Reversing the race to the bottom – comment by CEO Craig Robertson

Reversing the race to the bottom – comment by CEO Craig Robertson

Reservations held about the Tokyo Olympics are fading in the glory of Australian gold, silver, bronze and personal bests.

The games remind us that competition is good. It goads one on. It focuses preparation. It triggers innovation and pushes frontiers. It gives a view of possibilities.

Concern for equality and equity doesn’t neuter competition. Competition is part of life. The key is competition with ourselves, improving in our endeavours.

It reminds me of my own personal glory days in the pool! At my peak I tried my fastest 50 metres only to discover that it was five seconds behind the average for 50 metres Kieran Perkins swam in the 1500! Achievement is relative and personal.

For the last 30 years the VET sector in Australia has harnessed competition to the cause of quality, only for every policy promise and announcement since to have correcting quality as top of the list.

Competition in VET is always among providers on the assumption it will lead to innovation in teaching and learning. For a conscientious provider seeking to abide by the RTO standards, innovation is expunged in the cause of compliance.

The standards do not mention any form of innovation, nor what is regarded as quality delivery. Seven of the eight standards as shown in the table are directed to complying with training packages or protecting the student so the needs of the training package can be met.


When it comes to training packages, any one unit can have up to 100 functional requirements with no room to deviate lest it triggers non-compliance. See the box for the calculation.


In the face of limited and decreasing funding the only room for innovation is to cut delivery corners. There are numerous examples in VET FEE HELP and state funding arrangements (even recently) where the only innovation was cutting delivery and services to students, even with accreditation and regulation rules abounding!

It was a race alright. But a race to the bottom.

In contrast, look at higher education standards. They are focused on the quality of the learning. Universities are self-accrediting and other higher education providers need to justify their courses on intrinsic grounds – on the utility and nature of the knowledge and the place of scholarship in the learning.

If there is a way for competition to drive up quality it’s more likely with the products. It may seem strange given VET’s penchant for national qualifications. At the very least, Australia’s competition policy says natural monopolies such as training package processes should be tested.

There are other first up steps available. The first is to offer incentive for providers to move towards greater educational autonomy in meeting training package requirements. Higher education provider categories work in this way and is transferable to VET. The second is to offer more areas for training and learning innovation which means the draconian accredited courses policy needs substantial opening-up, including for micro-credentials. Diploma and Advanced Diploma levels is the best place to start, as national competencies at this level don’t make sense for the level graduates work at and the diversity of roles they undertake. Thirdly, states and territories can get the ball rolling with their own qualifications, as they are likely to need bespoke solutions as each rebuilds their economies from COVID disruptions. The same point was made by Terry Moran.

“TPs are expensive to maintain. They are out-of-date, riddled with quality issues, backward-looking, subject to a cumbersome process for renewal and approval, and too complex. They do a poor job of matching the skills in TPs to those required in today’s workplaces. The style of assessment and its dominant role in regulation has squeezed out learning and skill acquisition from vocational education and training. Training Packages do not enable the type of innovation needed to address the emerging and future needs of employers and industry.” TAFE SA Strategic Capability Review, 2018.

This is more likely to arrest the race to the bottom. Those providers focused on the needs of students and serving ethical industry growth will find ways to collaborate. Commitment to mission and armed with their learning IP will have providers sharing because the product and pedagogy will prove its worth. They will also be well placed to meet the needs of employers.

Over time, providers will find their place, rather than descending to new trickery to snaffle students. For those interested the model is called system stewardship, where there is respect for roles and sharing between governments, their agencies and the non-government and private sector.

One time I swam at a Canberra pool with the world 50 metre sprint champion, Alexander Popov. Subtly, as best one could in tiger print swimmers, I slipped into the next lane to test my speed (apologies if I have put you off your breakfast). Needless to say, even with his one arm catch-up he glided by.

In a new start for VET, a provider may start in the slow lane but can work their way up to higher things. Collaboration and sharing is the path to reach standards akin to Perkins and Popov not a race to the bottom.

Business response to COVID provides a wake-up call for VET sector

Australia has been given a wake-up call about the place of the vocational education and training system in meeting the critical needs of industry and the workforce in dealing with the COVID crisis.

A report by the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER), ‘The impact of COVID-19 on industry innovation, skills and need for training’ reveals that businesses do not appear to have relied on the vocational training system to help steer them through the worst of the pandemic.

The NCVER research was aimed at identifying how businesses innovated in their practices or markets to remain financially viable during the pandemic and whether the VET sector assisted them to equip their staff for these changes.

The report says that businesses generally “adapted” to changing conditions during the pandemic, rather than “innovated”, and that only a limited amount of training was required, with most staff able to transfer their existing skills to any new tasks.

“Where training was undertaken, it was mostly unaccredited and done informally on-the-job or via free online training,” the NCVER report said.

Where accredited training was used, such as in the aged care sector, it tended to be conducted online.

Of the 17 business innovations identified in the report, owners saw a role for VET in just three. Dialogue with companies revealed that many relied on internal training or that provided by suppliers, even for new entrants.

TDA CEO Craig Robertson said NCVER has done the sector a favour by shining a light on the place of VET during one of the biggest crises in a generation.

“Even if a small selection of employers is not seeing a role for VET as currently offered at the direction of their industry associations, it points to the need for change,” he said.

On a positive note, some owners felt there was a strong role for VET as the industries “need an injection of external knowledge and ideas.”

“This is the role played by TAFEs all the time, but the reams of regulatory requirements in qualifications means the real needs of employers cannot always be met,” Mr Robertson said.

“If there is one message from this report thanks to NCVER, it’s the need to facilitate local connections between TAFEs and businesses to meet real needs.”

Mr Robertson said he will be interested in the policy response of the federal department to the findings of this report, as it has carriage of VET qualifications policy which gives rise to the circumstances where qualifications do not match needs of employers.

Solving Australia’s post-COVID skills gap and jobs challenge

TDA has joined with employment services provider Jobfind and one of the country’s largest employers, Programmed, to develop an innovative new approach to engage, educate and employ Australians.

The initiative will find and prepare unemployed Australians and reskill and upskill them before placing them in jobs.

Job seekers and TAFE students who wish to participate will be identified, assessed, and screened, based on the skills and attributes required by Programmed and the candidates’ career goals.

Those requiring additional support will be referred for basic employability skills training which may include literacy, digital literacy or health services, before participating.

Jobfind and Programmed will work with individual TAFEs to identify locally in-demand skills, skills mismatches, and future job opportunities, beginning with a pilot in Victoria.

Skilling ‘packages’ will be run by TAFEs to fill Programmed’s jobs. These will range from bespoke short courses focussing on specific skills or micro-credentials, to longer-term accredited training. Free TAFE courses will be accessed where appropriate.

Job seekers who successfully complete training will have preferential consideration by Programmed on offers. Additional training once in work, and post placement will be provided by Jobfind.

TDA CEO Craig Robertson said “We are very pleased to be able to link TAFEs with key stakeholders and with industry to develop programs to benefit Australians and employers of Australians.

“TDA and its member TAFEs are really excited about the opportunities and potential this new partnership offers our students and our industry partners.”

The initiative picks up on a key finding of a recent Jobfind commissioned study by McCrindle Research, ‘Changing Times, Emerging Trends’ which found that the jobs in the post-COVID era would require reskilling and upskilling, with many young people requiring support to meet their needs.

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TAFETalks: New World – New Approaches – Lessons from Canada

Gender stereotypes to be removed from Victoria's TAFEs 

Victoria’s TAFEs will spearhead an Australian-first initiative to address gender stereotypes in the trades and promote gender equality and respect.

The Minister for Training and Skills Gayle Tierney last week launched the Respect and Equality in TAFE guide, supported by $800,000 from the Victorian government and led by Our Watch in collaboration with Victorian TAFEs.

The guide includes written and visual resources that work alongside a dedicated website, encouraging TAFEs to create change by implementing equality action plans, fostering female leadership, encouraging female students to enrol in non-traditional courses and supporting staff to identify and respond to incidents on-campus.

The initiative follows key recommendations from the Royal Commission into Family Violence. A national version is currently under development.

“This initiative will have a huge ripple effect beyond our TAFE communities – sending a loud message that violence against women and families has no place in Victoria,” Ms Tierney said.

The initiative also includes a set of resources aimed at helping prevent violence against women.

Government reviewing 'temporary' undergraduate certificate qualification

The federal government has commenced a review of the Undergraduate Certificate – a temporary qualification introduced last year to meet skilling needs arising from the COVID crisis.

The Department of Education, Skills and Employment (DESE) has engaged consultancy firm dandolopartners to review the Undergraduate Certificate.

The findings will be provided to skills and education ministers who will consider whether the qualification should be retained beyond 2021.

The survey is one of a number of consultations being undertaken.

Higher education and VET providers are invited to respond to the survey.

Human Services Skills Organisation seeking feedback on mandatory work placement 

The Human Services Skills Organisation (HSSO) is seeking to understand the barriers and potential solutions to the completion of Mandatory Work Placement for students studying the Certificate III in Individual Support.

Training providers, employers and students have advised that accessing the mandatory work placements to complete a Certificate III in Individual Support is extremely difficult in the aged care and disability support sectors. To successfully address this problem and overcome the barriers, the HSSO is seeking to fully understand the size and scale of the problem.

RTOs delivering this are encouraged to complete a short survey to help the HSSO quantify the problem and work towards successfully overcoming these challenges. Take the survey here.

Contact the HSSO at projects@hsso.org.au to find out more.

Your input is appreciated by the HSSO and will be invaluable as it seeks to overcome the barriers to providing a skilled workforce in the growing aged care and disability support sectors.

Discover how your institution rates on the 'digital maturity' scale

The Digital Transformation Index for Tertiary Education is a new initiative from TechnologyOne. Its goal is to help tertiary institutions gauge how far they have travelled on their digital transformation journey, gain insights into barriers that others have overcome and view the hallmarks that best-in-class institutions share.

The report was produced using data gathered from answers to an online survey of 133 professionals from 81 institutions across Australia and New Zealand. The report also includes commentary on what these trends mean and their impact on institutions.

Download the 2021 Tertiary Education Digital Transformation Index

Vacancy for Fiji and Tuvalu country director

The Australia Pacific Training Coalition (APTC) is recruiting for the position of Country Director Fiji & Tuvalu, based in Suva, Fiji.

Reporting to the Executive Director APTC, the position of Country Director has the key overall responsibility in leading the APTC Fiji and Tuvalu country office to drive TVET strengthening and supporting labour mobility across the region.

Applications close Sunday 8 August.

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Diary Dates

QLD Schools VET Conference
Velg Training
6 August 2021
Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre
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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: ‘Connecting the Dots’
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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National Apprentice Employment Network
National Conference
15 – 17 March 2022
Hotel Grand Chancellor Hobart, Tasmania
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