T’was a week that was – comment by CEO Craig Robertson

T’was a week that was – comment by CEO Craig Robertson

Finishing touches to industry arrangements into vocational education and the Oscars of Australian vocational education topped off an eventful week.

I’m a tragic for awards nights and Friday was no different when it came to the Australian Training Awards. The awards are a program more than an event. Friday night represented the culmination of state and territory ceremonies with the best in vocational education assembled, whether delivered through training organisations, by teachers at the frontier of the education experience, or employers leveraging vocational education for staff development and productivity dividends, or the centrepiece – the reason for vocational education – students.

The TAFE family can sit back proud of its 2020s showing.  See the story below. It not too hard to conclude that TAFEs are the backbone of quality vocational education in this country.

Queensland featured strongly. Apart from the unexpected State of Origin win, Debbie Blow, the leader of health and community services at TAFE Queensland was awarded the National Achievement Award and Mary Campbell, the CEO of TAFE Queensland the Lifetime Achievement Award.

On a personal note, we in the TDA secretariat are so grateful for the support and encouragement we receive from TAFE Q, especially from Mary. Their vision is clear for a strong Australian TAFE network which lifts all TAFEs and we see that driven from Mary’s leadership.

There must be good pedigree in Queensland. This week the Health Services Skills Organisation (HSSO) announced that Jodi Schmidt returns to a leadership position in the VET sector as its CEO – see details below.

The three skill organisations are now in place. The HSSO to support the health services sectors, the Minerals Skill Organisation Pilot (MSOP) and the Digital Skills Organisation (DSO). These are pilots to test new approaches to industry input to vocational education, arising from the Joyce Review. Pilot, is the key word. They have been set up to explore areas for value add from industry.

The fate of Skills Service Organisations (SSOs) and Industry Reference Committees, the current infrastructure for industry ‘determination’ of qualification content and rules is not clear, although Budget papers indicate plans should unfold soon. At this stage, contracts for SSOs expire in the middle of next year and, from what I hear, their contract work for revising training packages is being wound down.

The SOs have agenda to get on with while the new model is contemplated. The federal government has already indicated a new focus on digital transformation[1] and AI for economic transformation and no doubt they will look to the DSO as the channel for industry advice. Mining is a bedrock in terms of economic returns to Australia so MSOP will stay in focus for the Government and the final submissions from Counsel to the Aged Care Royal Commission[2] is already making recommendations for HSSO work.

The sector needs to be ready that the captains of industry in these organisations may not be enamoured with training packages, the market within which they are delivered or the way delivery is regulated.  When you set off a pilot, expect the unexpected!

What can be expected, however, and as demonstrated on Friday night, TAFEs will remain the bedrock for quality delivery, focused on students and connected with industry!

The VET sector's finest are crowned at national training awards

The extraordinary talent of TAFE teachers, students and institutes was on display at the virtual Australian Training Awards on Friday night, capped by TAFE Queensland CEO Mary Campbell taking out the coveted Lifetime Achievement Award.

Mary has a record of more than 30 years in the VET sector, starting at the former Moreton Institute of TAFE, and culminating in her leadership of TAFE Queensland where she is responsible for delivering training to more than 110,000 students annually. In 2018, as training partner for the Commonwealth Games, Mary led TAFE Queensland’s delivery of 360,000 hours of training to 15,000 volunteers for 200 Games roles.

In a double for TAFE Queensland, Debbie Blow, the Director of Faculty for Community Services, Health and Nursing and the Executive Leader Health and Nursing, was presented with the National Achievement Award. Deb has been an outstanding leader in health nursing education and training for more than 20 years. She led a 12-year industry partnership with Ramsay Health Care and Greenslopes Private Hospital to address the need for more registered enrolled nurses, and assisted Griffith University to embed hands-on skills into its Biomedical Science degree.




The VET Teacher/Trainer of the Year Award went to TAFE Gippsland’s Kevin Nunn,whose knowledge and passion for timber training has helped turn the institute into a leading provider for forestry management and timber training.

The Runner-up was Steven Skinner, a TAFE SA lecturer whose 40-year career in the heavy engineering and defence industry has seen him specialise in training methodologies that link industry best practice with tailored, hands-on learning.

The Large Training Provider of the Year was awarded to Victoria’s South West Institute of TAFE, which has provided vital training in skills shortage sectors including nursing, aged care, community services and health, and has forged important links with regional primary and secondary schools.

The Apprentice of the Year was awarded to fifth-generation Tasmanian farmer, Caitlin Radford, who started her Certificate III in Agriculture at TasTAFE as a part-time apprentice and has now progressed into a Diploma of Agribusiness Management.

The Runner-up was Queensland’s Braden Hellmuth who studied a Certificate III in Engineering – Mechanical Trade, and is currently doing a Certificate II in Automotive Air Conditioning Technology to further expand his skills.


The Trainee of the Year is Breanna Cassidy, who studies a Certificate III in Business and is employed by Zip Print.

The Runner-up was Cheyne Pearce from Western Australia, who studied a Certificate IV in Horticulture at North Metropolitan TAFE.



The Vocational Student of the Year is Heetham Hekmat, who arrived in Australia in 2012 as a refugee and went on to study a Diploma of Community Services at TasTAFE and is now a community service worker at Headspace and The Link Youth Health Service in Hobart.

The Runner-up is Trent Caldwell from Western Australia who studied a Diploma of Marketing and Communication at North Metropolitan TAFE. A near-fatal accident left him in a coma and with permanent impairment. He now manages social media for a real estate agency, as well as designing artwork, managing the website, and running advertising campaigns.


The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Student of the Year Award went to Lisa Cherie Birnie, a proud Indigenous woman from the Kamilaroi Nation. Lisa completed a Certificate III in Government in Canberra under the Indigenous Apprenticeship Program with the Department of Defence and CIT Solutions.

The Runner-up was Dale Dhamarrandji, a proud Yolngu man, who completed a Certiicate III in Mobile Plant Technology at Charles Darwin University, making him the first Yolngu apprentice to have completed a heavy diesel apprenticeship at Rio Tinto Operations on the Gove Peninsula.

The Industry Collaboration Award went to Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education and the Australian Defence Force. The two organisations have collaborated to make a career as a soldier more attractive to Indigenous Australians. Participants gain foundational education skills while immersing themselves in 13 weeks of military training.

The Australian School-based Apprentice of the Year Award went to Sebastian Connor, a commercial cookery student from Dickson College in the ACT who studied at Canberra Institute of Technology.

The Runner up was Cassandra O’Carroll, a Conservation and Land Management student, employed by group training organisation, HVTC and hosted by Shoalhaven City Council.



The Excellence in Language, Literacy and Numeracy Practice Award winner was Rachel Leigh Taylor from the Northern Territory. Rachel who started her career as an ‘English as a Second Language’ teacher has developed and delivered language, literacy and numeracy and key foundation skills to support migrant workers and refugees.

The Large Employer of the Year is SA Power Networks which currently has 105 apprentices in training, and over the past 20 years, has trained 575 electrical apprentices and achieved a 93 per cent retention rate.

The Medium Employer of the Year is Outside Ideas from South Australia, a civil construction, commercial landscaping and structural concreting business that established the Construction Training Academy to specialise in landscaping and civil construction training.

The Small Employer of the Year Award went to Kent Saddlery in Queensland which currently has 10 apprentices, and in 2019, was successful in having the Queensland government reinstate leather production as an apprenticeship.

Victoria’s Builders Academy Australia won the Small Training Provider of the Year Award for its work in producing more than 8,000 builders with nationally accredited qualifications, and its emphasis on language, literacy and numeracy, and women in the trades.

The Australian Apprenticeships Employer Award was made to Fairbrother, a small, family-owned building and construction business in Tasmania’s North that is dedicated to training. Since 1974, Fairbrother has trained almost 400 apprentices.

St Paul’s College in Kempsey was awarded the School Pathways to VET Award for its work in vocational programs focussing on primary industries, hospitality and construction.

Congratulations to all these remarkable winners and finalists who have achieved outstanding results in a most challenfing year!

See details of all the Australian Training Awards winners and finalists. 

Charles Darwin University revamps its VET operations

Northern Territory’s Charles Darwin University has agreed to merge elements of its vocational education and higher education functions, in order to achieve $9 million in savings and make VET more sustainable.

It follows six weeks of consultation and will see CDU reduce its staff by 77 full time positions.

“It is a difficult time but we have a Council directive to find savings through financial efficiencies across the university for sustainability, and to position CDU for growth and provide better pathways for more VET students,” Deputy Vice-Chancellor Meredith Parry said.

External reports by Ernst & Young, and Drs Shanahan and Zoellner outline the specific challenges faced by CDU and found the current VET structure to be financially unsustainable.

CDU is one of only six dual-sector universities in Australia, with 8,700 or 45% of its students enrolled in VET.

However, CDU says that since 2012, funding and enrolment for VET across Australia have been falling and delivering VET in remote locations in the Northern Territory also presents unique challenges.

See more

Former TAFE CEO to lead human services skills organisation

The former head of TAFE Queensland, Jodi Schmidt, has been appointed as the CEO of the Human Services Skills Organisation (HSSO) Pilot.

The HSSO is one of three pilots in human services care, digital technologies and mining, that will trial new ways of working to shape the national training system.

Jodi has extensive experience in the VET sector, having served as Deputy Director-General, Training and Employment with the Queensland government, and then as the inaugural CEO of TAFE Queensland.

She also served as the Chair of the National Education and Foundation Skills – Industry Reference Committee (IRC), and has been a member of a number of national review boards and expert panels.

TAFE graduate earns Australia’s top building design excellence award

A graduate of Box Hill Institute, Talina Edwards, has been awarded the Building Designers Association of Australia (BDAA) National Design Excellence award.

The award, which recognises excellence and sustainabilty in building design, was for Talina’s Owl Woods Passive House in Trentham, Victoria, which has been described as one of the most unique and beautiful architecturally-designed ‘Passivhaus’ homes in Australia.

Talina is a recent graduate of Box Hill Institutes’ Certified Passive House Designer course.

“One of the best parts of the Certified Passive House Designer course was the passionate and knowledgeable teacher,” Talina said.

“This course provides the knowledge, with both theory and practice examples, to learn how to lead by example.  Understanding building science is fundamental for construction industry professionals.”

Congratulations to Talina and Box Hill Institute on this outstanding achievement!

Photo: Talina Edwards Architecture

VET reform that once took years delivered in days: Minister Cash

The Minister Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business, Senator Michaelia Cash has spoken of the rapid-fire response from the states and territories to the Commonwealth JobTrainer initiative.

Senator Cash told an IBSA – Ai Group webinar on modern manufacturing that the Commonwealth offer of $500 million, matched by the states and territories, to create 340,000 additional jobs was something that might normally take three of four years, but was achieved in record time.

“Within 48 hours I had responses that all of them would be prepared to sign up,” she said.

“…you would know that never, ever happens in the VET sector. We’re normally having that conversation three or four years down the track.”

See the full event: Delivering Modern Manufacturing through a Skilled Workforce – 2020 Budget Initiatives

IBSA is also running a series of sector-specific webinars to explore the skills required for modern manufacturing. See the details

Help to shape Australia's approach to artificial intelligence 

Do you want to help shape Australia’s vision for artificial intelligence (AI)?

The Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources is seeking views on the direction of AI policy in Australia. The draft action plan is based around four pillars:

  • Creating opportunities for Australian businesses
  • Cutting-edge AI research and development to address national problems
  • AI skills and capability to strengthen Australia’s workforce
  • Human-centred AI to maximise the benefits of these technologies for all Australians

The Department is seeking views, and an on-line survey may be completed, in response to the discussion paper An AI Action Plan for all Australians.

While the closing date is this Friday November 27, you may contact the department at Artificial.Intelligence@industry.gov.au if you need to seek further time to respond. This is a longer term strategic development process, and your views are important.

You may read more about the AI initiatives here.

Professor Peter Coaldrake appointed to TEQSA

The former Vice-Chancellor of Queensland University of Technology, Emeritus Professor Peter Coaldrake, has been appointed Chief Commissioner of the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA).

The Minister for Education Dan Tehan said Professor Coaldrake would bring invaluable experience, insight and leadership to the role.

He replaces retiring Chief Commissioner Professor Nicholas Saunders.

Professor Coaldrake was Vice-Chancellor of Queensland University of Technology from 2003 to 2017 and also completed the Review of Higher Education Provider Category Standards in 2018-19.

Conference to put VET teaching under the spotlight 

A range of Australian and international speakers will discuss VET teaching and teacher education at the upcoming 2020 Australian Council of Deans of Education Vocational Education Group (ACDEVEG) online conference, 14 & 15 December.

The event will run from 6 pm-8 pm AEDT, both days, and it’s free.

The first evening features international speakers, and the second day is Australian experts.

See the flyer and register here

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
30 November – 4 December 2020
More information

Australian Council of Deans of Education Vocational Education Group (ACDEVEG)
VET teacher development around the world: 6th Annual Conference on VET Teaching and VET Teacher Education  

14 – 15 December 2020
More information

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

Worldskills Australia
25 – 29 August 2021
Perth Exhibition and Convention Centre
More information