Serving capital – comment by CEO Craig Robertson

Serving capital – comment by CEO Craig Robertson

This title may have Marxists turning in their grave but I assure you this article is not about the political economy, although my inner-nerd is tempted (having noticed the rise of democratic socialism …. but that’s for another day).

Several months ago the world was aghast as they saw flames shooting through the roof of the Notre Dame on the banks of the Seine in Paris. We were all concerned about the fate of antiquities inside but more so for the future of the Cathedral itself. Imagine Parisians’ dread contemplating it being razed.

The Cathedral plays a key role in the psyche of France – as a symbol of its Catholic roots, the site of the coronation of Napoleon and beatification of Joan of Arc and as refuge of the fictional Quasimodo.

With so much cultural and social capital – intangible, even fanciful for rationalists – could you imagine the furore if the government contemplated demolishing it and putting up a bright shiny modern edifice in the spirit of efficiency and outcomes.

Capital, hard and soft, is ignored at peril. Australians intrinsically understand it. Most of us hanker for our own residence as security and a symbol of success. We also know the value of intangibles such as information in this knowledge-driven world, and place huge store on our reputation in the workplace as our own intrinsic capital.

It’s curious then when it comes to vocational education why we so readily risk the capital stock – physical, personnel and social – of TAFE.

If we were building vocational education from scratch what would we do? Basic theory tells us the capital market wouldn’t build it because there’s no tangible return as it resides in the enhanced capability of the graduate, and you can’t repossess that if loans are not repaid!

Well, we do have vocational education and there’s been a long history of public investment in TAFEs to address what private effort wont. It’s curious why bureaucrats insist on calling it a market. We also continue the folly of the power of consumer (student) choice. The prospective student needs to learn about the career and industry they are wanting to enter, so how are they placed to make wise decisions in the sea of courses, let alone be assigned the task to assess how well the sector is doing in quality of delivery?

If, as we are told, the future of work and enterprise is such that students may move through several careers in numerous jobs, many of which don’t yet exist, why do we place so much confidence in a set of competencies which, by design, can only define today’s jobs? Why is it that a bunch of outcome statements define vocational education in the hope the market will pick up course design and delivery, when we know it has a bias to high-volume, low-capital single-focus courses?

If the system is to rebuild to support Australia’s economic future in this uncertain world it makes perfect sense for governments to rebuild off the stock – the capability and capacity – of TAFEs before it’s too late. It’s logical they do that with agencies they own. This way government itself can learn from TAFEs to develop their stock of policies and initiatives for spillover to other training organisations and to help build new industry. This is the starting point of TAFEs as anchor institutions recommended by Anne Jones and others at the LH Martin Institute.[1] This is the rational approach for governments when the market is not a viable, nor safe, as they have seen firsthand.

This doesn’t equate to monopoly because that doesn’t end well either. It’s fair for governments to expect the best in education practice and responsiveness to students and industry. A blend of delivery organisations is sound.

On the other hand, to expect a bank of centrally controlled, tightly regulated qualifications to deliver contemporary practice is not sound. Relying on the stock of (backward looking) competencies controlled in Canberra in the blind faith someone in the VET market will be able to prepare people for new industry and new technology with students doing the quality control sounds more like a ponzi scheme than solid government policy.

This week in Brisbane we are celebrating the power of TAFE – the base load of the VET world. Surely economic rationalists understand that notion. There may be some costs to governments but brown‑outs and black-outs in the form of skill shortages from the alternative is too high a price to pay in order to protect an ideology.

In case my non-TAFE colleagues are tempted to liken TAFEs to the antiquities and gargoyles of Notre Dame, think again. My point is we need to leverage TAFE soft capital.

What governments discard their capital in the hope a market will solve what are wicked policy problems?

It’s no surprise that state governments have won elections on the back of their commitment to TAFEs. Voters may ignore electioneering, but they easily sense when a community asset is being trashed for the sake of an ideology.

It’s sound election winning policy as well to leverage the stock it has at hand in TAFE to build the capacity of the economy for the future.

'Skillaroos' propel Australia to eighth place in global skills challenge

Australia’s skills credentials have shone on a global stage at the 2019 WorldSkills international competition in Kazan, Russia.

The 15-member Australian Skillaroos brought home a Silver (Clinton Larkings), three Bronze (Maxine Colligan, Patrick Keating and Patrick Brennan) and nine Medallions of Excellence (see full results below).

As a country, Australia was placed eighth in the world overall – an incredible achievement up against competitors from 66 countries including United States, United Kingdom, New Zealand and China.

It was also a great demonstration of the strength of TAFE. Of the 13 Australian award recipients, ten were students of TAFE institutes and the remaining three were from TAFE divisions of dual sector universities.

The 2019 team was supported by world-renowned experts, education institutes and industry in their particular skill areas.

Congratulations to the medal winners and all the Australian team, as well as the support crews and everyone at WorldSkills Australia on a tremendous achievement.

See the full Worldskills Australia results 

VET reviewer Steven Joyce appointed to help implement reforms

The architect of the federal government’s VET sector review, Steven Joyce, has been appointed to head a three-member panel that will guide the government on implementing its planned VET reforms.

The Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business, Senator Michaelia Cash said the independent expert advisory panel will provide strategic advice to the government on key reforms flowing from the Joyce Review.

The other two members of the panel are Peter Noonan, Professor of Tertiary Education Policy at Victoria University’s Mitchell Institute, and businesswoman Dr Vanessa Guthrie.

“Together, the three panel members bring a wealth of expertise and experience to the task of advising the government on the implementation of the skills package, and on our future reform trajectory,” Senator Cash said.

TDA Convention, The Power of TAFE, starts in Brisbane tomorrow

There’s still a chance to register for the TDA Convention, ‘The Power of TAFE’, which runs from 3 – 5 September in Brisbane.

You will hear a range of speakers, presenters and engage in workshops and networking events that will showcase best practice and innovation in teaching and learning.

With MC Kerry O’Brien, The Power of TAFE will hear from some of the most thought provoking and engaging speakers, including:

Michael Brennan, Chair, Productivity Commission

The Hon Steve Irons MP, Assistant Minister for Vocational Education, Training and Apprenticeships

Professor Peter Coaldrake, Head of he Higher Education Provider Category Standards review.

The Hon Steven Joyce, author of the Joyce Review of VET

Dr Rick Huijbregts, Vice-President, Strategy and Innovation, George Brown College

David Coltman, Chief Executive, TAFE SA

Professor Nick Klomp, Vice Chancellor and President, CQUniversity

Dr Don Zoellner, Research Associate, Charles Darwin University

Allison Jenvey, Chair, Wodonga TAFE

Mike O’Brien, Chief of Surgery, The Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne

David Hughes, Chief Executive, Association of Colleges, UK

Rod Camm, Principal, Nous Group

Saxon Phipps, Founder, Year13

See the full list of Plenary Speakers

See the Convention Program

Register Now!

Ten-year timeframe set for regional, rural and remote education reforms

The Minister for Education Dan Tehan has accepted the broad thrust of a review of regional, rural and remote education undertaken by former Victorian Premier Dr Denis Napthine.

Mr Tehan told the National Press Club it was unacceptable that young people in major cities were twice as likely to have a university degree as those in regional areas.

“Our government accepts the aims of the seven key recommendations, and will be consulting on the 33 specific actions before responding in due course,” Mr Tehan said.

“We also acknowledge Dr Napthine’s recommendation that delivering the strategy is a ten-year blueprint.”

The Napthine Review makes seven key recommendations around improving access to tertiary study, financial support, improving career advice, and strengthening the role of tertiary education providers.

Mr Tehan said Dr Napthine and the government both accept that more work has to be done to bridge the divide between regional and metropolitan Australians going to university.

“Our government has already made considerable investments to level the playing field through initiatives consistent with the Napthine recommendations,” he said.

Capitalising on the `blue tech’ opportunity

Given the rate of change occurring with many industries, and the promise of more to come, managing talent pipelines has never been more challenging.

These challenges require firms and industries to partner with educators and trainers to engage on key public policy issues, including on applied learning and technical skill acquisition.

TAFEs continue to play a vital part through their distinctive role in VET, schooling and higher education, benefitting both the community and the economy. TDA and TAFEs welcome the opportunity to closely collaborate with global technology firms, such as Cisco and Optus.

We know disruption caused by technology will be extensive and continuous and those that work in firms and industries are unlikely to have all the deep technical skills required. Graduates and existing employees will need to ‘learn how to learn’, be coachable and have skills to be able to work in teams and collaborate.

The recent TDA study tour to Niagara, Toronto, and Washington DC, supported by Cisco and Optus, with participants from TAFEs and industry, identified several significant trends impacting skills development and human capital needs, including:

  • Industry needs people equipped for a dynamic, digitised world
  • TAFEs need to be funded to do applied research to remain relevant to industry
  • There is a rising tide of ‘Blue Tech‘ or Digital Trades that are the natural market for TAFE.

TDA encourages you to read the report on the TDA Study tour: The vital role TAFE plays in equipping the Australian workforce for a digitised world – Capitalising on the `Blue Tech’ opportunity.

The report will be launched this week at the TDA Convention in Brisbane, with over 300 in attendance and an array of speakers and presenter not to be missed.  Don’t miss the chance to participate in these dynamic discussions by registering here.  It’s not too late!

In the meantime, you can have a sneak preview of the report here.

Big employers sign up to hire VET graduates

The federal government has announced key employers that will join in an initiative to boost the standing of VET and actively recruit VET graduates.

The Assistant Minister for Vocational Education, Training and Apprenticeships, Steve Irons announced  that Qantas, PwC Australia, Hays Recruitment, Lendlease, the BBC, Aspen Medical and CSIRO Data61 have signed on to the Employer Partner Program.

“By joining the Employer Partner Program, these businesses are letting job seekers know their doors are open to VET graduates,” Mr Irons said.

The program is part of the government’s $525 million skills package announced in the budget in April.

National skills shortage list to be overhauled

The federal government has commenced a consultation process that will see an overhaul of the National Skills Needs List (NSNL), which identifies trades experiencing a skills shortage.

The Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business, Senator Michaelia Cash, said the review will ensure skills shortages are identified using a “forward-looking, up-to-date methodology”.

The review will also update the trade apprenticeship occupations that are able to attract the Additional Identified Skills Shortage (AISS) payment.

A discussion paper accompanying the review concedes that the current NSNL is “not fit for purpose” and will be even less so under harmonised apprentice incentive arrangements to take effect next July.

“The methodology underpinning the NSNL is poorly aligned with the lags in delivering skilled workers through the apprenticeship system,” the discussion paper says.

Submissions to the NSNL review are due by September 27.

Diary Dates

TAFE Directors Australia 2019 Convention
‘The Power of TAFE’
3 – 5 September 2019
More information

2019 National VET Conference
Velg Training
12 &13 September 2019
Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre, Brisbane
More Information

Community Colleges Australia 2019 Annual Conference
18-20 November 2019
The Stamford Plaza Hotel, Brisbane
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