The number of people going into public TAFE or private skills training is falling but by 2023 the demand for workers with skills will continue to outstrip demand for workers with university degrees.
The conflicting trends have been shown up in a report from The Australia Institute which argues it needs to be easier for people to get skills training.
Earlier in the month, the National Centre for Vocational Education Research said the number of people starting traineeships and apprenticeships fell by 3.7 per cent in the year ended December.
And the number of people completing a training course has fallen by 43.5 per cent compared to five years ago.
One of the co-authors on the report and professor of politics and policy at Deakin university, Andrew Scott, said politicians and educators have failed to recognise demand for people with skills will continue to exceed demand for people with university degrees.
“There’re a lot of jobs that require specific skills rather than a generalist university qualification.”
“Universities don’t supply the type of training that’s suitable for everybody or all jobs or what employers want. It’s to do with a cultural bias towards the professions,” professor Scott said.
His report argues Australia should look at the Nordic model of education where people are given an equally-weighted choice between skills training or university when they leave school.
In the case of Finland, the country has 14 universities focused on higher education but 23 universities focused on vocational education.
Professor Scott was highly critical of the way funding for the public TAFE sector has been cut and enrolments reduced.
He said this has been further undermined by the rise of “poor quality privatised providers” and the VET Fee help debacle of five years ago.
“There’s high demand for skills in construction, maintenance, service and hospitality. There are big segments of the non-manufacturing segment of the economy that need skills and training.”
“These are skills that can’t just be ‘learned on the job’, the whole point in the new mobile economy is that workers need qualifications they can take form one job to another.”
Professor Scott said there was a different work tradition in Scandinavian countries which did not differentiate between job types.
This had to do with a long history of egalitarianism which has not been eroded despite changes in education.
“These countries are less unequal therefore they value skills without putting them on a hierarchy.”
A meeting of skills industry experts in Canberra next week being convened by The Australia Institute will urge the government to adopt a “Nordic approach” to post secondary education.
The government received a report on the training sector just before the election which recommended more private sector engagement, especially in picking the subjects most in demand for business. It also recommended coordinating the training sector nationally instead of at a state level as now happens.