Skills are for life – comment by CEO Craig Robertson

Skills are for life – comment by CEO Craig Robertson

Admittedly in this COVID environment it’s difficult to get clean air for government announcements, but I couldn’t resist linking the Prime Minister’s very good news of $1 billion for vocational education and training with the one the next day of $400 million for the Australian film industry. A worthy cause for sure, but it does bring into sharp relief the relative merits of the investments – one for a potential ephemeral experience, and the other for life!

That’s the message for skills. An investment in capability development at the right time pays dividends for any individual. On the simplest of facts, education and training counts. All the data tells us that early school leavers face a lifetime of poorer earnings[1] and risk social dislocation.

Popular films clearly pay off. The top grossing film of 2019 – Avengers: Endgame (don’t know, don’t care) returned earnings eightfold production costs. Franchises also pay off. The Star Wars series has amassed over US$10 billion but is eclipsed by the Avenger series at over $22 billion. I am demanding an inquiry as to why Indiana hasn’t made the top 25 franchises!

Back to skills. Most of the parameters are set for the spend of the $1 billion. From afar here is what we see.

  • The $1 billion is expected to be spent in nine months between September and June 2021.
  • States and territories will make equal contribution based on population shares.
  • The Government is aiming for 340,000 training places at around $2,900 each.
  • The Prime Minister said jurisdictions will allocate as they see fit between short courses and longer qualifications although guidance of suitable courses is expected from the National Skills Commissioner.
  • Most first ministers have signed-on through a heads-of-agreement, although whether Treasurers as the national cabinet’s ‘house of review’ have signed off is not known.

What clues does this tell us about the future?

Firstly, funding is tight. Not by the Ebenezer Scrooge method, but the outcomes governments seek – training for future jobs. This applies in tertiary education generally. Ebenezer appears to have wafted over university funding as they are being asked to reprioritise student output toward a recovering economy without additional funding.

Secondly, timing is tight. This is hardly the time to take on board the more excessive views of the Productivity Commission, nor is there time to deploy Joyce’s vision of a national price or financial contribution from industry through Skill Organisations. In fact, that aspect of the Joyce vision – industry paying for what it wants – has been snuffed out with industries on their knees from the virus fall out.

Thirdly, targeting is tight. Every dollar needs to be well spent. This comes to important questions about who deserves a training place, where do they access it and what is it for? Any progressive policy perspective would target those in most need.

Fourthly, ipso facto, quality must be tight. As I said in my press release last week: “The last thing Australia needs is to repeat the folly of cheap, low-quality training, which came from previous experiments of unfettered access to public funding to training organisations which exploited unsuspecting Australians.”

In summary, wastage must be kept to a minimum.

It is now over to the states and territories. They have the mechanisms – TAFEs (think public hospitals of the VET system) and contracts with other providers. They are expert at setting allocation priorities and eligibility parameters.

A broader wastage must be avoided, though. In a world of work and opportunity that very few are prepared to predict – the size and mix of industries and the number and nature of jobs – what is the vocational education that best fits? Directing all the training effort to the specific needs of an occupation, often only for that occupation (taking assessment and delivery conditions within training packages into account), risks wastage when the labour market is so volatile. What message do we give people who are already troubled by their circumstances that the VET system is playing Russian roulette with their future by the very nature of the courses being funded?

Our turbulent labour market will gratefully receive and engage graduates with transferable skills and deep capabilities, alongside technical skills. Employers were saying this before the crisis. Vocational education structured in this way doesn’t lose its industry alignment or jobs focus but opens up more opportunities for the individual to contribute more productively in what are likely to be volatile working environments.

We all accept that while private effort recovers from the economic shock, public effort substitutes in the Keynesian way of thinking. In present circumstances, good plain public policy dictates that building the capability of the student must be central for the public good, with spillovers for industry. This leads to very practical vocational education responses like digital skills, enhancing 21st century skills and lifting literacy and numeracy. They can’t be aligned, contextualised or assessed against specific occupational or industry because they immediately lose their transferability.

We need to unpack the tight linear logic in our training package model as it risks sending an unsuspecting student down a rabbit hole chasing a prize, only to hit a dead end. New approaches are feasible in the timeframe but there needs to be decent dialogue between the players in the system.

For each box office hit there are many more films that sink without a trace. That is the industry for you. For a whole pile of good reasons, there is justifications to support the Australian film industry. VET, as its own industry, can’t afford however a low rate of hit against a high rate of miss when it comes to the future of Australians.

Do you know the top grossing Australian film? Crocodile Dundee. Australia is second, Crocodile Dundee II is ninth and Strictly Ballroom tenth. Quintessential and quirky Australian. Maybe, or is it that we love the underdog doing good? We, in VET, can relate to that.

Most states and territories on board with PM's skills reform plan

Six states and territories have committed to the Prime Minister’s $1 billion JobTrainer program for more than 340,000 training places, linked to a 12-month plan for national VET reform.

New South Wales, Tasmania, South Australia, Queensland, the Northern Territory and the ACT have all committed to the plan that will see the Commonwealth provide $500 million, matched by another $500 million split between the states and territories.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he was confident that Victoria would join, noting that the state’s immediate priority was the COVID pandemic.

“In fact, it was Premier Andrews very early on in the piece in the National Cabinet together with myself who was really pushing this as an item that really had to be firm on the National Cabinet’s agenda,” Mr Morrison said.

Western Australia may be harder to get on board. State Treasurer Ben Wyatt said he did not want to centralise decision making around priorities for training, given that WA’s economy is different to the other states.

But I’m sure we’ll get there,” he was reported as saying in the West Australian.

“We’ll work with the Commonwealth as we have done to get to a point where we don’t lose any decision making over where we want to invest that training money,” he said.

The Prime Minister said the Heads of Agreement between the Commonwealth and the states and territories that went to the National Cabinet sets out a clear process between now and August next year to “completely reform vocational education and training in Australia”.

“There is no line of sight, there is no transparency, there’s no KPIs,” he said.

The National Skills Commission will identify areas of jobs demand that should be tied to the funding.

TAFE the right choice for funding training places

TAFE’s should be the priority to provide the bulk of the training places being jointly funded by national governments under the $1 billion JobTrainer skills package.

TDA welcomed last week’s skills announcement by the Prime Minister, which aims to create approximately 340,000 free or low-cost training places for school leavers and people looking for a job.

TDA Chief Executive Craig Robertson said the government was to be commended for the “rapid-fire investment” that will see the training places commence in September and run until June next year.

“Transferable skills will be the key. We cannot be certain about occupational structures or how industries will reshape after such a huge economic shock.

“As the public provider with deep training capabilities across all industries and with delivery locations across the nation, TAFEs are the best avenue for the training, especially for core skills and for school leavers who are unsure of their passage into work.

“The last thing Australia needs is to repeat the folly of cheap, low-quality training, which came from previous experiments of unfettered access to public funding to training organisations which exploited unsuspecting Australians,” Mr Robertson said.

See TDA’s media release

ACTU calls for free TAFE to propel COVID recovery

The ACTU has made TAFE a centrepiece of a five-point national jobs plan for COVID reconstruction, released yesterday.

Discussing the plan on ABC Insiders, ACTU President Michele O’Neil welcomed the government’s JobTrainer scheme, but called on the government to provide 150,000 free TAFE places, with courses and training relevant to local communities.

“The government’s plan doesn’t specify TAFE, so we don’t want to see money going into the pockets of dodgy private providers,” Ms ONeil said.

“We already know that the system in terms of vocational education and training has been plagued with that, so TAFE is at the centre of our plan and public money for public good,” she said.

The ACTU plan also calls for the government to extend its 50 per cent apprentice wage subsidy to cover the duration of the apprenticeship, rather than until next March, as was announced last week.

Only a small number of NCI grant applications to succeed

Only about a dozen of the more than 600 applications for the first round of National Careers Institute (NCI) grants will succeed in being funded.

In a note to stakeholders last week, the NCI said the Partnership Grants program generated an incredible amount of interest from the careers and education sector, with morethan 600 applications received for round one.

“From the $10 million total funding, $5 million was available through this first round,” NCI advised.

“Subject to individual project costs, we expect it to fund around 10–12 projects,” NCI said.

Assessment of the round one applications has begun and is expected to be completed by the end of August, with the successful projects announced by the end of October.

TAFE NSW aiming for better pathways between schools, universities and VET

TAFE NSW Managing Director Steffen Faurby has outlined plans for new pathways that could see students combining vocational education and training with subjects taught at school and university.

In an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald, the TAFE NSW chief says he has discussed the proposal with universities and businessman David Gonski who is reviewing the state’s VET sector.

“For me it makes the world of sense to put a program in place where we make the pathway for students from high school in and out of vocational education and university as easy as possible,” Mr Faurby said.

“I have confidence that what will come out of this is a defined pathway where universities and the vocational sector will go hand in hand in defining good outcomes and good solutions for students.”

Mr Faurby also said that once the coronavirus threat has eased, he hopes to be able to attract international students to TAFE as part of a major promotional effort.

“We see that as a massive opportunity for TAFE to turn a place like Ultimo into the place where we welcome thousands of international students to come and enjoy not just what we have to offer, but what Sydney has to offer,” he said.

Queensland adds $10m to boost traineeships

The Queensland government has added $10 million to its flagship skills and training program to support workers displaced amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Skilling Queenslanders for Work program has helped more than 30,000 people to find jobs since 2016, the Minister for Training and Skills Development Shannon Fentiman said.

The extra $10 million will increase traineeships in popular construction, conservation and land management projects.

“These projects which will benefit cohorts, such as our First Nations, youth, people with disability and long-term unemployed, will be announced in late July and will begin recruitment at the end of August,” Ms Fentiman said.

The projects would include refurbishment of community facilities and recreational spaces, minor infrastructure works and land care projects across Queensland.

Diary Dates

AVETRA 2020 Researcher Development Series
Webinars designed for early career, emerging and practitioner researchers
June 2020 – March 2021
More information

Council of International Students
10th Anniversary National Digital Summit
15 – 17 July 2020
More information

National Skills Week
24 – 30 August 2020
Various locations
More information 

Apprentice Employment Network NSW & ACT (cancelled)
Annual 2020 Skills Conference
5 November 2020
More information

VDC 2020 Virtual Teaching & Learning Conference
19 & 20 November 2020
Registrations Open

Australian Training Awards
20 November 2020
More information

TAFE Directors Australia Convention 2021
29 – 30 April 2021
Westin Hotel, Perth
More information coming soon

Worldskills Australia
28 April – 2 May 2021
Perth Exhibition and Convention Centre
More information