VET should never be the same – comment by CEO Craig Robertson

VET should never be the same – comment by CEO Craig Robertson

The virus reveals the fault lines in the economy in the same way earthquakes show the weak spots of buildings, roads and bridges. This was the advice last week from Adam Triggs[1], of the ANU’s Crawford School of Public Policy, about rebuilding the economy after COVID-19.

According to Triggs, the cracks in the economy unearthed by the virus is the high proportion of casual workers, too easily laid off, our poor safety net, euphemistically called Newstart and the high levels of debt in households giving them little leeway to weather financial storms. In concert, these three led to the unsettling scenes a fortnight ago of queues outside Centrelink offices.

About 2.6 million Australians are casual workers with no paid leave. While the high proportion is often justified as the flex the labour market needs that also suits casuals’ random lifestyles, most of these workers want more work. In economic costs, less secure income leads to less consumption, the magic ingredient which keeps the economy ticking over. As Triggs puts it, the uncertainty results in ‘less spending, less labour mobility and fewer people taking the risk of starting a business or going for a new job’.

The low Newstart payment has been easy to justify as the incentive for the unemployed to look for work. However, where the option facing many is insecure temporary work, the price of the switch – temporary low paid work with a costly transition to get back on Newstart if it ends – keeps the rational job seeker in the scheme. There is plenty of evidence from the economics community that a boost to Newstart passes directly into economic activity as recipients are unlikely to hoard the extra payment.

A weak balance sheet drains confidence to deal with difficult times. For households in Australia there is little in the coffers to see out even a temporary loss of income. Total household debt in Australia exceeds 200 per cent of GDP as is the case with Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway and Switzerland followed closely by Korea, Canada and Ireland.

This crisis also reveals cracks in VET. For a good while in VET the overarching philosophy guiding its policy has been human capital – higher level skills hold value in the labour market and can be exchanged for secure jobs and high wages. An individual with a diversified portfolio of skills can readily switch to other paying jobs when opportunities in one area close off. For the individual, human capital is the motivation for investing in skills and knowledge to navigate the complex world of work.

Human capital can also be seen in power terms – skills are simply input goods which can be commodified and stripped to the barest necessity for just in time production.

Whatever one’s view of the philosophy underpinning VET, it’s time to contemplate its suitability for the times. If human capital are the skills for exchange in the labour market, why are VET qualifications aligned to occupations which by logic have too many (qualifications), consigning graduates in some dystopian sort of way to poor paying and insecure jobs. If skills are simply stripped-back factors of production, then let’s make that clear to individuals (and perhaps let’s not dress it up as vocational education).

Following the GFC, most countries went into long-term debt which the taxpayer has been repaying since through austerity measures.

Out of this crisis we must focus on the citizen. We must build up their skills and knowledge balance sheet, so they have ample capital, or capability in education parlance, to get a good job and have the confidence to risk the move to a better job or start a business.

This takes investment on the part of government. It pays off though and it’s likely to be one of the key ways to rebuild economic activity. Let’s be clear, Australia’s growth was in trouble before the virus hit.  Triggs summarised it neatly in December 2019:

Compared to the first half of the decade, retail spending growth over the past five years is down 30 per cent, quarterly wage growth is down 40 per cent and consumption growth is down 15 per cent. The rate at which the economy creates new businesses has fallen from 14 to 11 per cent. Investment now contracts each quarter by an average of 0.4 per cent and productivity growth has flatlined. GDP growth remains around global financial crisis levels.[2]

Generous investment in capability – deep knowledge and transferable skills – is about the only way for a fair way out from this crisis.

Government wipes $100m in VET and university charges, student loan fees    

TAFEs and other VET providers will be handed an 18-month period of relief from fees and charges under a package of measures announced by the federal government on Sunday. Among the measures:

  • Fees and charges for providers registered with the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) between 1 January 2020 and 30 June 2021 will be waived. ASQA will reimburse fees already paid.
  • ASQA’s move to full cost recovery, due to start on 1 July 2020, will be delayed until July 2021.
  • For six months, there will be an exemption from loan fees associated with VET Student Loans.

The changes were unveiled by the Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business, Senator Michaelia Cash, and the Minister for Education, Dan Tehan.

“We’re listening to industry, which is why fees charged by the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA), and the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA) will be refunded or waived,” Senator Cash said.

“These measures will put some $100 million back into the cash flow of Australian education and training businesses so this money can be used to retain employees, reshape education offerings and support domestic and international students.”

See assistance for registered training providers

Government uses coronavirus to trial short online courses 

Higher education providers, including dual sector universities, will see fees slashed for a series of short, online courses in areas including nursing, teaching, IT, foreign languages and agriculture.

The higher education relief package announced by Education Minister Dan Tehan on Sunday will see a focus on new ‘micro-credentials’ in national priority areas. The courses will start at the beginning of May and initially will run for six months.

“It’s where the higher education sector is moving towards,” Mr Tehan said.

“But, we have used this opportunity to be one of the first countries to really put micro-credentialing, or short courses, on the map. And, our hope is, we’ll get about, at least, 20,000 people, wanting to take these up.”

The courses will be offered through graduate certificates, requiring prerequisites, and what will be known as diploma certificates, requiring no prior learning.

“This plan will help Australians who have lost their job or are looking to retrain to use their time studying nursing, teaching, counselling, allied health or other areas considered national priorities,” Mr Tehan said.

“But, if you are a nurse and you want to specialise in an area, then you would be able to do a six-month course. Or, if you were a teacher and you wanted to improve your skills for online teaching, then you would be able to do a course. Or, if you decide to change careers, this first six months you can get half of a diploma through a diploma certificate, and, then, you go on to get a diploma, if you want to continue on with your studies,” he said.

The courses won’t apply to TAFEs, but Mr Tehan noted “We’re also looking at doing some other things when it comes to vocational education, as well.”

See Minister Tehan’s interview with Jeremy Lee, ABC South West Victoria Breakfast.

Displaced apprentices able to link with employers on new national register

Apprentices and trainees from small businesses who lost their jobs due to the COVID-19 outbreak can now connect with prospective employers through a new national register.

The Apprentice and Trainee Re-engagement Register allows apprentices and trainees who were in a training contract with a small business at March 1 to upload details such as qualifications, work experience and resumes.

Employers of any size can register their details and post vacancies for apprentices or trainees. They can also apply for a wage subsidy of 50 per cent of the apprentice’s or trainee’s wage, under the government’s Supporting Apprentices and Trainees initiative.

The register was announced by the federal government in its first economic response to the coronavirus, and is operated by the National Apprentice Employment Network (NAEN).

The CEO of NAEN Dianne Dayhew said the register will give apprentices and trainees a chance to retain their skills and safeguard their livelihoods by gaining access to businesses where they can have a fresh start.

“For employers, it’s a great opportunity to engage an apprentice or trainee who comes with existing training and employment experience under their belt,” she said.

A 25-year snapshot of Australian youth

The year was 1995 – Kiss from a Rose by Seal was Australia’s number one song for six weeks, the DVD was introduced, and eBay was launched.

It was also the start of the Longitudinal Surveys of Australian Youth (LSAY), which each year, tracks a fresh cohort of young Australians as they progress through school, further education, training and work.

It has followed more than 60,000 young Australians from the ages of 15-25 over the 25 years since 1995.

To mark the anniversary, the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER) has released a new report 25 years of LSAY: Research from the Longitudinal Surveys of Australian Youth.

An infographic is also available.

More than 300 studies have been published using LSAY data, and an additional 2,400 studies have cited work published under the LSAY research program.

#inthistogether for international students

The international student sector is rallying to support students amid the challenges thrown up by COVID-19.

TDA was among several organisations calling for direct financial support for international students caught in Australia and under financial stress due to loss of work and disruption to studies.

So far, the federal government has rejected calls to extend financial support to international students and has urged them to seek access to superannuation, or to return home if they cannot support themselves.

Many education providers have been assisting international students in local communities through supplies of food, housing and personal support.

The social media initiative #inthistogether is a campaign that provides messages of support and unity and shows how we are caring for and supporting our international students and the sector through the COVID-19 crisis.

Developed by Austrade, #inthistogether encourages partners, providers, international students and the community to come together and show support for international students during this challenging time.

VET-in-schools programs prove great career starters

Secondary school students who undertake school-based apprenticeships and traineeships are among the most likely to be in full-time permanent employment five years later, according to a new report by the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER).

The report VET for secondary school students (VfSSS): post-school employment and training destinations also shows they were more likely to be employed in an occupation relevant to their VfSSS course than students who did not undertake an apprenticeship or traineeship as part of school studies.

“Choosing the right VET course and pathway as part of secondary schooling can make a substantial difference to students looking for a direct transition from school into an apprenticeship or full-time ongoing employment,” said Simon Walker, Managing Director, NCVER.

“Also, most VfSS students who’d gone on to complete post-school qualifications had done so at a higher level than their original qualification, demonstrating the important role VfSSS plays in motivating students to study further.”

The report uses an integrated dataset linking NCVER’s National VET in Schools Collection with the 2016 ABS Census of Population and Housing to investigate the post-school employment and training destinations of secondary school students who undertook VfSSS programs in 2011.

Diary Dates

Youth Futures Summit (postponed)
20 – 21 April 2020
Melbourne Cricket Ground
More information

AVETRA Conference (postponed)
20/20 vision for VET: Research at the centre of future policy and practice
23 – 24 April 2020
More information

2020 VET CEO Conference (postponed)
Velg Training
15 May 2020
QT Gold Coast Hotel, Surfers Paradise, Queensland
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 (cancelled)
NCVER co-hosted with TAFE WA, North Metropolitan TAFE
8 – 10 July 2020
Perth, Western Australia
More information

TAFE Directors Australia Convention 2020 (cancelled)
12 – 14 August 2020
Westin Hotel, Perth
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

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