Australian international education stakeholders have returned to “business as usual” after the weekend’s federal election failed to live up to expectations that a new Labor-led government would take power.
Expected changes to Australia’s education systems are unlikely, after a surprise election result. Photo: Aditya Joshi/Unsplash
The shock result on May 18 saw the Liberal-National Coalition retain power to defy the majority of opinion polls, and has received a mixed reception from the industry as the promise of substantial reforms under Labor all but disappeared.
English Australia chief executive Brett Blacker said the government retaining power provided “continuity to the international education sector” and added that it ensured a continuation of the current work being undertaken as part of the National Strategy for International Education 2025.
“That council will continue to lose a vital perspective that they need”
In the lead up to the election, the Labor opposition had promised to revamp both the national strategy as well as the overarching Council for International Education that oversees its implementation.
While a stabilising factor, others observe the government returning to power means the same concerns and lobbying efforts from before the election continue.
In particular, Labor pledged $10 billion in university funding over ten years, a move peak bodies believed would reduce reliance on international student revenue.
“The worry now is to the effect that universities will now look to alternative revenue sources and that usually will mean they’ll up the ante on their international student recruitment,” said Phil Honeywood, chief executive of IEAA.
“We have to be very careful that we don’t go for quantity of students because this additional revenue expectation is not now forthcoming.”
Both Universities Australia and the Group of Eight, which lobbied the government to undo a series of funding freezes, welcomed the return of the government but renewed their calls to return funding to previous levels.
“We must ensure young Australians – especially from battling communities really doing it tough – don’t miss out on the chance of a university education,” said UA chair Deborah Terry.
“Our focus must continue to be on opportunities for all Australians – because without those opportunities, our economy will be less competitive and our people and communities will miss out.”
A reduction in international student numbers coinciding with the current funding freeze would lead to job losses
However, Andrew Norton, higher education program director at the Grattan Institute, warned universities may have their funding squeezed on dual fronts if scrutiny of English language proficiency and the impact of temporary migrants including international students on capital cities’ infrastructure continues.
“[Education minister Dan Tehan] has already indicated that he’s pursuing the English language standards issue with TEQSA and so I think that’s a clear signal that he’s interested in whether the required English is, in fact, being achieved prior to commencement,” he told The PIE News.
A reduction in international student numbers coinciding with the current funding freeze would lead to job losses and a reduction in universities’ activities, Norton continued, before adding it wasn’t a given that the scrutiny would lead to significant changes.
“Counter to that, I think [the government is] still very much seeing international students through an export and business focus and that will make them reluctant to act.”
From a vocational perspective, Independent Tertiary Education Council Australia (formerly ACPET) chief executive Troy Williams said his organisation was “comfortable with the reelected government’s approach to the vocational education and training sector.”
In particular, he cited the Joyce Review into vocational education, released shortly before the election was announced, as a commitment by the government to improve the sector.
“We have to be very careful that we don’t go for quantity of students”
“ITECA was extensively involved in the Joyce Review consultation process and endorses its broad direction that seeks to speed-up the development of new qualifications, and revision to existing qualifications, so as to ensure that they provide students with job-ready outcomes,” Williams said.
While not directly related to international education, it has been understood the review could in part increase the global competitiveness of Australian vocational education.
Craig Robertson, chief executive of TAFE Directors Australia, said the election result meant his organisation would continue their lobbying efforts, particularly around the axing of the Endeavour Scholarshipprogram which provided the only government-funded mobility program for vocational students.
“They’ve basically sacrificed that experience for the purview of trying to attract international and also domestic students to regional Australia,” he said.
“We think that sacrifice for regional Australia is too high.”
Robertson told The PIE it was also disappointing the Council for International Education would not be overhauled, as it currently did not have a TAFE representative.
“That council will continue to lose a vital perspective that they need to be able to make sure that international education works. We’re concerned about that.”
It is understood education minister Dan Tehan will remain in his portfolio.
Under the Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison government’s TAFE institution across the nation have been under attack.
Minister for Training and Skills Development Shannon Fentiman reminded Queenslanders of their chance to restore training opportunities in Australia as they head to the voting booth on Saturday.
“So far the LNP in Canberra have presided over more than $3 billion in cuts to TAFE and training,” Ms Fentiman said.
:They are no different to the Queensland LNP that cut $82.4 million from the training budget and sacked more than 2100 TAFE Queensland staff, discontinuing TAFE course and closing or selling campuses.”
The impact of these cuts have been highlighted today by the Queensland Audit Report intoEducation: 2017–18 results of audits.
The impact of Commonwealth unfair student loan system and cuts to training programs for 2017-18 alone was over $27 million and included:
$18.6 million reduction from students accessing Commonwealth Government VET Student Loans
$7.1 million cut from the Commonwealth Adult Migrant English Program; and
$1.7 million cut from the Commonwealth Skills for Education and Employment program.
“Saturday’s Federal Election is a chance for State’s like Queensland to gain an ally in the effort to repair and fix this damage,” she said.
“Only Bill Shorten and Labor are prepared to provide Queensland TAFE with its fair share of support.
“Only Federal Labour have promised to review all post school education and training funding and address the unfair student loan system operating for TAFE.
“In addition, only Federal Labor has committed $1 billion dollars in vocational education and training including 100,000 Free TAFE places and $330 million to deliver 150,000 apprenticeship subsidies in areas with skills shortages.”
“Federal Labor is also prepared to work with us on TAFE and has committed $200 million towards helping the states build TAFEs for the future.
“This has included investment in TAFEs at Cairns, Townsville, Logan, Mt Gravatt, Acacia Ridge, Whitsundays, Bowen, Redcliffe AND a new TAFE trades training centre at North Lakes.”
Despite federal funding cuts, with the support of the Palaszczuk Government TAFE Queensland has continued to achieving results
TAFE Queensland continues to be the largest provider of education and training in Queensland, delivering training to over 120,000 students in 2017–18 across more than 530 programs.
“Strengthened by its online and international delivery, no other provider can match TAFE Queensland for scale and location options,” Ms Fentiman said.
“TAFE QLD ensures high quality outcomes for students and employers – more than 85% of students are employed or in further study after completing their course.”
“With a Federal Labor Government partnering with us we can achieve much more.”
Doug Cameron says $12m spend will ‘help break down the barriers faced by women’
Labor says many trades are dominated by men but it will spend $12m to increase the number of women. Photograph: Scott Barbour/Getty Images
A Labor government will commit $12m to boost the number of female tradies as part of an overhaul of Australia’s vocational education sector.
The shadow skills minister, Doug Cameron, said the commitment aimed to boost female representation in traditionally male-dominated occupations, where women remain a tiny fraction of the workforce.
Cameron said training organisations would be given funds to recruit women, who would then be linked to employers who wanted to make their “workshops more diverse and inclusive”.
“Women should have safe and inclusive opportunities to become fully qualified and well-paid tradespeople,” Cameron said. “Many trades are still male dominated, but that doesn’t need to continue to be the norm.”
The $12m will operate under the guidance of Labor’s apprenticeship advocate, who will be charged with closing the apprenticeship gender gap and expanding the uptake of quality apprenticeships and traineeships across the labour market.
The program will include funds for mentoring apprentices, peer support and working directly with employers to “overcome bias” and achieve more accepting and inclusive workplaces.
As little as 2% of workers in well-paid traditional trades including electrical, building, automotive and engineering are women.
The party points to a recent study of women in the automotive trades, which found that only half believed men and women were treated equally at work. One in four women reported direct sexual harassment and more than 40% had been subjected to offensive language or behaviour at work.
“Experienced group training organisations will provide direct assistance to employers and apprentices to help break down the barriers faced by women,” Cameron said. “Through this program Labor will support women who want to do a trade, lift their earning potential, improve the businesses they work in and make our society fairer.”
The party’s shadow minister for women and education, Tanya Plibersek, said the program would also offer practical assistance to ensure worksites were more female friendly.
“Women wanting to gain a trade in male dominated occupations face major barriers to finding quality trade apprenticeships,” Plibersek said.
“Things like ensuring worksites have appropriate bathroom facilities, inclusive communal staff areas and providing advice on how to appropriately interact at work are easy to address but are often some of the biggest barriers to women taking up a trade and feeling comfortable at work.”
If elected on Saturday an Australian Labor Government will address Australia’s digital skills gap, establish centres of excellence for AI and blockchain, encourage more startup activity, and reform controversial encryption laws.
Each of the moves has been outlined by Shadow Minister for Human Services and the Digital Economy, Ed Husic, in the lead up to the federal election.
Today, Husic elaborated on several aspects of the Opposition’s digital strategy during an event in Sydney organised by InnovationAus and StartupAus. While Husic has become a regular at the town hall style gatherings LNP representatives have declined the group’s invitations, according to event organisers.
To address Australia’s digital skills gap Labor has pledged more vocational training for IT and more requirements that digital roles to be filled by local talent, with an emphasis on diversity.
Labor has promised 5,00 free Tafe places for IT and digital courses. Half of those places are reserved for women to address IT’s diversity problem. Today Husic revealed “where we can” the program would also target older workers transitioning to new roles in particular.
Husic said Labor would promote local talent in the digital economy but leave the door open for migrant workers to “ensure our skills are current”.
“We could fill every single vacancy here in Australia with a local and I’d still think there’s a role for skilled migration.
“From my point of view, if people are doing something smart somewhere else in the world and they want to come here or they’re needed here we should bring them here. Because we need to ensure that the knowledge base is continually replenished.”
Husic said Labor’s “smart visas” will mean foreigners with highly needed skills including digital can help bridge the deficit between local talent and industry requirements.
Businesses need to step up too, Husic argued, noting the practice of large corporations relying too heavily on 457 Visa holders for IT needed to stop.
Husic said a Labor Government would require large companies working on digital projects for government to ensure one in 10 of its involved employees are digital trainees or apprentices.
“This has been an awful bill in the way it has been put through parliament … This is having a devastating impact locally.”
Husic said several international firms are avoiding the Australian market because they believe storing data here is “not worth the risk”. Husic said Labor will push to reform the bill even if it remains in opposition.
However he ruled out repealing the legislation saying the challenge of bad actors misusing digital platforms was real and other jurisdictions were taking similar measures, although not as “hopelessly” as Australia.
Politicians Must Do Better On Tech: Husic
Regardless of which party wins government on Saturday Husic says a better understanding of technology is needed in Canberra.
“We’ve got a long way to go,” Husic said of politicians digital literacy.
“I think the reality is parliamentarians are going to have to get across [digital technology] a lot more. Not just in terms of the profound impact of technology broadly but even from a government perspective.”
Every government department will deal with transformation projects, Husic says, and the politicians leading them need to understand the underlying technology to some extent.
“Gone are the days that you could just be there for the announcement and shove the project management to the IT help desk and hope that it just all worked out. That’s not going to work anymore. We’ve seen that through this term of this parliament with a number of digital derailments, some of which have not purely been because of the tech … A lot of it is governance.”
Labor has promised to make childcare free for most low-income households and to provide up to an 85% subsidy for households under $175,000. It has committed to funding an extra year of preschool for three-year-olds. This is evidence-based and builds on commitments by several states to support two years of preschool.
The Coalition will likely retain the means-tested subsidy introduced as part of its major childcare reforms in 2018. While these reforms benefited an estimated one million lower-income families, the means test also left around 280,000 families worse off, including families with neither parent in work.
Given states and territories are largely responsible for schools, federal investment should be targeted where it can make the most difference. Two key areas are needs-based funding, to ensure additional support is available to students who need it the most, and central investment in research and evidence-based practice.
Both major parties have promised a national evidence institute. Laborhas allocated funds for it, with the Coalition yet to do so. This initiative reflects the urgent need to ensure evidence helps to shape the education system. The Productivity Commission has recommended such an institute, to connect educators and policymakers with the latest research on teaching and learning.
On funding, the Coalition wants us to judge it on its reforms to the schools funding package, which is now mostly modelled on the needs-based funding approach outlined in the Gonski Review. But funding has still not reached the recommended levels. The Coalition has supported the National School Resourcing Board to review these funding arrangements and develop a fairer model for all schools.
Both Labor and the Coalition have committed to increased support for apprenticeships, through financial incentives for employers.
For universities, Labor says it will bring back demand-driven funding, which existed between 2012 and 2017, where universities are paid for every student studying and there is no limit on the number of students that can be admitted to courses. Evidence suggests this has been effective in boosting studies in areas where there are skills shortages, such as health, and also appears to have improved access to education for disadvantaged groups.
When casting our votes, we would do well to look past the dollar signs, and think about how each party is shaping an education system that will deliver quality learning for all Australians, from all kinds of backgrounds, from childhood through to adulthood.
The Coalition has delivered needs-based funding for schools and promises a greater focus on regional and rural students in all sectors. But there are some apparent gaps in early learning and tertiary policy and funding.
Labor has pledged more funding in all sectors. It has made a prominent commitment to early childhood education and care. However, Labor’s policies are expensive and would need to be implemented effectively to make sure they achieve the intended outcomes for students and deliver the financial benefit to the economy in the long-term.
The Australian Labor Party yesterday announced a technology skills development policy.
The effort has two main elements: 5,000 fee-free places in TAFE technology courses and a future initiative that will “task [the yet-to-be-appointed] Apprenticeship Advocate to refresh and expand the digital traineeship pathway to help tackle digital skills shortages.”
The TAFE scheme will see a Shorten government waive upfront fees for 5,000 students.
It’s yet to be decided what they’ll study, but a statement from shadow minister for the digital economy Ed Husic said “Areas of focus will likely include IT networking and systems administration, software and website development and UX/UI skills.” But that’s an aspirational list for now: Husic’s statement said the topics won’t be decided until after “consultation with states and territories, we will identify and develop a set of approved courses for the places.”
The plan calls for half of the fee-free places to go to women.
The apprenticeship plan is even less detailed, offering only a pledge to “partner with industry, unions, TAFE educators and experts to expand the reach of quality apprenticeships and traineeships in the ICT sector.”
At our roundtable, Michael Forrest of Forest Training said “We need to go back to the grassroots of the government running the education of this country. They need to do an audit and an understanding of what they think is going on and then they need to go to the government institutions and private institutions to engage with what is really happening”.
He added “An IT apprenticeship would be fantastic. It would be creating that opportunity for the jobs that don’t exist in three years.”
Husic’s plans aren’t far from Forrest’s wishlist!
The Liberal Party has similar policies, outlined here, to create a National Skills Commission that will “undertake research and analysis of future skills needs and investigate the efficient and fair price of qualifications” and create new “Skills Organisations” that develop training to create skilled people in growth areas. Two of the three initial pilots of Skills Organisations will cover “digital technologies and cyber security.”
Australia is about to elect its next federal government.
The broad platform of ‘education’ has been raised, as it is at every election. As a nation and a society we recognise how important formal education is. All political parties have made various policy commitments that they believe would improve educational outcomes. They involve everything from ‘pre-school’ through to ‘post-school’ university placement.
I’d like to focus on Vocational Education and Training (VET) and Tertiary education and narrow that focus to courses, learning content and assessment mechanisms used to deliver qualifications to graduates vital to Australia’s building and construction industry sector.
Educational systems are used to gain the qualifications needed to work across a range of skilled trades, administrative, supervisory and management roles. It is an essential element to the success of Australia’s future. Unfortunately, our educational systems and their capability to maintain high quality outcomes have never been in a worse position. All indicators show they will likely continue to decline. And no political party is talking about it.
Reasons behind the decline are complex. We used to do education and training really well. The federally funded private RTO scheme to deliver VET course qualifications was subsequently shown to be worthless. It was mismanaged and extorted with billions of training dollars wasted. It now seems to have been conveniently forgotten. Many private RTO’s continue to aggressively tout for business. They guarantee customers a ‘nationally recognised qualification’ in various building courses without need for formal study or exams and this can be achieved either ‘on-line’ or at worst, a few days. They replace rigorous learning and testing of skills and knowledge by using the ‘loophole’ of Recognition of Prior Learning or ‘RPL’. This is a highly contentious and widely discredited aspect of formal educational delivery when used to facilitate unrealistic course completion. Documented ‘evidence’ of attainment of the relevant ‘prior learning’ is easily manipulated by both the participant and the RTO delivering – some would say ‘selling’ – the course qualification.
The tertiary sector isn’t immune from contributing to the decline. At the start of 2017, an investigative report by Fairfax journalists Eryk Bagshaw and Inga Ting titled “NSW universities taking students with ATARs as low as 30” should have flagged a crisis in our tertiary institutions. Of particular interest was data showing that “at Western Sydney University, 99 per cent of the 251 students offered places in its Bachelor of Construction Management program did not make the cut-off of 85.” Based on those metrics and using some positive rounding up to avoid a half student result, it meant that only three of the 251 student cohort managed to accumulate a relatively modest ATAR entry score of 85 from their year 11 and 12 assessment. ATAR values are highly contentious in their own right but for those of you like me who left their secondary education a few decades back, speak to a current high school teacher to determine how achievable a score of 85 actually is. Let me put it this way. If you turn up to school to have your name marked off on the roll book through years 11 and 12 but did little to no academic study, you could probably scrape together an ATAR of 50. To participate in a proper tertiary course of study and be awarded a degree qualification in Construction Management, it would seem reasonable to assume you need to have significantly greater higher order problem solving capabilities. I don’t want to isolate WSU in this regard. It’s happening elsewhere too. An ABC Four Corners programon May 6 provided insight into how our university sector operates in respect of their international student intake. It made interesting viewing.
If you tried to sum up the decline with a single word, ‘commoditisation’ is a good one. Basically it means the process whereby differentiation is eroded by competition, leading to a commoditised market with price-based competition. Customers treat the offering as a commodity, selecting between vendors purely on price with no differentiating factors as the basis of competition. In the post-school world, we stopped enrolling ‘students’ years ago. We now have ‘customers’. And like all customers, they shop around for the ‘best deal’. When it comes to the types of qualifications linked to licensing and professional accreditation, the ‘best deal’ doesn’t always mean the cheapest price. The main focus here is often the ease of access, the lack of assessment and the shortest time period in which the ‘customer’ can get their qualification.
Sometimes this is not relevant in terms of consequences. Should we care if a person gets a Certificate IV in floristry from a private RTO without participating in training? Would the situation be worse if a media studies degree is issued to someone simply because they were a full fee paying international student? End users of the ‘qualified’ person’s services could finish up with a strange flower arrangement or an obscure opinion piece in a local paper. This is a simplistic example and the relative importance of different fields of endeavour are subjective. I don’t wish to offend any talented florists or journalists out there! I’m attempting to make an important point that should otherwise be fairly obvious. What if the qualifications are highly significant in respect of their validity to assess whether the person who obtains them is actually skilled to perform the works associated with their qualifications?
What if the status of the qualification is linked to national or state regulatory licensing or professional accreditation and registration scheme? That’s exactly what most vocational and tertiary qualifications associated with the building and construction industry are being used for. Consumers of licensed building trades and related accredited professional services are entitled to rely on this evidence. But they are being let down.
Here’s an example to help illustrate the potential problem. This is what NSW Fair Trading’s web page says:
“Any work that is residential building work under the Home Building Act 1989 which involves construction of a dwelling, or alterations or additions to a dwelling. It also includes repairing, renovating, decorating or applying protective treatment to a dwelling. Any contract for general building work can include any specialist work that is integral to the overall work, but such work must be carried out by the holder of an endorsed contractor licence or qualified supervisor certificate in the relevant category of specialist work. The current qualification and experience requirements, outlined below, commenced on 31 March 2017. 1. Certificate IV in Building and Construction (BCG40106 or CPC40108 Building or CPC40110 Building) or (BCG40206 or CPC40208 Contract Administration) or (BCG40306 or CPC40308 Estimating) or (BCG40506 or CPC40508 Site Management). This qualification is designed to meet the needs of builders and managers of small to medium-sized building businesses. The builder may also be the appropriately licensed person with responsibility under the relevant building licensing authority in the State or Territory. Builder licensing varies across States and Territories and additional requirements to attainment of this qualification may be required. Occupational titles may include Builder or Construction Manager. To find registered training organisations that are registered to deliver nationally recognised training to obtain qualifications for a building, trade or specialist licence or certificate, you can use the training.gov.au website and search via the course code or name.”
The directive is to the website of the federal government Department of Education & Training. If you use the search function for the ‘Certificate IV’ courses listed by Fair Trading as the compulsory qualification used to demonstrate capacity for a NSW building contractors licence, you will find around 145 ‘Registered Training Organisations’ (RTO’s) the government lists as providers of this course across Australia. Apart from university and TAFE providers, the majority are private sector providers. They are for profit businesses accredited by ‘ASQA’ – the ‘Australian Skills Quality Authority’ – which is the federal government agency established to oversee the VET sector. The equivalent bureaucracy for university course accreditation and compliance is the ‘Tertiary Education Quality Standards Agency or ‘TEQSA’.
Our banking and financial industry sector recently underwent close scrutiny. Commissioner Hayne was critical of the two main regulatory bodies APRA and ASIC in their failure to effectively control this sector. It is delusional to think ASQA or TEQSA are capable of carrying out their roles to properly regulate VET and Tertiary educational standards. It is equally delusional to think that our separate mix of state and territory statutory authorities can ensure adequate regulatory standards for licensing and registration of building trades and construction professionals. The end results of this situation for consumers of building and construction projects is self-evident and I’m not just referring to the fiasco of combustible ACP’s.
Who would have possibly thought that in 2018 a newly completed 36 storey residential apartment building in Australia’s biggest city would need to be evacuated due to design and construction defects? Then I saw this today “Nine multi-storey Darwin buildings found to be non-compliant after investigation into engineer.”
The Opposition describes the plan as a major economic and social reform, however the Coalition has criticised the price tag ($9.8 billion over 10 years) and says it is more important to improve four-year-olds’ attendance rates first.
The ‘Gonski 2.0’ plan, announced by former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, replaced separate school funding deals in favour of a nationally consistent, needs-based system costing an extra $23.5 billion over a decade.
You asked, we answered
Many of you asked about education as part of the ABC’s You Ask, We Answer campaign. Here are some of the audience questions answered in this article:
How much funding for public and private schools do the Libs and ALP provide? – Rachel
What is the position of the major parties regarding funding technical education/TAFE and reintroducing quality indicators in relation to learning and teaching that determine government funding? – Michele
What priority will be given to improving education during the next term and what steps will be taken to increase education standards in Australia? – Matt
Will either major party make university more affordable for country students? – Michael
The Catholic education sector complained loudly about the funding system for non-government schools, eventually prompting a new model based on parents’ income, rather than their postcode, worth an extra $4.5 billion.
The Coalition’s 2019 Budget also included a $30 million fund for school equipment and upgrades.
While it has been in office, the Coalition has introduced sweeping changes to student loans for vocational education.
Under the changes, students can only get loans if they take on approved courses in areas of skills shortages. Students who take on a course that is not approved have to pay upfront.
Labor has criticised the move, but has not committed to reversing it if it wins.
The Opposition has promised to return to a demand-driven university system, which it says would give 200,000 more Australians the chance to go to university at a cost of $10 billion over a decade.
It has also committed to a $300 million fund to upgrade buildings and equipment.
The Opposition has promised a $1 billion vocational education package, including $380 million for 100,000 free TAFE places, $224 million for 150,000 extra apprentice incentives and $200 million for TAFE building upgrades.
It has called for at least one in 10 jobs on Commonwealth projects to be filled by Australian apprentices.
Labor has also set aside $10 million for the creation of 1,300 new scholarships for Indigenous people to study at TAFE if they live outside the big cities.
The Opposition wants to create a new position, an apprentice advocate, to act on young people’s behalf in the workplace.
A Labor government would also hold a national inquiry into post-secondary education, looking at both universities and vocational education and training.
If re-elected, the Coalition will provide $34m for an aged-care research centre to examine new ways to deliver care for older Australians and training and education for care providers.
Australia’s aged-care sector will be supported by a $34 million workforce research centre, in a pre-election pledge by Scott Morrison to ensure the industry can meet growing demand.
The funding is the latest in a series of announcements by the Prime Minister to develop new research centres for key government initiatives, after the announcement of a suite of cyber-security initiatives on Monday and a number of veteran support centres to coincide with Anzac Day.
If re-elected, the Coalition will provide $34m for an aged-care research centre to examine new ways to deliver care for older Australians and training and education for care providers. A further $10m will be spent to develop a “seniors connected program” to address loneliness in aged-care centres.
“This funding will deliver better support and care for older Australians, while ensuring we build the workforce to meet the demands of an ageing population,” the Prime Minister said.
Mr Morrison has flagged a goal of 475,000 aged-care workers in Australia by 2025. There are more than 1.3 million Australians using some form of aged care, with that number expected to grow to an estimated 3.5 million by 2050.
The announcement came after Bill Shorten quashed a call from Australia’s three largest aged-care groups for Labor to extend its $10 billion pitch to fund childcare pay rises to nursing home staff. When Labor was last in government it also legislated a five-year, $1.2bn aged-care sector “workforce supplement” that would only have been paid to nursing home operators who engaged employees “under enterprise agreements providing minimum wage levels”.
Tony Abbott dumped the supplement within months of winning government, saying the money was a union-stacking exercise.
Aged care will be the first sector involved in a pilot program undertaken under the Morrison government’s $41.7m Skills Organisations package to support future jobs growth.
“Older Australians have built our country and they deserve our respect and support for the choices they want to make,” the Prime Minister said.
Apprenticeships help skill up the workforce and can unlock a lifetime of job opportunities for those lucky enough to secure one.
Both major parties are promising to boost apprenticeships, amid claims by Opposition Leader Bill Shorten that the Coalition Government is to blame for creating a “crisis in trades training”.
“They have a shocking record on vocational education,” he told reporters recently, before claiming the number of apprenticeships in Australia has fallen.
“It was 420,000 before the Abbott/Turnbull/Morrison government. Now it’s south of 280,000 and declining.”
Mr Shorten said he wanted to return Australia to being a “tradie nation”.
“What I need to do is remedy the crisis in trades training which the Abbott/Turnbull/Morrison governments have created in Australian apprenticeships,” he said.
So, has the number of apprenticeships slumped since the Coalition took office in 2013?
And if so, can blame be laid at the feet of the Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison administrations?
RMIT ABC Fact Check investigates.
Mr Shorten’s claim is misleading.
Apprenticeships have long been associated with traditional trades, such as plumbing.
But traineeships are a newer type of training program and are typically associated with the services sector, retail being one example.
The latest official data shows the number of apprenticeships (broadly classified as trades) has been in decline since mid-2012, but there has been a much more dramatic decline in traineeships (broadly classified as non-trades).
Mr Shorten used the term “apprenticeships” when speaking to reporters, but he was, in fact, referring to combined figures for apprenticeships and traineeships.
September quarter figures show there were 485,440 people in training for apprenticeships and traineeships in 2012 — higher than Mr Shorten’s figure of 420,000.
When the numbers are separated, it’s clear the sharp overall decline is driven by the fall in traineeships, which slumped by 66 per cent, compared to apprenticeships, which fell by 18 per cent.
Conflating the numbers may not seem unreasonable since the Government’s own website states that “apprenticeships” are “often referred to as apprenticeships and traineeships”.
However, Fact Check deems Mr Shorten’s claim to be misleading as his comments were made within the context of traditional trades; he referred to there being a “crisis in trades training” and expressed his wish to return Australia to being a “tradie nation”.
Further, policy changes actually introduced by the Gillard government in 2012 aimed at addressing widespread rorting of incentive payments to employers led to the sharp decline in traineeships, which became apparent from 2013, the year the Coalition came to power.
The more moderate drop in apprenticeship numbers was largely in response to labour market changes and the decline in traditional trade industries, such as automotive manufacturing and mining, according to experts consulted by Fact Check.
Traineeships also involve employment and formal training, but were established in 1985 to provide opportunities in the non-trade or services sector, typically in retail, hospitality, administration, child care and aged care.
But it does divide data into trade and non-trade sectors, which broadly align with apprenticeships and traineeships respectively.
This data is produced quarterly and consolidated annually.
Apprenticeships and traineeships are measured as commencements, completions and in-training.
When asked for the source of his numbers, Mr Shorten’s office referred to the official September quarter figures for people in training in 2012 and 2018.
The NCVER collated September quarter “in-training” figures for Fact Check from 2009 to 2018 (the latest available).
These show an overall drop of 45 per cent from 2012 to 2018, with the decline mostly driven by a slump in traineeships (down 66 per cent), ahead of a fall in apprenticeships (down 18 per cent).
As the chart below shows, the numbers of people in training for both apprenticeships and traineeships peaked in 2012.
Since then, apprenticeship numbers have remained relatively stable, while traineeships have fallen sharply.
In his comments to reporters, Mr Shorten provided combined numbers for apprenticeships and traineeships yet referred only to “apprenticeships”, creating a misleading picture about a crisis in the traditional trade-based apprenticeship system.
In an article published by The Conversation in 2017, they argued that not only was it misleading to present figures in this way, but that many parties on both sides of the political divide, including industry groups and trade unions, had done so at various times to suggest there was a crisis in Australia’s apprenticeship system.
The academics argued that while apprenticeship numbers had fallen, a closer examination revealed that, in some industries, apprenticeships had experienced recent growth, while for others there had been a decline.
So, are apprenticeships in crisis?
Many people start apprenticeships but do not complete them, so it’s worth taking a look at how the number of completed apprenticeships has tracked over the same period.
As with the overall numbers of people in training, the numbers of those completing an apprenticeship also declined after 2012, driven largely by a drop off in traineeships, rather than in apprenticeships.
Data collated by NCVER for Fact Check shows there were 55,605 people who completed trade-based apprenticeships in 2012.
This number fell by 26 per cent to 41,300 in 2017 (the latest full-year figure available).
Meanwhile, 138,625 people completed traineeships in 2012.
By 2017, the number had fallen by 62 per cent to 52,535.
Did the Coalition create a ‘crisis in trades training’?
It is important to understand why apprenticeships and traineeships spiked in 2012 — a peak that Professor Noonan and Ms Pilcher have labelled a “distortion”.
In the mid-1990s, the Commonwealth began paying incentives to employers on a large scale to help offset the costs of apprenticeships and traineeships, and to encourage more people to take on such programs.
The incentive payments scheme was expanded in 1998 to cover existing workers, not just new workers, and part-time as well as full-time staff.
Professor Noonan and Ms Pilcher noted in their Conversation article: “These policies made it very appealing for companies to take on a trainee, or to make an existing employee a trainee, as in some cases the incentive acted as an effective wage subsidy.”
“A business model emerged whereby employers would share the incentives with registered training organisations, who then delivered training, too often of questionable duration and quality,” the pair wrote in a more extensive 2017 academic paper (on which their Conversation article was based).
When it became evident that incentive payments were being rorted, the Gillard government scaled back eligibility after 2012, leading to a sharp decline in people taking up traineeships.
It’s a different story for apprenticeships.
Various sources claim that the fall in apprenticeships is principally due to a softening labour market and competition from the higher education sector.
A 2015 parliamentary library report suggested the decline in apprenticeships from mid-2012 may reflect reduced demand for labour in industries that are in long-term decline, such as manufacturing, or industries such as mining and utilities that shed labour in response to market conditions.
The report noted that despite the impact of the global financial crisis, apprenticeships in trade-based industries had remained relatively consistent over the past decade.
Chandra Shah, an affiliate in the Faculty of Education at Monash University and an Adjunct Associate Professor at Victoria University, told Fact Check that demand for apprenticeships remained strong in industries that continue to grow, such as construction.
However, the uncapping of university places, and lower entry scores for some courses, meant young people were often attracted to university ahead of considering an apprenticeship.
In their paper, Professor Noonan and Ms Pilcher said the decline in apprenticeships had not been due to funding cuts, as they remain fully funded by the states and continue to attract Commonwealth Government employer incentives.
‘Apprenticeships’ as shorthand for apprenticeships and traineeships
Associate Professor Shah told Fact Check that using “apprenticeships” could be problematic.
“There is some confusion and mixture and blurring of lines between traineeships and apprenticeships in some occupations,” he said.
“So, in an election environment, people are going to step into grey areas.”
But Dianne Dayhew, the executive officer of the National Apprentice Employment Network, said Mr Shorten’s use of the shorthand reference was “technically correct” as the term “apprenticeships” was used by the government itself.
However, she conceded it could be unclear to those unfamiliar with the differentiation between traditional apprenticeships and the more recently designed traineeships.
“Apprenticeships is often a term used by government for the collective of apprenticeships and traineeships. It can be confusing,” she said.
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