TAFEs adapting and transforming during COVID-19 – comment by CEO Craig Robertson

TAFEs adapting and transforming during COVID-19 – comment by CEO Craig Robertson

Across the country, TAFEs have mounted an extraordinary response to the COVID pandemic in order to deliver training and meet the needs of students, staff and the industries that rely on them.

It has been a period of transformation and adaptation at all levels, and one that has demonstrated the capacity of TAFE to meet a huge, national challenge.

This week, I want to look at how this plan unfolded and the way that TAFE institutes and individuals have gone beyond the call to ensure that training was maintained and disruption minimised.

Adapting to connected learning


TAFE Queensland’s response was one mirrored by many TAFEs across Australia.

When the state went into lockdown in March, TAFE Queensland implemented a series of emergency Information and Communications Technology solutions enabling it to balance the delivery of high quality skills training with the safety and wellbeing of its workforce and students.

Chief Executive Officer Mary Campbell said because of the practical and hands-on nature of much of the training, the organisation had to think differently about its operations and find new, more agile ways of working.

It saw up to 90 per cent of the workforce working remotely and over 85 per cent of training programs delivered online and flexibly.

“With everyone working remotely, we developed an online COVID-19 wellbeing check-in to monitor and support our staff,” Mrs Campbell said.

“The survey results indicate that over 65 per cent of our workforce liked working remotely and expressed a clear desire to incorporate this into the way that they would like to work in the future.”

At TAFE NSW, hospitality teachers developed new way of learning in the kitchen to keep students engaged while at home.

The teachers send out fresh ingredients in the form of ‘Hello TAFE boxes’ to the students, who then joined an online live-streamed demonstration and followed along cooking in their own kitchen.

“TAFE NSW has a wide range of online resources that make it easy to connect and continue their learning program while practising social distancing,” hospitality teacher Michael Apps said.

“Students receive their boxes each week and are able to utilise Microsoft Teams for a guided cooking lesson streamed from the kitchen at TAFE NSW in Orange.

“Not only are the students able to learn practical skills, they are also able to provide their family or housemates with a home cooked meal afterwards.”

The Gordon Institute of TAFE has encouraged teachers to think about their facilitation model in order to keep students engaged, and how they provide ongoing support and feedback.

The Gordon’s education development team set up a virtual staff room where teachers have access to short videos, longer information clips and a running Q&A, where they can ask questions, share ideas and learn how they can support their students.

There have also been new approaches to working with industry including close engagement with employers regarding delivery methodologies and impacts on apprentices.

The Gordon even developed a laptop loan system for students who did not have a laptop.

Also leading the way in remote delivery has been Box Hill Institute’s music department.

Sound production, composition, performance and hip-hop courses were quickly and successfully transitioned to remote delivery. The key to success has been the institute’s ability to replicate real world situations in a virtual environment.

“We try to get students kick-started collaborating on content…we’ve still been able to make sure that people are working together, they’re just doing it in a different way,” Box Hill Music and Production Manager Matt Voight said.

While coronavirus has been the driving force behind the changes, it has only fast-tracked innovations that were underway. Box Hill Institute plans to adopt this model for the future.

Although based at opposite ends of the state, TasTAFE’s Bakery teaching team of Mike Goddard and Jason Mizzen (pictured) in Hobart, and Benoit Marchand in Devonport, have worked together to develop online learning for more than 70 Certificate III in Bakery apprentices across Tasmania.

In addition to the theory, the team is developing videos for students in areas such as pastry, bread-making and pie-fillings. As well as making ‘how-to’ videos they are also making ‘what not to do’ videos showing students how they can end up with lumpy custard!

TasTAFE CEO, Jenny Dodd, said the experience is having a lasting impact.

“The example of this bakery team shows the innovations that we will embed as a result of this disruptive time, complementing TasTAFE’s focus which will always be on practical, hands on learning,” Ms Dodd said.

New capabilities in allied health


Coronavirus has had a major impact on healthcare, and TAFEs have been required to adapt to new learning models and to upscale to meet rapidly growing demand.

A new health learning precinct at TAFE SA’s City Campus took on classes this week. TAFE SA has implemented blended training delivery which sees students undertake their learning via digitally enabled methods, while also participating in face-to-face training where that’s required.

Priority courses, including those unable to successfully transition to effective digitally enabled delivery, have re-commenced practical training on campuses across the state. This includes TAFE SA’s nursing program, which is utilising its new health learning precinct at the city campus, to deliver the Diploma of Nursing, currently TAFE SA’s third most popular course.

TAFE SA Chief Executive, David Coltman, said the blended digitally enabled delivery will enable students to participate in face-to-face activities while also continuing digital learning.

“For nursing, students will continue receiving the theory training using online platforms and 3D clinical skills simulation software, while attending onsite for practical activities and assessments.

“The new health learning precinct provides the environment and scenarios that students will experience in their nursing careers, preparing them to be ready from the minute they walk into their new workplace,” he said.


Premier Steven Marshall and Health Minister Stephen Wade speak with TAFE SA nursing students at the City Campus new health learning precinct

TasTAFE’s nursing team, which delivers the Diploma of Enrolled Nursing to around 200 students is also embracing changes brought by COVID-19 as a new learning opportunity for students.

With many health practices switching to telehealth consultations over recent months, the nursing team saw an opportunity to incorporate this model into student learning.

TasTAFE Head of Discipline – Nursing, Jonette Scott, said students had been playing the role of nurse, assessing clients (role-played by teachers) via online telehealth consultations.

“Telehealth consultations have become the norm all over Australia at the moment so it’s a great opportunity for our students to get real-world experience.

“It’s likely that post-COVID-19, many doctors and health practitioners will continue to offer telehealth consultations so it’s a great way for our nursing students to gain experience in working in this model,” Ms Scott said.

Trust by governments in TAFE


At a time of significant disruption to the workforce, communities and industry, the need for new and expanded skills has rarely been more important.

It has been heartening to see the way TAFEs have been able to respond quickly to the need for new skills and qualifications.

One example is the growth of online cyber security training at TAFE NSW where demand is accelerating.

It is estimated that Australia is currently short of 2,300 workers in cyber security, with an expected demand of at least 17,600 additional professionals in the sector by 2026.

In Tasmania, the state government has invested an additional $7 million in a Trades and Water Centre of Excellence which will see TasTAFE offer new qualifications in emerging skills.

The centre will be unique in Australia, incorporating traditional trades such as plumbing, refrigeration and air conditioning with emerging areas such as polywelding. Additional funding will expand the training offered at the centre to include hydrogen training, Tasmania Fire Service training and wastewater systems.

In South Australia, more than 400 businesses have shown interest in the state government’s ‘COVID-clean’ training in preparation for reopening.

TAFE SA is one of three training providers that will roll out the toolkit which has up to 5,500 places available.

Enterprises in the retail, hospitality, tourism, security and transport sectors will benefit from the accredited training and learn skills such as hand hygiene practices, effective surface cleaning, use of personal protective equipment and the disposal of contaminated waste.

Adaptable and agile. Across the nation. An asset of the people. That’s just one of the lessons from COVID-19.

On the TDA website there are other examples of the way TAFEs are responding and adapting to COVID-19, as well as messages from TAFE institute directors.

TDA announces dates for 2021 Convention

TAFE Directors Australia is excited to announce that the TDA Convention 2021 will take place on Thursday 29 and Friday 30 April, at the Westin Hotel in Perth, Western Australia.

We are pleased to confirm that the TDA Convention 2021 will still align with the WorldSkills National Championships which will take place in Perth from Thursday 29 April to Saturday 1 May, with the closing ceremony held on the evening of Sunday 2 May.

The TDA Convention 2021 will celebrate the power of the vocational education approach to preparing students of all backgrounds with the capabilities they require for success in life. The aim is for delegates to be inspired about new and contemporary approaches to vocational education, as part of a coherent tertiary education sector, which can be applied across their institution or in the faculty and courses they lead. Consistent with TDA’s role, the convention gives the opportunity to advocate for policy change to help deliver better vocational education.

The convention will build on the approach in the 2019 convention – the sharing of success stories and discussing issues and challenges that TAFEs face. The sharing of leading practice across Australia and internationally helps every TAFE advance.

We look forward to continuing to work with our partners in Australia and overseas on improving the vocational education sector and we will provide further updates as our planning progresses for the TDA Convention in 2021.

New skills commission head outlines priorities

The new National Skills Commission will see its immediate focus shift to the task of ensuring that the people displaced by the COVID-19  pandemic are able to quickly rejoin the workforce.

With the Commission to formally commence next week, Interim Skills Commissioner Adam Boyton, pictured, told The Australian that big labour market shocks, such as that caused by the pandemic, tended to “speed up transitions that might already have been under way”.  

“Our first order of business is to think about what the labour market is likely to look like in the next six, 12 and 18 months, and where are the areas which are structurally challenged and where there might be growth,” Mr Boyton said.

“We don’t want to find ourselves in a position in 12 months’ time where skills shortages in pockets of the economy are becoming a handbrake.”

He said the priorities for the commission had quickly turned from long-term planning around plugging the skills shortages of the future to how to help Australians get back into jobs as quickly as possible.

“In a period of uncertainty, and where the economy is undergoing change, we need to ensure we are teaching those skills that are common across a wide range of jobs,” he said.

The commission will commence on July 1 and has been tasked with examining future skills and workforce needs, and the development of efficient prices for VET courses.

TAFE site chosen for NSW construction hub

The NSW government has selected the existing Kingswood TAFE campus, near Penrith, as the site for an $80 million construction hub to service the planned Western Sydney Aerotropolis.

The Western Sydney Construction Hub will deliver specialised training for 700 new students each year in key trade areas such as carpentry, electrical, construction and plumbing.

The Minister for Skills and Tertiary Education Geoff Lee said the facility will be dedicated “Centre of Excellence” for construction trades and would showcase the best of TAFE NSW in delivering world-class, practical training linked to jobs.

The hub is designed to deliver the skilled workers needed for major construction projects such as the Western Sydney Airport and Aerotropolis, and the Sydney Metro Western Sydney Airport.

National VET student survey set to commence

The National Student Outcomes Survey, which surveys VET students about their post-training outcomes and satisfaction with training, is about to get underway.

Almost a million people who completed training in 2019 will be surveyed, with around 915,000 domestic students and 62,500 international onshore VET graduates to be contacted.

The 2020 survey has expanded to include 15 to 17-year olds (last surveyed in 2016), and VET in Schools students for the first time. It also includes extra questions to find out how COVID-19 has affected students’ employment and further study outcomes.

The survey begins in mid-June. In the lead-up, NCVER will be emailing all RTOs to inform them about the survey and to let them know that some of their students may be invited to participate.

RTOs are encouraged to promote the survey to get more students to take part, and NCVER has produced a promotional kit to help RTOs promote the survey to their students.

Diary Dates

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

Velg Training & MRWED
22-26 June 2020
More Information

National Manufacturing Summit 2020 (cancelled)
Manufacturing a Sustainable Future
6 & 7 July 2020
Gold Coast, Queensland
More information

‘No Frills’ 2020, 29th National VET Research Conference Online
National Centre for Vocational Education Research
7 – 10 July 2020
More information

Worldskills Australia (re-scheduled to April-May 2021)
12 – 15 August 2020
Perth Exhibition and Convention Centre
More information

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

2020 National VET Conference (postponed)
Velg Training
17 – 18 September 2020
Gold Coast Convention and Exhitbiton Centre, Broadbeach, Queensland
More Information

World Federation of Colleges and Polytechnics (cancelled)
2020 World Congress

14 – 16 October 2020
Donostia – San Sebastian, Spain
More information

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

VDC 2020 Teaching & Learning Conference
19 & 20 November 2020
RACV Torquay Resort, Great Ocean Road, Victoria
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