Productivity Commission misses an opportunity to shake up VET

Productivity Commission misses an opportunity to shake up VET

The Productivity Commission review of the National Agreement for Skills Workforce and Development, at 532 pages, is a substantial piece of work. However, the review has caused barely a ripple.

The review did not find evidence of a VET system in crisis and a number of its recommendations fundamentally endorse the status quo while tinkering around the edges.

This is hugely disappointing because the VET sector is in desperate need of a shake-up. Unfortunately, VET is increasingly being seen as the provider of second chance education and lower-level qualifications for lower status occupations. Higher education sector is creaming off the higher-level qualifications. This situation threatens the very existence of VET in the long-term existence.

There are five issues threatening the sector.

A triumph of training over education. Where is the education in VET? Training packages are constructed as a prescribed set of tasks to enable an individual to be ‘work ready’. There is no recognition that the training should provide a foundation, to be supplemented by further training by the employer and experience. Broader based education and training should provide foundation skills for future challenges as well as the ability to undertake specific current tasks. There is already a poor match between the VET qualifications undertaken and the occupations that VET graduates work in.

The marginalisation of educators. The creation of training packages has removed the need for VET teaching as a profession. All that is needed to deliver VET training is a certificate IV in training and assessment. At the same time as we are trying to improve the professionalism of childcare and community care we have de-professionalised the delivery of VET.

The unevenness of qualifications. A Certificate III electrical qualification requires a four-year apprenticeship while a Cert III in security can be undertaken over a few weekends. There is understandable confusion about the value of VET qualifications.

Assessment. Trainers can tick off that their students are competent. There would be much greater confidence in the VET sector if independent assessors had to certify students as meeting the requirements of a qualification. Independent assessment might be expensive but the ramifications of shoddy training are likely to be even more costly.

The institutional structure of VET. The VET sector has many thousands of small providers. The relatively large providers are the public TAFEs which have limited autonomy because of the emphasis on training packages and their relationship with their State government departments – unlike public universities which are independent of government and are responsible for their offerings. The VET sector would be appreciably strengthened if we allowed large providers (mostly TAFEs) much greater independence.

The benefits of large, strong institutions are many. First, regulation can be devolved to the institution. Second, bland and homogenised providers do nothing for student choice or innovation. Third, large and strong institutions could bridge the divide between school, VET and higher education. TAFEs could go upmarket and become vocational universities (polytechnics) and defend VET as an integral component of post-school education. This strategy would promote vertical integration in areas such as health/community care, building and engineering.

A final issue is the structure of apprenticeships. In theory, the apprenticeship system has a lot going for it, with the combination of an income, on the job experience/training and off the job training.

In practice there are drawbacks, with unevenness in the quality of on-the-job training, and no guarantee that sufficient numbers of skilled tradespeople would be produced. Supplementing the current model would be an excellent addition. The clinical placement model used in nursing for both enrolled (VET trained) and registered nurses (University trained) is one model of on the job and off the job training that does not require direct employment. Another possibility is a fully institutional model incorporating sophisticated and substantial simulated workplace experience. This would work well in some areas such as hospitality or health/beauty (where the institution can have working clinics).

The Productivity Commission has largely wasted an opportunity to shake up VET, although it did touch on independent assessment and making apprenticeship pathways more flexible.

Recommendations that would have been game changers for the VET sector include:

  • Putting education back into VET
  • Advocating the professionalisation of VET teaching
  • Addressing the incoherence and unevenness of qualifications
  • Introducing independent assessment
  • Strengthening the TAFEs (and some large private providers) to allow them to become vocational universities
  • Creating alternative models to supplement apprenticeships.

A more extensive version of Tom Karmel’s reflections on the Productivity Commission’s report can be found here.

Employer wage subsidy pushes apprentice numbers to the highest level in seven years 

The number of apprentices and trainees engaged under the federal government’s Boosting Apprentice Commencements (BAC) program has continued to grow strongly, with the total number reaching almost 154,000.

Senate Estimates heard last week that enrolments under the BAC program since it commenced last October have reached 153,770 as at the end of May, according to the Department of Education, Skills and Employment.

The $2.7 billion program provides a 50% wage subsidy to employers of new apprentices and trainees up to $7,000 per quarter.

The first instalment of the program announced last October aimed to attract 100,000 apprentices over 12 months but was filled in just five months. The government then uncapped the program, extended it to its original end date of September this year, and also increased the period for receipt of the subsidy for a full 12 months for all enrolments.

The recent Budget further extended the duration of BAC to the end of March next year. It is now estimated to attract a total of 270,000 apprentices and trainees over the duration of the program.

DESE officials said the influx of apprentices and trainees under BAC has seen the “in-training” number reach 332,300, the highest in seven years.

TAFE NSW students hit the mark at Fashion Week

Students from TAFE NSW Fashion Design Studio wowed guests at last week’s Australian Fashion Week in Sydney, with a display of some of the most imaginative collections from emerging designers.

The FDS ‘Innovators’ show represents a new guard of designers who exhibit their creations at Australia’s most prestigious fashion show.

The show not only amazed guests but featured on the New York Daily News website.

FDS has earned an international reputation as one of the top fashion design schools worldwide, with alumni that includes Akira Isogawa, Alex Perry, Nicky Zimmermann and Dion Lee.

The NSW Minister for Skills and Tertiary Education Dr Geoff Lee spoke with some of the TAFE NSW students before the show.

Visit TAFE NSW Fashion Design Studio

University review asked to build closer ties with VET

The federal government has commissioned a review into ways of building closer ties between universities and industry, including improved links with the VET sector.

The Minister for Education and Youth Alan Tudge said Australia was missing out on the full benefits of university-industry collaboration, including having better skilled graduates, more innovation and greater research commercialisation.

The Minister for Employment, Workforce, Skills, Small and Family Business Stuart Robert said the review will also look at the interaction between the VET and higher education sectors.

“When it comes to reskilling or upskilling to get into a job, people should have as many options available to them as possible,” he said.

“There could be options to allow people to combine VET and university study to get a qualification and flexibility to fit training in around existing work.”

The review will be conducted by Professor Martin Bean, the outgoing Vice-Chancellor of RMIT University, and Professor Peter Dawkins, former Vice-Chancellor and President of Victoria University and will be delivered by the end of August.

Missing in action: the review into the Australian Qualifications Framework

What has become of the Review of the Australian Qualifications Framework that was delivered in October 2019 and was designed to address the fundamental architecture of qualifications?

In an opinion piece in The Australian’s Higher Education, CEO Craig Robertson laments the slow progress in bringing the review’s recommendations to fruition.

“The only outcome has been the experiment in higher education certificates, and that is a break away from the design put forward by the expert panel,” he writes.

“Fair enough, ministers have been preoccupied with the Covid-19 pandemic, but they have had time to dabble with various forms of education reform.”

A recent report from the Digital Transformation Expert Panel in VET, The Learning Country – Digital Skills Transformation Strategy, cites research showing that by 2034 automation will displace 2.7 million Australian workers from jobs, 56 per cent of whom are male, and it will augment the work capacity of 4.5 million Australian workers.

This report and many others tell us that the future of work will be human, driven by capabilities to engage with technology and with each other. Among the education sectors this matters most in VET.

“The transformation needed in vocational education and learning is profound because many of the jobs facing change are supported by the VET sector.”

Failing to take on new qualification design principles for a new world of work is like “sending someone into battle with a slingshot”.

The proposed AQF is built on the integrity and coherence of learning outcomes – very sensible at face value as it provides the ladder for progression.

Read ‘Progress on the qualifications framework is long overdue: TAFE’ in The Australian.

Kangan Institute partners with BMW and NextGen

A partnership with BMW and NextGen Jobs will see Kangan Institute students step into the workforce with the unique experience of honing their trade on some of the best vehicles in the market.

The opportunity to work on BMW vehicles comes through the development of a new course offering at Kangan Institute’s Automotive Centre of Excellence in Docklands.

The Certificate III in Light Vehicle Mechanical Technology is a bespoke qualification that benefits the network of BMW dealers across Australia seeking to employ appropriately trained staff.

A key element of the program lies in the standardisation of the training that will see consistent, quality learning for all BMW apprentices across Australian dealerships.

Apprentices will have hands-on experience with the latest technologies from BMW, including electric vehicles.

NSW productivity Commission calls for sweeping change to state's VET system

The NSW Productivity Commission has delivered a harsh assessment of the state’s VET sector in its latest report, declaring that the system is “unresponsive to industry and unattractive to students”.

The Productivity Commission white paper, ‘Rebooting the economy’, says that despite many reviews of VET in the past decade, “few reforms have modernised learning modes, career pathways, or VET’s relationship with industry” and that bias against VET is still strong, with universities seen as the default pathway for school leavers.

“Chronic skills shortages in trades are the result of unsuitable and limited training pathways beyond apprenticeships,” the report says.

“Poorly targeted subsidies have encouraged many students to enrol in courses of low value to employers and students. The mismatch between skills delivered by VET and industry needs has further contributed to poor employment outcomes.”

The report recommends:

  • New pathways to trades qualifications outside the traditional apprenticeship model.
  • Better targeting of VET subsidies to address identified skills shortages.
  • Extending Smart and Skilled program subsidies to target short courses and micro-credentials with a priority to skills that employers recognise and value.

Non-accredited short courses now the 'largest' segment of Australia's VET sector, NCVER finds 

An explosion in enrolments in non-accredited short courses across a relatively small range of subjects and providers has been identified as the largest segment of Australia’s VET sector by a new report from the NCVER.

The report, ‘An analysis of ‘micro-credentials’ in VET’, identifies about 2.6 million students enrolled in a “surprising amount” of short, non-qualification training in micro-credentials, or skill sets, based on 2019 data.

These enrolments are separate to training package skill sets and accredited courses, and are not part of a nationally recognised course, yet they now comprise 62.7% of Australia’s 4.2 million VET students – the largest segment of the VET market as measured by “student engagement”.

The enrolments are mainly concerned with regulation and skills maintenance, and cover such areas as ‘White Card’ training in construction, responsible service of alcohol, CPR, first aid, and working safely at heights.

The NCVER report says that employers paid for the training for more than half of the students. It says this is consistent with information showing that a high proportion of the students (86.2%) were employed before training and that the reason for study for 50.2% was that it was a requirement of their employment.

“The fact that the employer or the individual is prepared to pay for the training in many cases is due to a regulatory requirement, but also implies that the training is seen as having value as a (micro) credential in the marketplace,” the report says.

The overwhelming majority of the study (75%) is undertaken at private colleges, with a relatively small proportion of all training providers accounting for 80% of students. Approximately 93% is fee-for-service.


Source: NCVER

Diary Dates

The Learning Country: Digital Transformation
Live interactive online
9 June 2021
11.00am-12.00pm AEST
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Apprentice Employment Network, NSW & ACT
Skills Conference
16 June 2021
Dockside Darling  Harbour, Sydney

Lessons from the pandemic: Re-engagement
WFCP- Postsecondary International Network Webinar
24 June 2021
6:00 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada)
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VET in Schools Forum
25 June 2021
Southern Cross Catholic Vocational College, Burwood, NSW
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30th National VET Research Conference ‘No Frills’
Past informing the future
National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER)
7 – 9 July 2021 (Online)
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Journal of Vocational Education and Training
Vocational and Technical Education Keynotes Conference
9 July 2021 (online)
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TVET World eConference
International Vocational and Training Association
28 – 30 July 2021
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QLD Schools VET Conference
Velg Training
6 August 2021
Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre
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National Conference
17 – 19 August 2021
Grand Chancellor Hobart, Tasmania
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National Skills Week
23 – 29 August 2021
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WorldSkills National Championships & Skills Show
25 – 29 August 2021
Perth Exhibition and Convention Centre
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2021 National VET Conference
Velg Training
9 – 19 September 2021
Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre
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Victorian TAFE Association
2021 State Conference
16 – 17 September 2021
William Angliss Institute. 555 La Trobe St Melbourne
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Australian International Education Conference 2021
5 – 8 October 2021
Gold Coast & Online
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Australian Training Awards
18 November 2021
Perth, Western Australia
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2021 VDC Virtual Teaching & Learning Conference
VET Development Centre
18 – 19 November 2021 (Online)
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