The forgotten side of the VET review – comment by CEO Craig Robertson

The forgotten side of the VET review – comment by CEO Craig Robertson

For a prime minister claiming economic management credentials, Scott Morrison seems to have overlooked one of the basics of economics.

In the terms of reference for the review of vocational education and training he announced last Wednesday, he’s forgotten the basic principle of demand and supply.

The riding instructions ask the reviewer, Stephen Joyce, the Kiwi National (not Australia’s own National, Barnaby) to hold roundtables with industry, employers, student and workforce groups, as well as states and territories. There’s no mention of provider groups – the supply side of VET.

It’s hard to read this government. At one point it was contemplating nationalising power generation, such was the concern for baseload supply. But not for VET, it appears.

Raucous students were not in charge of the Gonski review; Denise Bradley didn’t contend with pimply undergraduates on her panel; and ailing senior citizens aren’t reviewing aged care. No appendectomy patient takes the lead in the case-mix activity-based funding for public hospitals. There’s good reason for that. Customer views are important but, on their own, they miss the big picture. Engaging with industry and interest groups, even students as the paying side of the demand side of the equation is vital, but leaving out the supply side is plain silly.

That aside, let’s look at a simple starting point. The core contribution from the Commonwealth is underwriting student loans and financial transfers, under national agreement, to states and territories which, last time I looked, had constitutional responsibility for VET.

I’ve commented before about the limitations of VET Student Loans. Such is its red tape and low loan amounts, I’ve heard it makes even Kim Carr blush.

The National Agreement on Skills and Workforce Development passes $1.5bn to the states and territories each year and funding levels to 2021-22 only keep up with inflation, compared to the guaranteed growth of 19 per cent over that period under the hospital national agreement. That agreement also caters for up to 6.5 per cent growth per year if population pressures lift hospital costs. There’s nothing like that for the skills system which is facing the same population growth.

The Skilling Australians Fund relies on taxes on employers who bring in skilled workers and it has already been reduced in size so churches don ‘t pay to bring in clergy.

The generous side of me sees TAFE’s omission as an oversight in the rush to get the review up, and it was a rush, I hear. The foreboding terms of reference and submission deadline (while we are at the beach) makes the realist in me fear the solution is already in the bag.

All of us can understand funding ephemera to prop up election promises, but it is core funding to states and territories and reasonable loan conditions which ensure the baseload power of VET.

Recently, I likened the audit findings into VET Student Loans to a hospital with no patients. This review looks like all patients and no hospital.

It will be too late once TAFE campuses are closed and industry trainers let go to have wished this review had the right balance.

The only certainty is that before May next year, citizens will get to mark the success of the government in key services, including its support for TAFE.

Next week is our last newsletter for the year. We’re logging off to get our submission done over our Christmas pudding.

Joyce review to bring 'fresh' perspective to VET, but with a tight deadline 

The federal government says a set of “fresh eyes” and the experience of New Zealand’s VET reform were behind the appointment of former NZ government minister, Steven Joyce (pictured) to head Australia’s landmark VET review.

The Joyce review has been set a tight schedule, with a deadline of 25 January 2019 for submissions, and a final report to be delivered in March.

Steven Joyce was a senior minister in the John Key-led National government, and the former Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment.

The review is being coordinated by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. Its website explains the context for the review and the terms of reference.

“Mr Joyce will host a series of focused discussions with states and territories, and industry, employer, student and workforce groups,” the website says.

His report will include “practical steps the Australian Government could take to improve our VET sector, alongside a longer term road map for the future.”

“It will also focus on ensuring Australian businesses, including small and family businesses and businesses in rural and regional areas, have the skills they need to support their business growth,” it says.

The Shadow Minister for Skills, TAFE and Vocational Education Senator Doug Cameron described the deadline for submissions as “farcical” and accused Mr Joyce of leaving “a $3 billion black hole” in New Zealand’s VET system.

“Mr Joyce decimated regional training centres in New Zealand while funnelling money into private for-profit providers,” he said.

TDA welcomes reviews into VET, but noted that the terms of reference do not specify any need for consultation with training provider bodies.

“This is unfortunate because without the considered input of vocational education experts, the balance between industry and training providers, which is so desperately needed in the sector, will compromise any findings,” CEO Craig Robertson said.

Many thanks to Gill Callister, Secretary of Education and Training in Victoria

This past week, Gill Callister (pictured), signed-off as the Secretary of the Victorian Department of Education and Training. While at the helm of the department for the term of the first Andrews Government, Gill played a central role in redesigning vocational education in Victoria and strengthening TAFEs as anchor institutes in the sector.

Gill sees public services as the avenue for changing peoples’ lives and pushed for new service models across education in Victoria, with a strong measurement ethos so the end result is kept in sight.

Such was her commitment, Gill generously gave of her Sunday afternoon and evening recently at the World Congress of Colleges and Polytechnics to be part of the Leadership Institute. WFCP, TDA, TAFEs and Victorian RTOs are grateful for her commitment and passion.

Her next appointment as Associate Dean,at the Australia and New Zealand School of Government (ANZSOG), responsible for integrity and ethics, service delivery design and place management in Australia and the ASEAN region, means her influence will be wider still, which can only be a good thing.

Government modifies key feature of apprentice wage subsidy trial 

The federal government has modified one of the key criteria for its new apprentice wage subsidy trial, by removing the requirement that only “new” employers of apprentices are eligible.

When announced in early November, the Department of Education and Training website explained that the pilot program was aimed at employers in rural and regional areas who had “not previously engaged in the apprenticeship system”.

However last week in the Senate, in response to a question from former One Nation Senator Brian Burston, the Minister for Skills and Vocational Education, Senator Michaelia Cash confirmed that the scheme would now be open to employers who have previously employed apprentices.

Senator Burston referred to a NSW butcher, Darren Wilson “who was denied access to the new Apprentice Wage Subsidy trial despite his proud history of employing apprentices and supporting both his industry and local community.”

“I have been assured that this was a bureaucratic error and would be corrected,” Senator Burston told the minister.

Senator Cash confirmed that “Mr Wilson is absolutely able to access apprentices.”

“In fact, in the discussion with my team, he said he would welcome taking on a new apprentice,” Senator Cash said.

The $60m wage subsidy trial will commence in January and will support 1,630 apprentice places.

Asked if it would become a permanent subsidy, Senator Cash said assessment of the scheme would include monitoring of apprenticeship commencements, retention and completion rates against baseline indicators.

Download the Senate Hansard (refer page 67)

PM says 'every cent' of skills fund will be spent on VET

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has confirmed that all the money raised from the $1.5bn Skilling Australians Fund will be spent on vocational education and training, even if some states don’t sign up to the agreement.

The PM told the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry dinner in Canberra last week that “every single cent” of the funds raised through the levy on employers of skilled migrants would go to VET.

“Even where some states and territory governments – as is the case in Victoria and Queensland – where they haven’t signed up to that.

“That’s disappointing, that’s unfortunate and I would still hope they will look carefully at this arrangement with the Skilling Australians Fund and sign on to ensure they are getting the access to those funds to deliver the programmes that are important in their states and territories.

“But every single cent will be spent, of that Skilling Australians Fund, in vocational education and training in Australia.”

TAFE NSW annual report shows the impact of student loan red tape 

More restrictive Commonwealth controls around VET Student Loans, including an onerous application process, impacted student numbers and revenue at TAFE NSW, according to the 2017-18 Annual Report.

“Total revenue was $65m less than budget (or 4%). This was primarily due to the impact of Commonwealth policy changes to move from the VET FEE-HELP (VFH) scheme to the VET Student Loan (VSL) scheme,” the annual report said.

“While the Commonwealth’s loan programs continued to facilitate students’ access to higher-level training, fewer TAFE NSW students in 2017 were supported by VET Student Loans in 2017 when compared with the number supported by VET FEE-HELP in 2016.”

The annual report said part of the reason for the drop in student demand was the result of “new Commonwealth policy measures that more tightly control what assistance a student can receive and the processes to secure assistance.”

TAFE NSW Acting Managing Director Dr Caralee McLiesh noted a series of achievements including nine SkillsPoints that align training with industry needs, a new Digital Lab in Armidale that will explore emerging education technologies, four new Connected Learning Centres, and the launch of the TAFE Academy at Kurri Kurri.

TAFE engagement with Chinese Taiwan boosted by TAFE Queensland visit

TDA and Australian TAFEs continue their strong relationship with Chinese Taiwan, with a recent visit to Taichung by Dr Paul Wilson, General Manager, Brisbane, TAFE Queensland.

Dr Wilson was one of only three foreign experts invited by the Workforce Development Agency (WDA) and the Government of Taichung to present a keynote presentation at the Asia-Pacific Region Employment Promotion Policy Seminar in early November.

Industry supported competency based training drew a great deal of interest from the audience, which included government and institution representatives from across the region.

Dr Wilson observed that Australian TAFEs continue to be well respected in Chinese Taiwan, especially for industry engagement practices and the adoption of industry led competency based training.

The visit resulted from TDA’s ongoing relationship with the WDA, which in 2019 will see TAFEs engage in projects to build the capacity of tourism and hospitality training providers in Chinese Taiwan, as well as support Taiwan in its leadership role of the APEC Human Resource Development Working Group’s Capacity Building Network.

Second from left, Ms Liao, Kuei-Yen, Section Chief of WDA/Deputy Coordinator of APEC Human Resources Development Working Group, Capacity Building Network; and Dr Paul Wilson

South Australia adds courses to subsidised training list

The South Australian government has added 383 additional courses to the subsidised training list that will be available from early January.

The Minister for Industry and Skills, David Pisoni said the new courses were in addition to the 326 qualifications currently available.

“This supports the aim of the Skilling South Australia initiative to create an additional 20,800 apprenticeships and traineeships over four years, a $203 million investment supported by the Australian Government under the Skilling Australians Fund National Partnership Agreement,” Mr Pisoni said.

“We’ve committed to introducing flexible apprenticeships for school students, so they can complete the first year of their apprenticeship and start earning while still achieving their SACE.”

See the subsidised training list.

Position vacant for Tonga skills leader

A position is available for a team leader to head one of Australia’s key skills delivery projects in the Pacific.

The specialist project management company Scope Global is seeking a person to be Team Leader for Tonga Skills for Inclusive Economic Growth.

The program is a key investment of the Australian government and aims for equitable access to quality based and demand driven skills development in Tonga.

Based in Nuku’alofa, the position is responsible for strategic leadership and management of the Tonga Skills Program.

Applications close 16 December.

See more about the role.

Call for presentations for 'No Frills'

The call for abstracts to present at the 28th National Vocational Education and Training Research Conference ‘No Frills in 2019 is now open.

‘No Frills 2019’ will be held in Adelaide from 10-12 July and will be co-hosted by TAFE SA.

NCVER is seeking presentations that explore the theme ‘The student journey: skilling for life and further our understanding of the issues it raises, both for youth and for older workers now and into the future.

Presentations can highlight research that is either in-progress or complete. NCVER strongly encourages early career and established researchers, as well as employers, industry, VET providers and practitioners to present at the conference.

Scholarships are also on offer again this year to assist exceptional presenters with conference registration and travel-related costs.

Submissions close Monday 18 February 2019. For more information, visit the NCVER website.

Diary Dates

Engineering Next-Generation Learning
4 – 7 December 2018
Wollongong, NSW
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Building confidence in VET Practice: 4th Annual Conference on VET Teaching and VET Teacher Education   
Australian Council of Deans of Education Vocational Education Group
6 – 7 December 2018
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2019 VET CEO Conference
Velg Training
17 May 2019
Doltone House – Sydney
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6 – 7 June 2019
International Convention Centre, Sydney
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No Frills
28th National Vocational Education and Training Research Conference
10 – 12 July 2019
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QLD School VET Conference
Velg Training
9 August 2019
Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre, Brisbane
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VDC 2019 Teaching & Learning Conference
12 & 13 September 2019
RACV Torquay Resort, Great Ocean Road, Victoria
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2019 National VET Conference
Velg Training
12 &13 September 2019
Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre, Brisbane
More Information