There were 1.1 million students enrolled in the government-funded vocational education and training (VET) system in 2018, down 1.9% when compared with 2017, according to a new report released today by the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER).
Government-funded students and courses 2018 provides a snapshot of VET funded by Commonwealth and state/territory governments that is delivered by TAFE institutes, other government providers (such as universities), community education providers and other registered providers.
In terms of participation, an estimated 6.7% of Australians aged 15–64 years participated in the government-funded VET system in 2018, similar to 2017.
In 2018, enrolments in government-funded programs at certificate I or higher declined by 6.3% to 1.14 million program enrolments. Both hours of delivery and full-year training equivalents decreased by 6.4% when compared with 2017.
Demographically, 45.4% of government-funded VET students were aged 24 years and under in 2018 and 49.0% were female. The number of Indigenous students increased by 1.8% to 79 000, while the number of students with a disability remained similar to 2017 at 100 800.
A total of 1747 training organisations delivered government-funded VET in 2018, including 35 TAFE institutes, 357 community education providers, and 1413 other providers.
Australian vocational education and training statistics: Government-funded students and courses 2018 is now available from www.ncver.edu.au/publications
Students work on an engine at Sisli Vocational High School in Istanbul, Turkey.
At UN Headquarters, and across the globe, events are taking place on Monday to celebrate World Youth Skills Day – marked each year on 15 July – to raise awareness about the importance of youth skills development.
The Day is important because rising youth unemployment is seen as one of the most significant problems facing economies and societies in today’s world, for developed and developing countries alike.
Some 73 million young people are currently unemployed, with 40 million joining the labour market each year. To tackle the problem, at least 475 million new jobs need to be created over the next decade.
Skills for all
However, data suggests that many graduates are ill-prepared for the world of work, and the UN is working to ensure that as many young people as possible have the skillset to prosper in the job market.
Education and training are central part of the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which aims to end poverty and inequality, whilst preserving the planet. Goal 4 of the Agenda is to “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”.
A significant aspect of Goal 4 is the development of technical and vocational education and training. Improving access to these skills is expected to address economic, social and environmental demands, by helping youth and adults develop the skills they need for employment, decent work and entrepreneurship.
The UN believes that these skills can give youth the ability to access the world of work, and start their own businesses; and make young people more resilient in the face of a market that demands more flexibility, helping to increase productivity and increase wage levels.
They can also reduce access barriers to the world of work, through work-based learning, and ensuring that skills gained are recognised and certified; and offer skills development opportunities for low-skilled people who are unemployed.
Labor MP Jason Clare’s claim apprentice numbers fell 30-40pc under the Coalition is mostly trueImage:AAP
AAP FactCheck Investigation:
Has the number of apprentices in Australia dropped by 30 to 40 per cent over the last six years?
“Over the last six years, we’ve seen the number of apprentices in Australia drop by 30 or 40 per cent.”
Jason Clare, Labor frontbencher. July 16, 2019.
Mostly true – Mostly accurate, but there is a minor error or problem.
Labor frontbencher Jason Clare is the federal member for the Sydney seat of Blaxland. He claimed the Liberal government had a bad record on investing in education and accused it of “ripping the guts” out of TAFE and taking money out of higher education. He stated the way to boost productivity and wages was to invest in education. 
AAP FactCheck examined Mr Clare’s claim that the number of apprentices in Australia dropped by 30 to 40 per cent over the last six years since the Coalition government came to power in September 2013.
Mr Clare’s office advised AAP FactCheck the source of his claim was data compiled by the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER) from September 2013 to September 2017, a period which spans four years, not six years as he stated.
NCVER is responsible for collecting and analysing research and statistics about Australia’s vocational education and training sector. 
NCVER told AAP FactCheck it collected data on apprenticeships and trainees and published these figures together as combined totals across three measures – the number who’d commenced training, were in training and the number who’d completed training.
Based on Mr Clare’s figures sourced from NCVER, the number of apprentices and trainees who commenced training in September 2013 dropped by 49.56 per cent from 71,600 to 36,115 by September 2017.  
The number of apprentices and trainees who were in training during this same period dropped by 34.7 per cent from 413,300 to 269,905.  
Apprentice and trainee completion rates from September 2013 also dropped from 35,900 by 35.86 per cent to 23,025 by September 2017.  
AAP FactCheck analysed the most recent figures available from NCVER to the end of December 2018. The latest figures show the number of apprentices and trainees who commenced training dropped from 71,600 in September 2013 to 33,760 in December 2018, representing a 52.85 per cent fall.  
The number of apprentices and trainees in-training dropped from 413,300 in September 2013 to 259,385 in December 2018, resulting in a 37.24 per cent reduction during the time period.  
The number of apprentices and trainees who completed their training in September 2013 dropped from 35,900 to 26,780 in December 2018. This was a reduction of 25.4 per cent which was less than Mr Clare’s 30 to 40 per cent claim.  
Based on this evidence, AAP FactCheck found Mr Clare’s claim that the number of apprentices (and trainees) had dropped in the past six years by 30 to 40 per cent to be mostly true.
NCVER’s data shows the number of apprentices and trainees has fallen by 25-50 per cent since the Coalition came to power in 2013.
Mr Clare was correct in claiming the number of apprentices (and trainees) who had commenced or were in training fell between 30 to 40 per cent in the six-year period from 2013 to 2018.
Using the latest figures, he was wrong on one of the three measures, ie the number who had completed their course, which declined 25.4 per cent – less than his 30-40 per cent claim.
Mostly true – Mostly accurate, but there is a minor error or problem.
1. ‘AM Agenda’. Sky News Australia. July 16, 2019: https://twitter.com/SkyNewsAust/status/1150911997224992768
2. ‘About us’. The National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER). January 1, 2019: https://www.ncver.edu.au/about-ncver/about-us
3. ‘Apprentices and trainees 2017 March quarter’. The National Centre for Vocational Education Research. (A. Report PDF format pages 7, 8, & 9). 2017: https://www.voced.edu.au/content/ngv%3A77585
4. ‘Apprentices and trainees 2018: December quarter – Australia’. The National Centre for Vocational Education Research. (Australian Quarterly Training Activity). June 5, 2019: https://www.ncver.edu.au/research-and-statistics/publications/all-publications/apprentices-and-trainees-2018-december-quarter-australia
* AAP FactCheck is accredited by the Poynter Institute’s International Fact-Checking Network, which promotes best practice through a stringent and transparent Code of Principles. https://factcheck.aap.com.au/
Let’s test VET’s value proposition – comment by CEO Craig Robertson
There’s been encouraging news for vocational education this past fortnight or so. On separate occasions the Prime Minister and Minister for Skills, Senator Michaelia Cash have said:
“We believe that learning through a vocational education is just as valuable as a university degree, so we want to transform the way we deliver skills, support employers and fund training.”
Word for word – a unity ticket. A good one.
It’s unusual in political discourse but in this case, I suspect it’s by design.
Both sides of politics have similar aspirations for the sector. In February 2018 in announcing a review of post-school education if Labor were elected, Tanya Plibersek said: “Labor wants prospective students to see TAFE and uni as equally attractive study options.”
I suspect both sides of politics are reflecting the growing sentiment in the community. Whenever I mention this issue with friends and acquaintances, they are quick to say we have the balance wrong between university and TAFEs. Before universities withdraw their support for a strong TAFE, let me add, the centrality of education and training in the economic fabric of a country and its chances globally, warrants new investment in TAFE, not transfer from universities.
I’m focused on the phrase “just as valuable”. Value holds different meanings for each of us. Just because I value my tweed jacket doesn’t mean my wife does, nor that I place the same value as she would on yet another pair of shoes!
In VET the term is loaded. The sector is structured, the rhetoric is straightforward and it’s shouted loud and clear – vocational education and training is about getting a job, or a better one!
Then, what is the data telling us about the chance of success of that message. The chart below shows trends in VET students by age group. It seems young people are not responding to the VET message.
Do job outcomes for those who choose the VET option stack up? Last November KPMG released research by NATSEM on the wage and earnings return from VET and higher education compared to completing Year 12. VET does not fare well as the chart for males shows. For females the wage return is better from completing Year 12 than VET.
The report acknowledges that enrolments in catch-up VET courses dampens the returns. That’s a point worth contemplating. If that training is catch-up as it is supposed to be (Certificate II is equivalent to Year 12 as the policy goes) then those students should have earnings equivalent to Year 12. Then, for the remainder, about 70 per cent by my calculations, completing Certificate III or higher, you would contemplate higher outcomes. This makes the overall result for the sector more disappointing.
Some will say that the VET outcome measures collated by NCVER tell us students are satisfied with the training. That may be the case, but it’s difficult to draw conclusions from such subjective feedback. Their feedback about their jobs is more objective though. The same student survey tells us that of the 62 per cent of the students in employment at the start of their training, just over one-fifth reported getting a job at a higher skill level! Of those without work when they started, one-in-two got a job! For the 74 per cent of students who cite a job benefit from training, remember one of the three responses which give rise to this measure is simply a positive response to “received a job-related benefit.” I’m not sure these figures stack up for a sector selling jobs.
KPMG’s report cites Dame Alison Wolf, someone of enormous value to TVET across the globe, as saying: “Teenagers are entirely rational in their quest for academic qualifications … these seem to pay much better on average than vocational ones, as well as opening-up far more alternatives in a mobile changing economy.”
I recall friends from KPMG almost apologising for publishing the report. There’s little they could do. The question is what governments can do.
What can we draw from the Government’s statements? The aim is to be applauded but the path will not be easy. One thing that will help is Minister Cash’s commitment to a co-design process for implementation of the 2019 Budget measures such as the Skills Commission and Skills Organisations.
I say, give TAFEs a chance to stretch the value proposition. After all, they know a thing or two about skills for their communities and the aspiration of the students they serve.
TAFEs and private colleges to collaborate following landmark South Australian agreement
Private training colleges will have access to TAFE campuses and will share resources and coordinate on course offerings under an MOU between TAFE SA and the Independent Tertiary Education Council Australia (ITECA-SA), signed last week.
The Minister for Education John Gardner said the agreement will see the organisations working together through joint policy priorities, professional development initiatives, closer liaison regarding the scope of delivery offered by providers, and access for independent providers to publicly owned resources.
TAFE SA Chief Executive David Coltman said the closer relationship between the sectors would ensure that local education and training needs are being met.
“TAFE SA will contribute by providing access to our campuses for other training providers and businesses, sharing professional development opportunities and making sure that the right training for future needs of industry is being provided,” he said.
ITECA’s South Australian Executive Officer Dr Joy de Leo said the state would obtain greater value from the increased use of taxpayer-funded facilities with benefits going ultimately to those in receipt of training.
Response to Victorian free TAFE courses shows the value of a TAFE qualification
The overwhelming student response to Victoria’s free TAFE initiative demonstrates the pent up demand for new skills after years of upheaval in the sector, TAFE Directors Australia says.
TDA CEO Craig Robertson said the despite some initial teething problems, the free TAFE roll-out showed that Victorians value a VET pathway and that many had been held back by upfront costs or concern about the state of the training sector.
“The undoubted success of Free TAFE in Victoria reveals more about the aspirations of Victorians for career change and new work opportunities than initial teething problems reported in The Age,” Mr Robertson said.
“Free TAFE has been the right strategy to bring people back into vocational education because it removed financial barriers and ensured options were available across the state.
“All of the sector is rebuilding, especially after the disaster of VET FEE-HELP which saw many sudden closures of private providers, leaving students stranded and TAFEs picking up the pieces.
“But it would be naive to think that upheaval hasn’t impacted TAFEs. They are also rebuilding and some teething problems in the face of such demand is understandable,” Mr Robertson said.
Dozens of training colleges affected by ASQA regulatory hit
Dozens of training colleges have had their registrations cancelled by the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA), in one of the regulator’s largest single crackdowns.
A total of 61 training providers were notified in late June that their registration as VET providers was cancelled. A further three colleges had their registrations suspended and two had renewals rejected by ASQA.
Some of the cancellations appear due to relatively minor oversights.
ASQA says the cancellations were the result of providers not operating consistently with the requirements of the VET Quality Framework, or with data provision requirements, including failing to complete and lodge annual declarations by the due date.
Training providers subject to an adverse regulatory decision have the right to have the decision reviewed, and a provider may, in certain circumstances, apply to have ASQA reconsider its decision.
VET stakeholders to have a say in design of new national skills agency
The federal government will embark on a “co-design” approach with key stakeholders in developing the new National Skills Commission that will oversee the country’s VET sector.
The Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business Senator Michaelia Cash told the NCVER ‘No Frills’ conference last Thursday that the government’s skills policy agenda would “promote a national approach to skills development and enhance the role of industry in designing training packages.”
“We will establish a new National Skills Commission – to provide leadership on workforce needs and VET funding,” Senator Cash said.
“A national co-design process will determine the functions, remit and governance of the new Commission.
“The Australian Government is committed to a VET system that puts industry at its heart,” she said.
As recommended by the Joyce Review, the commission will determine subsidy levels for government funded training, administer Commonwealth funding to the VET sector, develop performance indicators and produce skills needs forecasts.
Minister Cash said departmental projections show that seven out of the ten fastest growing occupations have a VET qualification pathway.
TAFE Queensland to feature at national apprenticeship conference
TAFE Queensland students and staff will take centre stage at the upcoming National Apprentice Employment Network conference ‘Beyond 2020’ on the Gold Coast, July 31 – August 2.
The conference will look at the future of VET and apprenticeships with speakers including the Assistant Minister for Vocational Education, Training and Apprenticeships, Steve Irons; the Shadow Minister for Education and Training, Tanya Plibersek; and the architect of the Commonwealth VET review, Steven Joyce.
The event will hear from John Tucker and Erik Salonen from TAFE Queensland SkillsTech, and will see a panel discussion with representatives from TAFE, private RTOs, Training Services NSW and Tradeswomen Australia on the future of apprenticeships, facilitated by Australian Industry Group’s Megan Lily.
The conference dinner, sponsored by TAFE Queensland, will feature TAFE hospitality and service students, and hear from WorldSkills Australia ‘Skillaroo’ Anthony Cobb ahead of the WorldSkills international competition in Kazan, Russia next month.
TAFE SA campuses remain but with reduced footprint
The South Australian government has decided against closing the TAFE campus in the Adelaide suburb of Urrbrae, but TAFE’s presence will be scaled back in several locations.
Education Minister John Gardner said TAFE SA will maintain its presence at the Urrbrae campus and continue the delivery of horticulture training, after meeting its savings targets and by providing underutilised space to the Urrbrae Agricultural High School, which is co-located at the site.
However, the minister confirmed TAFE’s Port Adelaide campus will close in January.
TAFE SA will maintain a presence at Roxby Downs, Wudinna and Coober Pedy campuses but in a scaled back form.
Mr Gardner said the government was focused on supporting TAFE to become more competitive as a training provider.
“This announcement allows TAFE to continue to deliver specialist courses on sites where they can be best delivered, while reducing and consolidating underutilised spaces,” he said.
National Skills Week
26 August – 1 September 2019
Locations around Australia More information
TAFE Directors Australia 2019 Convention
‘The Power of TAFE’
3 – 5 September 2019
Brisbane More information
2019 National VET Conference
12 &13 September 2019
Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre, Brisbane More Information
Community Colleges Australia 2019 Annual Conference
18-20 November 2019
The Stamford Plaza Hotel, Brisbane More Information
Australian Training Awards
21 November 2019
Brisbane, Queensland More information
Australian Council of Deans of Education Vocational Education Group
5th Annual onference on VET Teaching and VET Teacher Education
9-10 Decemer 2019
Charles Stut University Wagga Wagga Campus More informtion
In a speech delivered at the National Vocational Education and Training Research Conference, Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business, Michaelia Cash, announced that the federal government sees the vocational education and training (VET) sector as important to the economy as universities.
Noting that the government wishes to transform the delivery of skills and funding for training, Cash clarified how the funding of $500 million for a “Skills Package” will be spent.
The funding will provide careers guidance, foundation skills training and more apprentices for in demand jobs.
In her speech, Cash cited figures that show that those with VET qualifications can make as much money as those with university degrees. Cash noted that this funding for the VET sector will enable the workforce to evolve.
Furthermore, as employees and businesses require their staff to undergo mid-career training in service of re-training or up-skilling, the VET sector is the educational provider of choice, with one quarter of VET students over 45 and two thirds over 25.
However, according to the Joyce Report into the VET sector, training providers need to better connect with industry and there is a lack of clear, consistent funding.
With the $500 million in funding, the government will establish a National Skills Commission, pilot Skills Organisations in priorities industries, including digital technologies, found a National Careers Institute with a National Careers Ambassador, expand the Australian Apprentice Wage Subsidy Trial, and create 10 Industry Training Hubs in regional areas.
“Demand for skills is shifting from manufacturing to the services sector and emerging industries like advanced manufacturing, ICT and cyber-security. Our vocational education system needs an upgrade to ensure it remains world-class, modern and flexible,” said Cash.
The Ai Group welcomed Cash’s comments, with chief executive, Innes Willox, highlighting the role that the VET sector plays in providing a skilled workforce for future industry needs.
“If the Australian economy is to continue to prosper and remain internationally competitive, it is vital to have access to a highly skilled and qualified workforce. With the rapid advance of technology and digitalisation, a higher level of skills for the workforce is more important than ever,” said Willox.
Willox noted, however, that there is further work to be done in aligning educational outcomes with the needs of industry, and the assistance industry requires to develop workforce plans to manage digitalisation.
The Marshall Government’s new VET plan shows it is determined to sell South Australia’s TAFE system to the highest bidder and allow private training providers to line their own pockets at the expense of TAFE students.
The plan will give profit-seeking private training providers access to TAFE SA sites at the same time that TAFE budgets in South Australia are being slashed.
AEU Federal President Correna Haythorpe warned other states and territories not to follow suit, saying it would severely impact the ability of Australians to access affordable, high-quality vocational education. She said it would leave hundreds of thousands of trainees and apprentices across Australia at the mercy of profit-seeking private training providers.
“The Marshall Government’s agenda on vocational education is clear. It plans to wash its hands of responsibility for VET by privatising TAFE SA and allowing private training providers to line their pockets at the expense of students,” Ms Haythorpe said.
“It’s clear that big business is aligning with Liberal governments at both a state and federal level in a push to squeeze TAFE out completely and hand responsibility for vocational education to private providers.”
“The private sector’s idea of VET-sector competition is to drive down costs and standards and drive the ‘competition’-that means TAFE-out of business. Then it can jack up prices and force students to pay through the nose,” Ms Haythorpe said.
“TAFE is one of the crown jewels of the Australian education system. It has proudly provided vocational education for generations of Australians in everything from plumbing to nursing, childcare and IT.”
“The Marshall Government’s plan is a poorly-disguised bid by private training providers to line their own pockets at the expense of TAFE by hiding behind words like ‘choice’ and competition’,” Ms Haythorpe said.
Ms Haythorpe said that the Marshall Government’s new plan was the culmination of a years-long campaign to slash budgets and government support for TAFE SA:
SA government-funded VET student numbers have reduced from 150,000 in 2013 to just 63,000 in 2017
The SA Government’s total recurrent VET funding contribution has been cut by 40% since 2013, with recurrent VET expenditure per person now the second lowest in the country (after NSW)
Thirteen TAFE SA campuses have closed and more than 700 jobs have been lost, while moreTAFE campuses were earmarked for closure in the 2018 state budget
Ms Haythorpe said the moves by the Marshall Government to marginalise TAFE SA and favour private training providers were reflected nationally.
“Despite the clear and undisputed benefits that a robustly funded and administered public TAFE and vocational education sector provides our economy and our society, there has been a concerted and continual drive from successive Coalition governments to marginalise vocational education and deprioritise TAFE,” Ms Haythorpe said.
“This anti-TAFE push is gathering speed. In its first Federal Budget the Morrison Government included no additional specified funding for TAFE-amazingly, it failed to mention TAFE at all.”
“History has shown that private providers aren’t interested in quality education. ITECA represents profit-seeking private education providers and is focused on taking government TAFE funding and giving it to private providers,” Ms Haythorpe said.
Ms Haythorpe said that TAFE must remain a strong public provider of vocational education in Australia. She called upon the Morrison Government to:
Guarantee a minimum of 70% government funding to the public TAFE system. In addition, no public funding should go to private for-profit providers, consistent with other education sectors.
Restore funding and rebuild the TAFE system, to restore confidence in the quality of the courses and qualifications and the institution.
Abandon the failed student loans experiment, and cancel the debts of all students caught up in private for-profit provider scams.
Re-invest in the TAFE teaching workforce and develop a future-focused TAFE workforce development strategy in collaboration with the profession and unions.
Develop a capital investment strategy in consultation with state governments, to address the deplorable state of TAFE facilities around the country.
Support a comprehensive independent inquiry into TAFE.
“Any proposal which undermines the importance of the Commonwealth and state and territory governments working together to build a strong, vibrant, fully funded public TAFE will be fiercely opposed by the AEU,” Ms Haythorpe said.
The Independent Tertiary Education Council Australia (ITECA) represents independent providers in the higher
education, vocational education and training sectors. It has entered into a new agreement with TAFE SA that
is designed to foster collaboration bet ween independent and pubic providers of vocational education and
training (VET) and TAFE SA to support students get the skills they need to support a growing economy.
The agreement will see ITECA and TAFE SA working together through joint policy priorities, professional
development initiatives, closer liaison regarding the scope of delivery offered by providers and access for
independent providers to publicly owned resources.
“This is an important agreement that signals the intent of the ITECA membership and TAFE SA to provide
the workforce with the skills that the South Australian workforce will need into the future,” said Troy
Williams, ITECA Chief Executive.
Beyond looking at what type of training is most needed, the agreement also paves the way for independent
providers to use TAFE SA’s facilities to support the provision of courses.
“This innovative agreement will enable all education and training providers, both public and independent.
to complement each other ensuring maximum benefit from the expertise and resources available in the
VET sector. As a result, South Australia will obtain greater value from the increased use of taxpayer -funded
facilities with benefits going to those in training.” Mr Williams said.
The South Australia n Education Minister, John Gardne r MP, said that this agreement is an important step
that ensures government and industry are working together to deliver the workforce South Australia needs
in the future.
“South Australian students and employers are the biggest winners from this announcement, which will see
both organisations strive to better coordinate course offerings and ensure the needs of industry across the
state are being met,” Minister Gardner said.
The ITECA State Of The Sector Report shows that in 2019 there were of the VET students resident in South
Australia, 134,700 were with an independent Registered Training Organisation (RTO) and 52,1200 with
“Th ese student numbers highlight the importance of th e relationship between the ITECA membership and
TAFE SA in suppo rting the training and reskilling of South Australia. It’s an agreement that serves as a
model for what can be achieved nationally when independent providers and the public TAFE system look at
the student needs and develop collaborative approaches that pu ts them first,” Mr Williams said.
The Australian Education Union (SA Branch) has raised serious concerns over today’s announcement by Minister Gardner regarding the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between TAFE SA and the Independent Tertiary Education Council of Australia (ITECA).
The agreement opens the door to private providers taking up residence at TAFE sites, directing policy and cherry picking the delivery of profitable courses.
ITECA is open about actively pursuing its reform agenda by increasing its private provider members’ share of the vocational education and training sector.
Australian Education Union South Australian President Howard Spreadbury is wary of how TAFE SA and ITECA will work together under this new agreement.
“The two organisations are in direct competition within the same market. Minister Gardner’s statement confirms he will allow private providers to further erode TAFE’s market share, compromise its independence and allow ITECA to push its own agenda,” said Mr Spreadbury.
Instead the AEU is calling for the Marshall Liberal Government to recognise the value of TAFE SA and to return appropriate investment levels, suggesting this would be a more effective way to make it more competitive and sustainable in the long term.
“TAFE SA is the largest provider of vocational education and training in the state and must be valued for its place within the community. TAFE SA provides quality education that is accessible to all, offering pathways for many who may otherwise miss out on opportunities.”
The AEU asserts that TAFE SA is already responsive to the needs of employers and works with industry groups to deliver quality training to build a skilled and sustainable workforce for South Australia.
There are concerns about how TAFE SA facilities may be used in the future. It may end up being more ‘competitive’ for TAFE SA under its new management to lease out its facilities rather than provide courses for students.
“It is like having a ‘fire sale’ after the place has been gutted. Instead of supporting and investing in TAFE SA, the Marshall Government is surrendering its responsibility and handing it over to private providers who are driven by profit,” said Mr Spreadbury.
“Letting private providers access taxpayer-funded facilities and set up in direct competition on TAFE SA’s own doorstep has the potential to undermine TAFE program delivery.”
The importance of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills were highlighted during the recent federal election. With the election over, the sector is now focussed on the opportunities ahead. Manufacturers’ Monthly reports.
While the federal Coalition government, in its 2019 budget, recognised the need for greater enrolment of young people – and, in particular, young women – into STEM courses, the industry is calling out for action to help bring the Australian workforce up to speed with the rapid transformations in the industrial sector.
In delivering his budget, Treasurer Josh Frydenburg stated that the Coalition government would increase funding for programs encouraging the participation of women and girls in STEM. The budget papers detailed a $3.4 million package to support the greater participation of girls and women in STEM.
A report conducted by the Australian government, Towards 2025: An Australian Government Strategy to Boost Women’s Workforce Participation, found that today, men account for 84 per cent of all people who hold STEM qualifications. Less than 10 per cent of all engineering graduates in Australia are female, while in information technology (IT), only one in four graduates are women.
Geoff Crittenden, CEO of Weld Australia, noted that women are needed for industry to reach its potential.
“If we are to successfully deliver all the infrastructure and defence projects for the foreseeable future, we’re going to need almost as many women welders as we have men welders. We need to stop thinking about tradesmen and thinking about tradespeople and encouraging girls to get into their high vis and get out there,” said Crittenden.
The Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, Karen Andrews, stated that “to ensure our children can compete for jobs in the coming decades, we need to build a strong Australian workforce with more science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills”.
Jonathan Russell, national manager for public affairs at Engineers Australia concurs, arguing that STEM skills will be needed, even if what industry will look like in the future is still unclear.
“I don’t think anybody truly knows what’s going to be needed in terms of technical skills in 10, 20, 30 years. What we do know though, is that engineering skills are going to be needed no matter what the future brings,” said Russell.
Encouraging the young To encourage more children and young people to pursue study and a career in STEM, the federal government will increase the funding of the Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) initiative. This initiative, delivered in partnership with the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering, implements the Athena Scientific Women’s Academic Network (SWAN) model for Australia. Developed in the UK, Athena SWAN is known internationally for encouraging gender inclusive workplaces, and helped institutions attract the best talent.
“SAGE helps to facilitate a journey of continuous improvement in gender equity and diversity by shifting culture and practices and encouraging initiatives for change used by higher education and research organisations,” said Dr Wafa El-Adhami, executive director of SAGE.
With Industry 4.0 requiring manufacturing workplaces to adopt technologies such as automation, artificial intelligence (AI), the analysis of big data and the industrial internet of things (IIoT), skills learnt in STEM fields will be essential.
Head of Workforce Development at Ai Group, Megan Lilly, highlighted the need for connections between training and industry.
“There’s no doubt that we need to increase the pipeline and talent pool of STEM graduates, therefore we need more funding both in the vocational and higher education systems for STEM based qualifications and we’re also very keen to make sure they’re applied learning qualifications where possible,” said Lilly.
To increase the visibility of STEM careers, the federal government has also allocated $15.1 million to the science museum Questacon.
The expansion of programming promoting science by the Canberra- based institution will connect the ideas and processes of STEM disciplines with the young minds who will be grappling with the rapid changes forecast to affect the sector as Industry 4.0 disrupts established methods of production.
Minister Andrews said that, with this expansion, the Coalition government was making an effort to reduce the barriers preventing young Australians from accessing science.
A key issue for the future of manufacturing industry is its ability to attract talented young people, who are often drawn to other career paths, as Crittenden highlighted.
“You can pump money into STEM training, and that’s a very laudable practice, but it doesn’t really resolve the issue. The issue is, what drives young people into engineering? This is the real problem; how do we make manufacturing attractive for young people?” said Crittenden.
For those students at a later stage of their education, the 2019- 2020 budget also provided funding for 15 Innovation Games over two years. The $3.6 million in funding is earmarked to to not only go to metropolitan areas, but regional areas as well. In a statement, Andrews highlighted that the Innovation Games provide the opportunity for university students and graduates to apply the skills learnt in the STEM classroom to real world problems, for the benefit of local businesses.
Other federal government agencies, such as CSIRO, whose funding increased by $6 million in line with indexation, have continued to pursue projects to encourage young Australians to pursue a career in STEM. Generation STEM, a ten-year initiative run by the CSIRO in NSW, aims to both ensure that students have the knowledge and skills for the 21st century, and enable industry and employers to connect with the talent they need in a competitive economy. Targeting diverse and top-level students, the program hopes to attract and retain students to the STEM fields.
The domestic space industry also got a boost in the most recent federal budget. First announced in 2018 with a $300 million investment, this year the federal government increased funding by $19.5 million with a Space Infrastructure Fund. Hoping to create 30,000 jobs in this sector by 2030, the announcement of further funding in this budget provides motivation but is only the first step, according to Lilly.
“We should build the enthusiasm of young people for space, but also advanced manufacturing, digitisation and a whole range of emerging industries and occupations. We welcome the space funding, but we see it as but a beginning,” said Lilly.
Described by Frydenburg as “backing the industries of the future,” investment in the space sector will be hoped to spur investment elsewhere in high-tech manufacturing and provide demand for those who have studied in STEM fields.
A similar approach is being taken in the medical research sector. While medical research and development occurs in our higher education institutions, the federal government has set aside $254 million for the commercialisation of medical research. The application of medical research to commercial outcomes has the potential to spur investment in manufacturing processes which support medical procedures.
These proposals are not without their critics. Professor John Shine, president of the Australian Academy of Science, criticised cuts elsewhere in the budget. “It is counterintuitive to seek to produce a surplus by cutting the knowledge economy and by cutting funding to Australia’s key science and research agencies such as the Australian Research Council,” said Shine.
In addition, Professor Emma Johnston, the president of Science and Technology Australia (STA) argued that research in other fields is in need of commercialisation.
“A complementary Fund to support the translation and commercialisation of knowledge built through non-medical science research programs would amplify the economic returns that STEM brings for Australia,” Johnston said.
The federal government will continue be pressured by industry leaders to use the forecast future surpluses to further ensure that advances in STEM knowledge are applied to industry outcomes and encourage young men and women to pursue a career in STEM.
Looking forward Industry concerns about the gap in the skills required to place Australia in a competitive position within the global economy have vindicated by research. Examining demand and supply for digital skills in Australia, a recent RMIT study found that many employers are unprepared for the digital future of work and risk being left behind.
The team of researchers from RMIT University’s College of Business, led by Associate Professor Victor Gekara, compiled the Skilling the Australian workforce for the digital economy report for the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER).
Gekara said that the changing nature of Australia’s industrial landscape, under the pressure of global competition, was leading to rapid transformation in workplaces. “Despite this reality, the adoption of digital technology across many of the organisations we studied was gradual and restricted, rather than rapid and comprehensive,” Gekara said. “This is concerning.”
Gekara explained that the lack of preparedness was usually due to cost considerations, over-reliance on the open market to prepare the workforce, or mere complacency. The report calls for a comprehensive Australian national digital skills framework, similar to the Australian Core Skills Framework for numeracy and literacy skills, as a sustainable approach to meeting demand.
“This would assist employers to identify digital skills gaps and help training providers to develop targeted training programs,” Gekara said.
The report also indicated that many employers lack confidence in the capacity of the current VET system to effectively develop the digital skills required for highly digitalised economy that is emerging. There is also industry uncertainty about what is required from in the shape of government policy intervention to ensure that digital skills in Australia were adequately developed.
The report called for government and industry to work together more closely with the VET sector to ensure the skills necessary for future workplaces are guaranteed.
“The only way to have an effective and sustainable system for developing these kinds of
skills is when you have employers committed to invest in training efforts and working closely with training providers to identify need, design programs and monitor their application under a strong relevant national policy,” Gekara said.
Recent research undertaken by Swinburne University of Technology, PwC, Siemens and the Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union (AMWU) – as part of the Australian Industry (Ai) Group Industry 4.0 Forum agenda – has identified the ways in which manufacturing businesses and workforces must adapt to changes being wrought by Industry 4.0.
The research report, Transforming Australian Manufacturing: Preparing businesses and workplaces for Industry 4.0, emerged from the work of the Industry 4.0 Advanced Manufacturing Forum Workstream co-chaired by Swinburne’s Professor Aleksandar Subic, deputy vice-chancellor (research and development) and Andrew Dettmer, AMWU president.
Launched during National Manufacturing Week, the report provides information and advice for government, industry, unions and peak employer bodies, and education/research institutions.
Focussing on the changes being made by Industry 4.0, the report calls on industry, education, unions, peak bodies and government to collaborate to drive innovation and workforce transformation. Among its eight recommendations, the report proposes that new funding, delivery and accreditation models be created to support lifelong learning, reskilling and upskilling throughout the work lifecycle.
The report also identifies the emerging skills that the manufacturing sector requires, including in intelligent data analytics, automation systems, cyber security, and IIoT. According to the report, this will require the upskilling of existing workers for changing jobs, as well as the recruitment of new entrants to the manufacturing workforce.
Subic said that the report presents findings that include international and national best practice of workforce transformation initiatives in the advanced manufacturing sector. “In order for Australian companies to access global value chains and associated benefits within an emerging Industry 4.0 world, our businesses and government must actively encourage and support new skills development in advanced industrial digitalisation across the entire continuum, from vocational training to higher education and PhDs,” Subic said. “This requires disruptive innovation in education and training based on new models of public and private sector partnerships.”
Getting government on board According to STA president Emma Johnston, the re-eleciton of the Coalition government had given it a mandate to continue their work in setting a clear and strategic direction for the STEM sector.
“We encourage the new government to work with the science and research sectors to craft a formal plan and prioritise bold investment that empowers the Australian science and technology sector to secure the nation’s prosperity,” said Johnston.
“The National Science Statement in 2017 was a good first step, but we hope to see the sector provided with a strategic plan that enables it to most effectively contribute to Australia’s prosperity.”
The reappointment of Karen Andrews as federal industry, science and technology minister in the Morrison cabinet has been welcomed by sectors of Australia’s science and technology community.
Andrews was first appointed to the role in August last year after Morrison became prime minister. Morrison announced Andrews would continue in her ministerial role in the new cabinet.
“Karen Andrews will work closely with industry stakeholders to create more and better paid jobs in traditional and emerging industries, and to continue championing science, technology, engineering and mathematics as key career paths for women,” Morrison said.
Johnston welcomed the return of Karen Andrews to her portfolio, and said it was an opportunity the stability the sector had been looking for.
“Minister Andrews has engaged meaningfully with scientists and technologists for many years as co- convenor of the Parliamentary Friends of Science, and recently as minister, and STA looks forward to continuing to work with her office as we represent tens of thousands of STEM professionals,” said Johnston.
She said the Coalition had begun some important projects in government and the sector was looking to them to continue this good work.
“We saw bold investment in research infrastructure, a visionary National Science Statement, and leadership in gender equity from the Coalition government,” she said.
“Now we hope the focus turns to forming a detailed whole-of- government plan for STEM; a plan that prioritises stronger government and business investment, attractive STEM education programs, and secure employment for all STEM professionals.”
Professor John Shine said that Andrews had been strong advocate for the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) sector.
“A STEM-skilled MP in this portfolio provides the new Morrison government with a minister who has a deep understanding of the issues facing the sector,” Shine said.
“We look forward to working with Minister Andrews to implement the STEM measures announced in the Federal Budget in April budget, including $3.4 million in new funding to support women in STEM.”
After Labor’s election loss, federal Labor Senator Kim Carr announced that he would not renominate as shadow minister for innovation, industry, science and research, ending a two-decade stint on the frontbench in both government and opposition.
“For much of my time in Parliament I have been the Labor Party’s spokesperson on innovation industry, science and research. Innovation policy is critically important to the Labor movement. It is the thread that draws industry, science and research policy together,” Carr said.
“Labor will always seek to work with industry, unions and researchers to develop a 21st century industrial structure that will ensure prosperity for all Australians.
“My policy interests remain. I shall continue to advocate for the modernisation of Australian industry, and for restoring science and research policy to the centre of government,” he said.
Johnston said Carr will be remembered as a dedicated advocate for the STEM sector. “Whether it was the introduction of the Excellence in Research Australia initiative to measure the calibre of our work, the establishment and defence of the Education Investment Fund, or his dogged pursuit for transparency in Senate Estimates, Senator Carr will continue to have an enduring impact on Australian science and technology,” Johnston said.
Brendan O’Connor has been made the shadow minister for employment, industry, science, and small business, while Clare O’Neil has been appointed as the shadow minister for innovation, technology, and the future of work.
Johnston said she was pleased that the Labor opposition had given science, technology and research prominence in its shadow ministry. “Both [O’Connor and O’Neil] will bring a breadth of experience to the roles, and we hope to engage with them to discuss how to support the solutions sector to build a strong future for Australia.”
“Senator Michaelia Cash has today drawn a welcome line in the sand in placing vocational education and training on the same footing as higher education,” Ai Group Chief Executive, Innes Willox, said today.
“Australian industry is acutely aware that our transforming economy needs workers with the skills and capabilities developed through both sectors if we are to compete globally.
“Senator Cash’s speech at the National Vocational Education and Training Research Conference recognises that the VET system is critical to ensuring industry has the skilled workforce it needs to grow and to compete internationally. It provides the technicians, the tradespeople, the supervisors and the para-professionals that are needed in an Australian workforce adapting to new technologies and higher-level skills and capabilities.
“Digitalisation is transforming the economy and disrupting skill needs. Employers are facing significant skills shortages, particularly for technicians and trades with STEM capabilities, reflecting the changing tasks and jobs being created as new technologies enter all industry sectors. As with higher education, VET is under pressure to develop people with higher order STEM skills and broad enterprise skills for the digital economy. At the same time, it must develop the workers for occupations with innate people skills, such as the growing Community and Personal Services sector.
“Equally welcome is Senator Cash’s call for the VET system to better connect with industry and to have clear, consistent funding. Ai Group maintains that industry must have a stronger role at all levels to work through the current challenges dogging the system. We have previously highlighted that the funding of the VET system is inadequate, in terms of both the level and composition and its resourcing relative to both the higher education and school sectors.
“Ai Group has welcomed the recommendations of the Joyce Review, notably the implementation of a National Skills Commission, the National Careers Institute, apprenticeship reform and the pilot Skills Organisations. All these reforms strengthen VET, ensuring that industry is at the heart of the system that will be vital to develop skills for our future workforce.
“While we welcome the Government’s $525 million skills and training package, seeking amongst other measures to create up to 80,000 new apprentices, Ai Group is keen to work with the Government to implement broader reform. More can and must be done to:
align skills from education and training outcomes with industry needs through improved skills forecasting;
address critical workforce STEM skills shortages through education and skills training and funding for initiatives that enhance the VET sector’s role in filling these gaps, such as Ai Group’s Industry 4.0 Higher Apprenticeships;
review apprenticeship incentives, placing greater priority on high-skill occupations that will play key roles in the digital economy. In particular we call on the Government to extend the doubling of Commonwealth Employers Incentives to the engineering trades to ensure adequate trade skill development for the large defence procurement and ship building program and the supply chain;
support industry to develop workforce plans around their digital strategies, assess existing workers’ capabilities and train when necessary;
improve the foundational language, literacy, numeracy and digital skills of entrants to the workforce;
increase work-based and work integrated learning models underpinned by closer partnerships between industry and the education and training sector.
“Many of the challenges facing the VET sector are equally those that higher education faces. Ai Group believes there can be greater coherence between VET and higher education which would benefit the nation. Ai Group’s position paper, Realising Potential: solving Australia’s tertiary education, identifies the challenges and makes recommendations for post-secondary education in Australia.
“If the Australian economy is to continue to prosper and remain internationally competitive, it is vital to have access to a highly skilled and qualified workforce. With the rapid advance of technology and digitalisation, a higher level of skills for the workforce is more important than ever,” Mr Willox said.