I come from a family of tradies.
My dad was a brickie. His dad was in the building game. As far as the eye can see in our family tree, on my dad’s side, are brickies, chippies, gyprockers, a sparkie or two, labourers, mechanics and builders. All blokes, of course. We’re talking about history here.
My three brothers are tradies, or once were tradies. Two of my three sons went through vocational training. My middle son went to TAFE when training to be a chef, and went again a decade later when he made the switch to become a carpenter.
My youngest son was a mechanic for a few years before doing a teaching degree and working with challenging teens.
My eldest son owns a cafe and employs apprentices working their way through TAFE.
I went to TAFE years ago to learn typing and shorthand as a cadet journalist. I went again with two of my sisters some time later for a semester of learning how to do basic sewing. Why I did that is lost in the mists of time. I’m rubbish at anything crafty. Possibly, I was there because I was the only one with a driver’s licence.
All I can remember is sitting in the back of the class where everyone else seemed proficient, and being banned from using sewing machines by myself because my threading skills were crap and I snapped way too many needles.
The other thing I remember clearly from that time is the first name of the woman who tried to teach us how to sew, and the pained expression and little sigh she gave every time I put my hand up for help. That’s not a complaint, by the way. I would have had a pained expression if I’d been trying to teach me.
Anyway, the TAFE colleges where I live – or “tech” colleges as I think of them, which gives the game away about how old I am – have always been significant institutions, because so many people around here attended them.
I live in a neighbourhood of tradies of a certain vintage. It’s close to the beach and we’re all on our seventh, eighth or tenth houses after buying land young years ago when there was land available that was reasonable to buy, and building and selling, building and selling until we own the ones we’re in. The great Australian dream.
The ratio of utes to homes around here is very high. And not just the pretty pretend utes whose owners spend too much of their weekends buffing and polishing them to a dazzling sheen, and bark orders to their kids about dirty shoes and sticky fingers.
No. I’m talking about proper utes, where a few bangs and dings from wheelbarrows, ladders and tools of trade thrown in the tray after a hard day on the job are a badge of honour. Those utes drive around here with a fine layer of dust and a bit of mud on the wheels. Their blokey owners give a smile and a nod and a fingers-up wave while their hands remain on the wheel, as a way of acknowledging they know you’re a local.
They sling boards on the back when the surf’s up. In summer salt-crusted towels join the crap in the tray or the crap around a passenger’s feet.
Every so often these real-ute tradie owners will hose their utes down but the interiors remain true tradie – dust on the dash, food wrappers and empty drink containers on the floor, pens and bits of paper here and there, sometimes ciggies, and a glovebox that could contain anything, from sticking plaster to measuring tape, car records to ticket stubs from a 1989 AC/DC concert, or tax documents that should have been lodged three years ago.
Being a tradie where I live means having control of your life, running your own race, having the ability to work hard and reap the profits of that. It also means being able to be flexible with your work hours and time – like when the surf’s up or a new baby is born.
For the past few months the federal and NSW governments, among others, have been talking up vocational training. The Business Council of Australia has been talking up vocational training. Everyone’s been talking up vocational training because we have, according to them, a skills shortage, and industries crying out for skilled workers.
But the way these spruikers of vocational training have been doing it is insulting to anyone with half a brain who’s watched, despairing, as governments of all stripes, over years, have trashed that education sector, or where the sector itself has kicked own goals.
“We have to address the cultural and financial bias that treats VET (vocational education training) like a second class citizen,” said Business Council of Australia chief executive Jennifer Westacott (a high school classmate of mine).
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian weighed in with: “We want universities and VET to be thought of in the same sentence for workers looking to prepare themselves for the high value jobs of the future.”
This week NSW Minister for Skills and Tertiary Education, Dr Geoff Lee, a former TAFE teacher and university lecturer, repeated the “cultural bias” refrain, saying there was a “cultural bias towards university”, as if the problem with falling TAFE enrolments is an attitudinal thing alone, and we, the people, are snobs.
How about we frame it this way.
The public lost confidence in the vocational sector when governments supported the introduction of private colleges for “competition”, when that led to extraordinary rorting of the system and students, and when “diplomas” and “certificates” were thrown around like confetti but didn’t lead to jobs or careers.
How about some honesty about NSW TAFE “reforms” resulting in wholesale closure of regional TAFE colleges, the collapse of courses on offer, the sacking of staff and a dramatic jump in course costs for students, many of whom once saw TAFE as a way to get ahead, often after difficult childhoods where their schooling took a battering?
And what about the $600 million NSW TAFE IT system debacle that left thousands of students – my son included – unable to get final results that were needed before they could start work as licensed tradies.
The “cultural bias” towards university, or against TAFE, didn’t exist in my neck of the woods before vocational training was disrespected and plundered, internally and externally, over a long period. The TAFE college in Gosford, where I grew up, was on the hill as a prominent and respected local institution.
If vocational training is going to offer a great pathway again for young people into well-paying tradie careers – and particularly young people who deserve a break – how about our leaders be honest about who actually showed the bias that caused the mess.
Hundreds of TAFE teachers and tutors will walk off the job for 24 hours following an ongoing dispute over a new pay deal with the Queensland government.
About 800 TAFE Queensland union members from the Queensland Teachers’ Union and Together union will strike on Wednesday, with classes expected to be cancelled across the state.
It comes after TAFE teachers and tutors held a two-hour stop-work meeting on July 30.
The current enterprise agreement expired on June 30.
Negotiations for the new agreement began in March.
QTU president Kevin Bates said progress had been made on claims from the two unions, which share coverage of education staff at TAFE Queensland.
However, “two key issues” remained unresolved, he said.
These were ensuring Queensland salaries were comparable with teachers and tutors interstate and measures to address gender employment inequity.
The Queensland government’s wages policy restricts pay rises in the public sector to 2.5 per cent a year, however, the QTU has previously sought an increase of 4.5 per cent.
Mr Bates said the salary of TAFE tutors in Queensland was among the lowest in the country.
He said: “2.5 per cent does not deliver a change in our relative position with the other states and territories – it means it needs to be more than that.”
Salaries for Queensland tutors ranged from $52,000 to $60,000, while pay packets in most other states started at $61,000 and went as high as $76,000, Mr Bates said.
“TAFE teacher salaries in Queensland remain under $100,000 while interstate colleagues extend up to a maximum of $145,000 in Tasmania, $120,000 in New South Wales and $113,000 in Victoria,” he said.
Mr Bates said women were also over-represented in “precarious” and part-time employment, which had a career-long impact on their earnings and retirement savings.
Almost 71 per cent of casual TAFE Queensland educators were women, while 56.4 per cent were temporary employees.
More than half of permanent TAFE Queensland educators were men.
The QTU is asking for annual progression through the salary scale regardless of hours worked and shared access by both parents to parental leave entitlements.
A spokeswoman for Training Minister Shannon Fentiman declined to comment as negotiations were ongoing.
- Skills to the world – comment by CEO Craig Robertson
- Governments launch a review of senior secondary education
- It’s time to register for ‘The Power of TAFE’, Brisbane, just eight days away!
- TAFE to host new VET centre at Western Sydney Aerotropolis
- Victoria’s manufacturing sector buoyed by major projects
- National Skills Week kicks off around Australia
- TasTAFE CEO looks to the future with confidence
- VET to drive SA’s international student strategy
- TAFEs able to apply for grants to promote regional studies
- NZ’s displaced construction workers need to ‘live in Australia’: Steven Joyce
- Researcher finds the key to making a good argument
- ASQA clarifies third party training for VET-in-schools
- Diary Dates
Skills to the world – comment by CEO Craig Robertson
Kazan, Russia is the top of the world this week when it comes to skills, and we have our Skillaroos drawn from the VET sector conquering that mountain.
Tomorrow concludes the 2019 Worldskills competition and there are 15 Australians competing across trade and other areas including computing, design and fashion.
In Abu Dhabi we ranked tenth, globally, and snared four medals among 59 countries. The size of the task is getting harder because the world is catching up.
In my travels it’s easy to see that other countries are gearing up to climb the skills ladder. Taiwan has been central in organising an Asian region competition to help prepare candidates. Vietnamese officials I met many years ago wore their Worldskills membership badge with pride. And the last time I was in Islamabad in Pakistan, they were already holding competitions even though they only joined in 2017.
Some of you may have seen on social media the spectacular opening ceremony from Kazan. Rumour has it that President Putin saw the power of global standing in skills and worked hard for Russia to host this year’s competition.
WorldSkills International CEO David Hoey recently said, “Russia joined WorldSkills International in 2012, and seven years later it is already organizing the WorldSkills Competition! This event contributes not only to our movement, but to the Russian market as well.”
It’s worthwhile pausing to remember that China is the host of the competition in 2021.
We talk about the impact of globalisation and instant communications across the globe. It’s not too much of a stretch then that skills are increasingly global in design and application. It’s all too easy to think of the differences to us in the countries we visit. (The most pronounced for me is the undrinkability of North American coffee, but these are more the result of taste, while underpinning technology is the same, and so are the skills.)
Worldskills, therefore, is more important than ever to assess how we are maintaining our place as an advanced economy. We must do skills to a world-class standard if we are to maintain our global trade.
Worldskills is the perfect opportunity to benchmark how we are doing. As you can imagine, with a global competition there needs to be fair, yet high, standards for the competition. Worldskills standards set a new aspiration for Australia’s VET system.
In the heady days of the Rudd Government, business leader David Crawford AO conducted a review into sport in Australia. It lit a fuse about whether the priority was toward general sport participation or support for elite sportspeople, or both. The same dilemma applies to our approach to skills, especially if we want to keep pace with the rest of the world. We need to widen participation AND support our best through Worldskills.
In the past month we’ve had many statements about VET holding its own against university outcomes, at least for some of the highly paid jobs such as trades. Worldskills is the ideal avenue to promote a future and inspire participation. But if we are going to, let’s make sure we get the building blocks right, from the very first day a potential student in primary or high school dreams of a global job, to enrolment in TAFE, to receiving leading-edge training.
I well remember the day I met several 2013 Australian Training Award winners who had just returned from a China youth skills conference and competition, courtesy of the Chinese government. Joel Schwarz, a diesel mechanic, was the winner of the Australian School-based Apprentice of the Year and Henry Kemp, an electrician, was runner-up. For Joel, a country kid from Mildura, the journey was his first overseas! Henry, an electrician from Perth, said he was itching to compete and when he saw what was required, he was confident he could – even with the instructions in Mandarin!
For several of the party they were the first of their family to travel overseas! I can tell you that after hearing those stories I worked a bit harder for the VET sector.
Over 22 experts, drawn from the VET sector, are guiding the competitors. They, as are all our trainers, are critical to the skills transfer that characterises VET.
If you are a trainer reading this, for the next student you enrol think about what may lay ahead for him or her. If you are facing down compliance work think about the passport you are building for those students through the skills you impart. As students wind their way through your TAFE, envision them competing with the best in the world in China.
For our leaders, when advocacy doesn’t seem to be working, contemplate the global workplace we are preparing students for and advocate some more. I will.
Editor’s note: The WorldSkills Australia Board advised during the week that Brett Judd, Chief Executive Officer of WorldSkills Australia, has left to pursue other opportunities. Trevor Schwenke will assume the role of CEO immediately for the foreseeable future.
Trevor can be contacted at the WorldSkills Australia Melbourne office or via email on email@example.com
TDA thanks Brett for his tireless work in promoting skills and working so closely with TDA.
Governments launch a review of senior secondary education
Commonwealth, state and territory education ministers have agreed to a comprehensive review of the country’s senior secondary education system.
The COAG Education Council has appointed a seven-member panel headed by the former Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Professor Peter Shergold.
The terms of reference say the review will “provide advice and recommendations on how senior secondary students can better understand and be enabled to choose the most appropriate pathway to support their transition into work, further education and/or training.”
This will include “clarifying the roles and responsibilities of key stakeholders, such as schools, students, parents, VET providers, higher education institutions, and employers, in supporting inclusion and preparing school leavers for life beyond school, whatever pathway they choose.”
Other members of the review panel are Professor Tom Calma, Sarina Russo, Patrea Walton, Jennifer Westacott, Dr Don Zoellner and Patrick O’Reilly.
The panel will report back to the COAG Education Council next June.
It’s time to register for ‘The Power of TAFE’, Brisbane, just eight days away!
It’s just over a week until the TDA Convention, ‘The Power of TAFE’, which runs from 3 – 5 September in Brisbane.
There are a host of impressive speakers, presenters, workshops and networking events.
The event will showcase best practice and innovation in teaching and learning, curriculum design, student support, industry outreach, international, innovation and new technologies.
With MC Kerry O’Brien, The Power of TAFE will hear from some of the most thought provoking and engaging speakers, including:
Michael Brennan, the head of the Productivity Commission whose job is to promote competition and markets as the starting point for public policy, will explore what’s next for the VET sector.
Vicki Thomson from the Group of Eight Universities, Australia’s elite, will contemplate how TAFEs inhabit the tertiary sector.
Drawing on his findings as chair of Jobs Queensland, the warhorse of higher education, Professor Peter Coaldrake, will argue for a higher order of TAFE if Australia is to educate and train a new the class of worker.
The best of England and Canada, from a technical and vocational education viewpoint, will see David Hughes talk about the journey of Further Education colleges amid Brexit, and Dr Rick Huijbregts from Toronto reflect on the technology climate facing students.
A dedicated session with ASQA leadership will allow TAFEs to take steps to a higher order focus on quality.
We will hear from Steven Joyce, whose advice to Prime Minister Morrison will be central in the shape of VET.
Assistant Minister for Vocational Education, Training and Apprenticeships, Steve Irons will reflect on the next steps for TAFEs.
Overall, the Convention will see:
- 15+ plenary speakers
- 8 State showcases
- 55+ workshops speakers
- numerous networking opportunities
See more about the impressive line-up of plenary speakers.
See the Convention program
TAFE to host new VET centre at Western Sydney Aerotropolis
The NSW government has announced a permanent TAFE VET facility at the new Western Sydney Aerotropolis, with a focus on advanced manufacturing, technology and engineering.
While on an international trade mission in Germany, Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the government is working with Siemens to finalise an MOU that will bring advanced technologies to the new facility.
Ms Berejiklian said Germany’s dual system of on-the-job and classroom training provided trainees with high-level technical skills and has been especially effective at responding to changes in technology and the employment needs of business.
The ‘Siemensstadt 2.0’ innovation precinct is set to transform a 70 hectare industrial area in Berlin into a modern, urban district with offices, residences, laboratories and production plants in place by 2030.
Victoria’s manufacturing sector buoyed by major projects
The future of manufacturing in Victoria is strong, the National Manufacturing Summit in Melbourne was told last week.
Hosted by Weld Australia, speakers outlined the growth expected in advanced manufacturing.
Victoria’s Minister for Skills and Higher Education, Gayle Tierney, pictured, spoke of the reforms to state’s skilling system with TAFEs as a driving force.
“The Future Foundries for Defence Capabilities project is delivering an Australian first — a completely new accredited course at Chisholm Institute of TAFE’s Dandenong campus,” she said.
This project will help build a workforce to take advantage of opportunities in the production of complex, high-precision components for jet fighters, submarines, frigates and armoured vehicles.
The Victorian government’s recent budget included $5.6 million for Victoria’s Big Build and Social Services higher apprenticeships program. This will support the rollout of major infrastructure programs and growth in the state’s human services sector.
“It is an example of how this government is building stronger links between the higher education and the training sectors,” Ms Tierney said.
National Skills Week kicks off around Australia
National Skills Week 2019 has kicked off with the first state launch yesterday at Victoria’s Box Hill Institute, and events around the country in coming days.
With the theme “Succeed your Way”, National Skills Week brings together stakeholders to raise the profile and improve the standing of VET, while highlighting the talents, diversity and benefits of VET pathways.
The Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business Senator Michaelia Cash said National Skills Week is a great time to reflect on the many success stories that have come from VET, and a chance to introduce VET to those who are looking to move ahead with the career of their choice.
Other launch events will take place today in Queensland today, tomorrow in Sydney and on Thursday in South Australia.
TasTAFE CEO looks to the future with confidence
The CEO of TasTAFE, Jenny Dodd (pictured) says the organisation has reached a milestone, with ASQA’s granting of a seven-year registration, following a period of reform and restructuring.
In an interview with The Mercury in Hobart, Ms Dodd outlined some of the challenges faced since taking on the top job at TasTAFE in February 2018.
“We had 29 business units operating in 29 different ways, and you can’t run a single registered training organisation like that,” she said.
But the reforms have borne fruit with the regulator recently providing the longest available period of registration.
“Seven years’ registration is hard to get, and it’s a big deal for Tasmania,” she says.
Part of the new focus will be on programs that enable existing workers to upskill as their jobs transform, including both advanced and foundational digital skills.
There is also a closer partnership with the University of Tasmania in the area of co-delivery of some short-course programs, including some nursing classes.
Ms Dodd, who is also a TDA Board Member, joined TasTAFE from TAFE Queensland where she was Chief Academic Officer.
Photo: Zac Simmonds, The Mercury
VET to drive SA’s international student strategy
The South Australian government is counting on a doubling in the state’s VET student numbers as the main driver of a new $3 billion strategy to attract international students.
A strategy paper International Education 2030 says that VET is expected to be the fastest growing area of international education in the state, more than doubling from 7,000 students in 2018 to 14,500 in 2030, and outstripping the national growth rate.
Higher education is expected to increase from 19,500 students in 2018 to 36,100 in 2030, making up more than 50 per cent of total enrolments in the state.
The current top four source markets for enrolments in South Australia – China, India, Hong Kong and Vietnam – are expected to remain the top performing markets to 2030.
TAFEs able to apply for grants to promote regional studies
Tertiary education providers including TAFEs are eligible to apply for grants to enable international and domestic students to study in regional Australia.
The first round of the $94 million Destination Australia Program is now open and aims to attract 4,720 students to study at regional campuses from next year with scholarships of $15,000.
The scholarships are available for qualifications from a Certificate IV through to a PhD.
Students are not able to directly apply for the scholarships.
NZ’s displaced construction workers need to ‘live in Australia’: Steven Joyce
The architect of Australia’s recent VET review, New Zealander Stephen Joyce has warned that his country’s road infrastructure program has been hijacked by the Greens and that policy makers should look to Australia for job-boosting initiatives.
He also says that out of work construction employees will find plenty of jobs if they’re prepared to move to Sydney or Melbourne.
“Everyone knows the Green Party is anti-road and anti-development,” he says in an article in NZ’s Sunday Star Times.
“The surprise for most people is just how much the Greens are now controlling New Zealand’s roading policy, and how radical that policy has become.”
“The construction workers will be okay. There is tons of work coming up for them, although they will need to live in Australia.
“Melbourne and Sydney in particular are crying out for skilled road builders as Australia ramps up its infrastructure investment,” he says.
Researcher finds the key to making a good argument
A Queensland education researcher has argued that the Australian curriculum places too much emphasis on emotive writing and not enough on encouraging students to develop their powers of reasoning.
Luke Zaphir, a researcher with the University of Queensland Critical Thinking Project, says there are three things present in all good arguments, and that teachers need to encourage children to start putting across their points of view from an early age.
“One shortcoming in the Australian Curriculum is that it asks students to write persuasively, by using emotive language,” he says.
“We should be teaching our students to provide the reasoning behind their opinion as well as backing it up with evidence, not to manipulate emotions,” he says in an article in The Conversation.
See “How to make good arguments at school (and everywhere else)” in The Conversation.
ASQA clarifies third party training for VET-in-schools
The Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) has sought to clarify new third-party arrangements for training providers that will apply for VET-in-schools.
It follows the release of guidance on third-party training arrangements that will take effect soon.
ASQA says it has been asked to clarify the impact where a school engages an RTO to deliver a course to VET-in-schools students, and the school provides some support in the delivery.
Essentially, the arrangements will depend on whether the school is registered as an RTO under the National Vocational Education and Training Regulator Act 2011.
See the new guidance for VET-in-schools.
National Skills Week
26 August – 1 September 2019
Locations around Australia
TAFE Directors Australia 2019 Convention
‘The Power of TAFE’
3 – 5 September 2019
2019 National VET Conference
12 &13 September 2019
Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre, Brisbane
Community Colleges Australia 2019 Annual Conference
18-20 November 2019
The Stamford Plaza Hotel, Brisbane
Australian Training Awards
21 November 2019
Australian Council of Deans of Education Vocational Education Group
5th Annual Conference on VET Teaching and VET Teacher Education
9-10 December 2019
Charles Sturt University Wagga Wagga Campus
The Coalition Government’s policies have starved TAFE in favour of private-sector VET training, effectively making it an educational option only for the rich., writes Leisa Woodman.
Affordable, practical education through Technical and Further Education (TAFE) is part of the Australian consciousness in a way that many may not even realise.
Quality materials and competent workmanship have long been taken for granted in our society, and Australians have for generations been creatively stimulated by the secure knowledge that their educational journey is never over.
Even if one had been coerced into an unsuitable degree, or dropped out of high school, there was still a way back into learning through TAFE.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has mysteriously declared he wants to “raise the status” of TAFE courses in Australia, saying they are “as good as uni”. He has revealed that “reform” of the vocational education sector would be at the forefront of the agenda at the Council of Australian Governments meeting in Cairns. Australians should rightly demand of the Prime Minister, whether this plan for reform is going to address how TAFE has morphed in recent years into what one teacher termed, “education for the rich”.
The full fees payable for many diplomas are now comparable to university fees. While each student is allowed two chances at accessing government-subsidised study before having to pay the full fees, even these subsidised courses cost many thousands of dollars. Fees are payable upfront in the case of certificates, that don’t allow deferred Vocational Educational and Training (VET) loans. What working-class person has thousands sitting around handy? According to the TAFE educator, students manage to pay these fees if “they have benefactors”.
TAFE proudly advertises that students can access fees by instalment, but when a student enquires about this scheme, they are informed they must allow for $80 to $90 left in their bank after repaying their fortnightly fee contribution, which could be $70 dollars or more. A simple calculation reveals this is impossible if living out of home, on any government payment.
To make matters worse, many TAFE diplomas now have prerequisites for entry — meaning a student may exhaust their two subsidised courses by the time they get to the course they really want to do.
Fees also differ wildly from one state to the next. A Diploma of Building and Construction costs $37,168 at TAFE South Australia, but under Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews’ progressive TAFE policy, is free to the unemployed in Victoria. One can imagine the few remaining prospective students not excluded by the cost being perturbed by the instability and so, it seems, student numbers are down across campuses.
There is a chance for the Federal Government to address a real problem. Many employers in technical fields, such as pathology, are now asking for university degrees for no reason other than that so many have them. The result of people choosing universities, who probably should have attended TAFE institutions, is that degrees have lost their value in the labour market. Some entry positions now, in reality, favour a master’s degree, which, mostly uncovered by Austudy, is also only accessible to the rich.
To attract students back to TAFE, employers must begin to see education as a set of suitable skills, rather than a spending competition. However, this is an ethos directly in competition with the goals of our present Coalition Government.
It has long been the policy of the Coalition to effectively “starve” TAFE in favour of the private sector of VET training, ripping out $3 billion in funding in the past six years. One suspects that Morrison’s plan to raise the status of TAFE will simply be a language project designed to justify the now prohibitive costs at disastrously underfunded campuses.
TAFE cannot be revitalised with words. Only a sustained injection of funds to TAFE can end predatory Registered Training Organisations and restore technical education to its rightful place in assisting Australians from all backgrounds to gain, diversify and upgrade their skills easily throughout their lives.
Scott Morrison was asked what he thought of a role playing exercise as part of the Respecting Relationships program, he said that's why he sends his kids to private school. Has the new PM just revealed he doesn't value public education? @LiciaHeath thinks so. #TheDrum #auspol pic.twitter.com/XYqubhrSEr
— ABC The Drum (@ABCthedrum) September 3, 2018
You can follow Leisa Woodman on Twitter @LeisaWoodman.
What exactly have they got planned for our public TAFE system? #StopTAFECuts https://twitter.com/TAFEeducation/status/1162174463489609728 …
The earning capacity of many young Australians would be significantly higher if they learned a trade instead of going to university, a new report has found.
- The Grattan Institute looks at the earning capacity of university students and those young people who learn a trade
- It finds for some people, particularly young men with lower ATAR scores, vocational occupations result in higher earnings
- The report comes as the vocational education industry is reporting a 43 per cent drop in trade-based enrolments
- One commentator says the idea that university is the only option often comes from parents
The Grattan Institute report found that for men, particularly those who scored lower ATARs at school, vocational qualifications in engineering, construction and commerce resulted in higher average earnings than a degree qualification.
The number of students enrolling in university has swelled by more than one-third over the past decade, with more students with lower ATARs and those from diverse backgrounds now attending.
That increase has come at the expense of vocational education, with the number of students taking up a place in those trades-based courses down 43 per cent in the past five years.
The Federal Government made the issue a key focus of COAG talks last week amid concerns about critical skills shortages. It has also commissioned a review of post-secondary school pathways.
Grattan’s higher education program director Andrew Norton said some university graduates were struggling to get jobs, especially if they studied generalist degrees in humanities and science.
This was particularly the case for students with lower ATARs.
“This report is looking at the concern that some low ATAR students, who have been increasing in numbers at university, would have been better off in vocational education,” Mr Norton said.
“The report finds that is true in some cases, particularly for young men.
“We find that there is a high risk that they won’t get the financial benefits of higher education that higher ATAR students would get, and that they would do well in a range of vocational occupations such as engineering and trades related [to] construction and some commerce type degrees.”
But Mr Norton said the picture was different for women.
“By contrast, lower ATAR women who go into nursing and teaching degrees have pretty good employment outcomes, very high rates of professional employment, and we think they’ll end up earning a lot more than the women who go into vocational education,” he said.
Students growing up with university as only option
Nineteen-year-old Liam Mills enrolled in a university degree earlier this year but left in favour of a TAFE course. He’s now studying web development at Hornsby TAFE in northern Sydney.
“I prefer a much more hands-on approach, so sitting in a lecture wasn’t really doing it for me,” he said.
“I much prefer being behind the computer.”
Mr Mills said he had grown up with the idea that going to university was the only option.
“My choice to go to university was mainly based on what a lot of my friends were doing at the time,” he said.
“It was kind of the plan I’d always had basically from starting high school, [but] by the time I got there I realised it wasn’t exactly what I wanted.”
Many parents still believe university is the ‘right route’
The decline in those taking up vocational training comes despite national skills shortages in many of the trades that are predicted to soon become more critical.
It is estimated Australia will need up to a million workers with vocational qualifications by 2023.
The decline in vocational students will be a focus of National Skills Week later this month.
The event’s founder Brian Wexham said he believed change needed to come from parents.
“We’re faced with this challenge that many, many parents still believe that the right route for their child is to go to university and they will get a more fulfilling and better career, and for some that is true, but of course it’s not true for everyone,” he said.
“A lot of students are practical learners, they’re not academically inclined.
“And frankly I think universities have got a lot to answer for, because they encourage people to go there even if it might not be suitable for them.
“It’s been widely reported that some universities have accepted ATARs of 50, and frankly all they’re doing is enrolling somebody who’s probably destined to fail, and all they end up doing is having a HECS bill, but if you’re an apprentice you get paid to learn.”
Universities have defended their graduates’ employment outcomes in the light of the Grattan report.
Universities Australia chief Catriona Jackson said a low ATAR can be a sign of disruption during a student’s Year 12 studies, or which postcode they came from.
“It doesn’t predict the destiny of every student, and the vast majority of students who enter university go on to successfully complete their studies,” she said.
On graduate jobs and salaries, she said: “University graduates earn up to $1 million more over their lifetimes on average and are 2.5 times less likely to be unemployed than those without a higher qualification.
“Nine in 10 university graduates are in full-time work three years after graduation, and four out of five undergraduates work in professional or managerial roles.
“And the median salary of university graduates three years on from finishing their studies is $70,000.”
Improving the nation’s vocational system is at the top of the agenda at the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting in Far North Queensland. The nation’s leaders were met by a group of protestors on Friday as they came together for the first time since the federal election in May. The leaders are expected to consider the recommendations of a recent review that identified a spate of challenges in the education and training sector. The Australian Industry group called for reforms to ensure there were enough skilled Australians to support the government’s $100 billion infrastructure pipeline. The group also raised concerns about a growing skills shortage and a struggling training system. Image: News Corp Australia