to the nuclear-powered submarines from the early 2030s.

The Minister for Skills and Training Brendan O’Connor said the task of delivering the skills for the initiative would require a national effort.

“It does centre around South Australia and Western Australia, but the demand is so great, that we’ll have to call upon other parts of the country to supply the skills,” he said.

The skills academy in South Australia will build on the work of Australia’s US and UK partners in delivering the complex skills needed for their own submarine programs.

“There’s no doubt (the skills academies) work because the completion rate of apprenticeships that go through the skills academies in countries like Britain and the United States is very, very high,” Mr O’Connor said.

Workforce challenge to be shared

Australia’s 30-year industry and workforce plan is initially embodied in a Cooperation Agreement signed last week between Defence Minister Richard Marles and the Premier of South Australia Peter Malinauskas at Osborne.

Separately, federal Treasurer Jim Chalmers jointly announced the expansion of HMAS Stirling with Western Australia’s Defence Industry Minister Paul Papalia.

“AUKUS is the biggest industrial undertaking in our history,” Mr Chalmers said.

“It will deliver more investment, more jobs and more opportunities. Places like South Metro TAFE in Rockingham will be central to realising the ambition,” Mr Chalmers said.

Mr Papalia said it was no mistake the announcement was being made at South Metropolitan TAFE, which he described as “the leading tertiary institution in the nation for the defence industry”.

In an op-ed in the West Australian on the weekend, Minister O’Connor acknowledged the obstacles to achieving the necessary workforce capability in the midst of a skills crisis, and foreshadowed the development of a Submarine Workforce and Industry Strategy.

In another response to the AUKUS challenge, the South Australian government announced a partnership with the University of South Australia, the defence industry and Ai Group to fast-track a university degree apprenticeship in the area of software engineering.

Exchange of people and ideas  

Immediately following the AUKUS announcement, South Australian Premier Peter Malinauskas left for a visit to the skills academy at BAE Systems’ shipyard at Barrow-in-Furness in northern England, where Britain’s nuclear submarines are built and maintained.

Before he left, the premier said: “We’ve got a lot of work to do as a country to build up the skill base that is required to build what will be the most complex machines ever built in the history of our nation.”

Mr Malinauskas said the objective was to develop a workforce domestically, but said “it would be foolhardy to not contemplate the way we can share knowledge and share experiences”.

This points to a vital element of the AUKUS workforce and skills challenge – the need for exchange and collaboration between the US, UK and Australia on technical skills, particularly on such a highly sensitive military project.

A Financial Review report, The hunt for submarine skills in Barrow, describes the sheer expanse of the UK skills academy that was set up in 2019 and recruits hundreds of apprentices each year for the submarine program.

The first of the AUKUS submarines will be built at Barrow, with the remainder built at Osborne.

“The experience that we’ve had with naval shipbuilding in South Australia tells us that the first of type always brings substantial risk and difficulties,” Mr Malinauskas said.

“But once those are overcome, we can establish a production line that serves the customer exceptionally well.

“The most recent example of that in South Australia is the air warfare destroy destroyer program, where the third ship that came out of Osborne and was of course, far cheaper and far quicker to produce than the first,” he said.


Signing of the Commonwealth and South Australia Submarine Cooperation Agreement at Osborne.


Treasurer Jim Chalmers speaks with an apprentice at WA’s South Metropolitan TAFE following the AUKUS announcement.


South Australian Premier Peter Malinauskas visits the skills academy at Barrow-in-Furness, England. (Image courtesy Financial Review).

Strategic partnership between TDA and My eQuals

TDA is excited to announce a strategic partnership with My eQuals, managed by HES and powered by the technology of Digitary by Parchment.

In working to ensure a strong collaboration across higher education and VET, TDA believes My eQuals will bring benefits to the TAFE sector, streamline learner mobility across tertiary education providers and strengthen connections between VET and HE networks and systems.

My eQuals is the official tertiary credentials platform across Australia and New Zealand. It enables learners to digitally access all their earned credentials and awards, and sustain control of who they share with for the purposes of employment, further study, professional and registered associations, visa applications and other requests to validate their educational outcomes.

My eQuals originated as a collaboration by the Heads of Student Administration of the 47 Australian and New Zealand public universities.

Over half of TDA members have now joined My eQuals, inclusive of the dual-sector institutions that have been servicing their VET students with My eQuals at the same time they began servicing HE students.

“We’ve always seen the natural evolution of My eQuals in Australia and NZ to extend to the VET sector and are confident the product roadmap will extend benefits around Verifiable Credentials (VCs), student experience and ensure credential integrity for use here in Australia and recognition worldwide,” Daniel Hibbert, Director APAC, Digitary by Parchmen said.

TDA CEO Jenny Dodd said that as Australia explores better VET-higher education collaboration, digitised credentials will be a key enabler.

“TDA is pleased to provide an avenue that will focus on TAFE and how TAFEs want to improve this technology for the benefit of students.”

Productivity Commission urges broader access to VET courses 

The Productivity Commission has recommended a series of reforms designed to expand access to VET and develop what it says would be broader, more adaptive, less occupation‑specific skills.

A key recommendation in the Commission’s 5-year Productivity Inquiry is for the expansion of VET Student Loans (VSL) beyond the current limited number of diploma and advanced diploma level courses.

It says access to VSL should extend to all diploma and advanced diploma courses, except those primarily taken for leisure or with poor employment outcomes.

Following an evaluation, consideration should be given to extending VSL to Certificate III and Certificate IV courses.

The Commission says the 20% student loan fee should be extended, and lowered, across the full tertiary sector.

It urges the development of cross sectoral skills standards that are applicable across industries to reduce duplication in training package development.

It also recommends extra training and development programs for VET trainers and assessors so they can adequately perform independent and proficiency based assessment.

It says all governments should be improving pathways between VET, higher education and industry.

See the Productivity Commission 5-year Productivity Inquiry report

Hear TDA CEO Jenny Dodd’s response to the inquiry on ABC’s PM program on Friday.

TAFETalks: Closing the Digital Skills Gap: Industry insights and strategies for meeting Australia's growing job demand

Join TDA, the Digital Skills Organisation, Amazon Web Services and South Metropolitan TAFE to learn about the tech sector and how you can play a part in solving the Australia’s need for digital upskilling.

Despite the increase of tech jobs, companies are struggling to fill tech roles and Australia’s talent scarcity is among the worst in the world. More than 62% of HR and C-suite leaders admit the talent shortage is causing problems for their organisations.

Patrick Kidd, CEO of the Digital Skills Organisation, Melanie Botha, Head of Training and Certification for Amazon Web Services Australia & New Zealand and Julia Burns Executive Director of South Metropolitan TAFE WA, will highlight Australia’s need for digital skills and cloud training and discuss ways in which TAFE institutes can best prepare learners for the tech jobs of today, and the future.

To register for this event, please click here

Fellowship to honour Peter Noonan

Victoria University and the Mitchell Institute have established a new fellowship in honour of the late Professor Peter Noonan, a policy advisor, researcher and passionate advocate of tertiary education.

VU Vice-Chancellor Professor Adam Shoemaker announced the new fellowship in Professor Noonan’s name at a public symposium in his honour.

“The Fellow will pick up where Peter left off to challenge policy, shake up higher education and vocational education training and further profile the work of the Mitchell Institute,” Professor Shoemaker said.

The public symposium was also an opportunity to honour Professor Noonan’s life, with speakers celebrating his influence.

VU Vice-Chancellor Professor Sally Kift spoke of the need to implement Professor Noonan’s recommendations around the Australian Qualification Review and Senior Secondary Certification Reform.

“The Noonan vision to modernise the Australian Education Qualifications Framework lays out the policy architecture needed for a connected and future-ready education and training system; one that delivers better qualifications for the modern economy,” Professor Kift said.

TAFE Opens Doors: A focused discussion on access and equity

This virtual event will focus on the important themes of access, inclusion and equity in TAFE. It is aimed at educators, policy makers, and other stakeholders interested in improving TAFE education and creating opportunities.

The event will be hosted on Zoom and will take place on 31 May 2023 from 12pm to 5pm AEST. It free for all participants. Sessions have been designed for both educators and staff.

TAFE Opens Doors will feature a rich program with a variety of speakers and presentation types, including the opening keynote panel on TAFEs and First Nations Peoples. This panel will be delivered by Professor Peter Radoll, DVC of Victoria University, and Leanne Bell, Faculty Manager of TAFE Queensland and Reconciliation Action Plan Chair.

Click here for more information or register now to be a part of the discussion

TAFE NSW and UTS establish fashion centre of excellence

TAFE NSW and the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) – have come together to create the Centre of Excellence in Sustainable Fashion & Textiles.

Supported by a grant from the NSW Department of Education, the centre has a mission to grow the capacity of the Australian fashion industry for a sustainable future.

The centre says it will have ethics and integrity at its core while integrating cutting-edge technology alongside sustainability best-practice.

VET Development Centre Industry Boost – TAFE Industry Currency Forums throughout 2023

The VET Development Centre (VDC) has partnered with TDA to deliver a national program of TAFE Industry Currency Forums in 2023.

The Industry Boost program provides a high-profile, best practice initiative to stimulate industry currency for TAFE educators. Mapped to the VET Practitioner Capability Framework and ASQA standards, online forums will be hosted by an experienced AQTF auditor, discussing the industry currency requirements of educators.

For more information about the TAFE Industry Currency Forums please click here.

Registration links for the first three sessions can be found at CHILD CARE, DENTAL ELECTRICAL

Diary Dates

TAFETalks: Closing the Digital Skills Gap: Strategies for Meeting Australia’s Growing Job Demand
29 March 2023
Webinar, 2.00pm AEDT
Register here

VET Development Centre and TAFE Directors Australia
Industry Currency Forums – Online
May to June 2023
More information: Child Care, Electrical, Dental Assistant

AVETRA 2023 Conference
27-28 April 2023
More information

World Federation of Colleges and Polytechnics (WFCP) 2023 World Congress
23-25 April 2023
Montréal, Canada
More information

TAFE Opens Doors: a focused discussion on access and equity
VET Development Centre and TAFE Directors Australia
Industry Currency Forums – Online
31 May 2023 Online 12 – 5pm AEST
Register here

Apprentice Employment Network NSW & ACT
2023 Skills Conference
14 June 2023
Dockside Darling Harbour, Sydney
More information

Journal of Vocational Education and Training (JVET) Conference
13-15 July 2023
Keble College, Oxford, UK
More information

32nd National Vocational Education and Training Research Conference ‘No Frills’
19-21 July 2023
RMIT University, Melbourne
More information

Victorian TAFE Association State Conference
26 – 28 July 2023 – save the date
Mildura, Victoria

National Apprentice Employment Network 2023 National Conference
‘New Skills for a New World’
15-17 August 2023 – save the date
Marvel Stadium, Melbourne

VDC National Teaching & Learning Conference 2023
‘From Competence to Excellence’
17-18 August 2023 – save the date
Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre

WorldSkills Australia National Championships and Skills Show
17-19 August 2023
Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre, Victoria
More information

National Skills Week
‘What are you looking for?’
21-27 August 2023
More information

Australian International Education Conference
10-13 October
More information

VDC World Teachers’ Day Event
27 October 2023 – save the date

2023 National VET Conference
2-3 November 2023
Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre
More Information