Australia’s VET system set to shape our future workforce

The Morrison Government’s renewed commitment to the Vocational Education and Training (VET) sector will make it central to shaping Australia’s workforce for the future.

Speaking at the 28th National Vocational Education and Training Research Conference today, Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business, Senator Michaelia Cash, said she would lift the profile of Australia’s VET sector and aim to make it the first choice in post-school learning for millions of Australians.

“It is a valuable career choice for many Australians and should not be seen as being something less important than a university degree,” Minister Cash said.

More than 4 million people undertook vocational education and training in 2017. At the end of last year, there were more than a quarter of a million apprentices and trainees.

“We know that people with VET qualifications are highly regarded and sought after by employers, but we need more people to choose VET as their path to success,” Minister Cash said.

“The Morrison Government already has in place a number of programs and tools designed to increase the profile of the sector and encourage more Australians to choose a VET qualification.

“These programs will be especially important because, as our economy evolves and our workforce changes, VET will be the way we train and re-train the workforce of the future.

Minister Cash also delivered a message to education providers of the VET sector that more cooperation with industry was required to create better outcomes for students.

“Employers look to vocationally trained workers because of their suitability in skills and experience. Australia’s VET system must better connect with industry, respond to community needs, and have clear, consistent funding.

And with the growth in the VET sector, Minister Cash said there was always room for improvements.

“The sector still bears some of the scars of Labor’s mismanagement of bad student loans, underfunded courses, quality issues and the diminishing of TAFE.

“It is this Government’s promise to continue the hard work of reforming the sector, providing better quality courses, and better outcomes for trainees and employers.”

The Australian Government’s $525 million Delivering Skills for Today and Tomorrow package announced in the April Budget will also ensure that the sector can help supply Australia’s future workforce.

The package provides every Australian with the opportunity to grow the skills needed to succeed in an evolving workforce and, concurrently offers employers a pipeline of qualified workers they need to grow and prosper.

Minister Cash said the package reflects the Morrison Government’s commitment to growing the number of new apprenticeships.

“Under our landmark skills package, up to 80,000 additional apprenticeships will be created over the next five years in priority skill shortage areas, assisted by new apprenticeship incentives. Youth unemployment will be targeted with an offering of 400 scholarships in regional Australia to the value of $8 million.

“The Government is committed to creating more than 1.25 million jobs over the next five years and I’m confident that more and more of the people filling these positions will be coming to employers through the VET system,” Minister Cash said.

/Public Release. View in full here.

Minister praises vocational study over uni

Michaelia Cash
Minister Michaelia Cash hopes to raise the profile of the vocational education and training sector. (AAP)

Skills and Employment Minister Michaelia Cash wants Australian students to choose vocational training over university study when they finish school.

The federal government hopes Australian students will put their hands up for vocational education over university study.

Skills Minister Michaelia Cash will on Thursday address the vocational education and training sector at a conference in Adelaide, outlining the Morrison government’s aims for the field.

Senator Cash hopes to raise the profile of the sector to ensure it’s the first pick for students choosing their next steps after high school.

“It is a valuable career choice for many Australians and should not be seen as being something less important than a university degree,” she will say.

“We know that people with VET qualifications are highly regarded and sought after by employers, but we need more people to choose VET as their path to success.”

Senator Cash will also urge education providers to work closer with industry to ensure students receive better training.

“Employers look to vocationally trained workers because of their suitability in skills and experience,” she will say.

“Australia’s VET system must better connect with industry, respond to community needs and have clear, consistent funding.”

There were more than 250,000 apprentices and trainees at the end of last year, while more than four million Australians undertook vocational education and training in 2017.

Under the Morrison government’s $525 million plan, up to 80,000 extra apprenticeships will be created over the next five years in areas with skills shortages.

Youth unemployment in regional Australia will also be combated, with 400 scholarships on offer to the value of $8 million.


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VDC News-Rethinking Australian tertiary education?


July – Dec 2019 VDC Professional Learning Program Now Released

The July – Dec 2019 VDC Professional Learning Program is offering an extensive range of continuous PD opportunities for the VET workforce through one hour webinars, half and full day workshops as well as a range of special events. Enhanced workbook resources are also provided for all workshops. The July to December program is now live at VDC 2019 Professional Learning Program or for further information visit VDC website.

Martin Powell
Martin Powell
Chief Executive Officer, VDC

The 2019-20 Victorian Budget: What’s in it for VET?

The Victorian state budget was released on 27 May. The big winner is TAFE.

Here is what the budget has in store for vocational education in Victoria over the next year.

Rebuilding TAFE

[Read More]

Higher apprenticeships: a never-ending story?

Guess what’s back? NCVER released their long-awaited paper on Higher Apprenticeships in early April this year.There are a range of perspectives about them amongst stakeholders. Some hold traditional views about apprenticeships, while others have a broader perspective on how they could be modified and expanded.

[Read More]

Rethinking Australian tertiary education?

Following the federal coalition government’s re-election maybe it’s time to make some important decisions about the future of tertiary education?

That’s what is being proposed in the most recent publication from Victoria University’s Mitchell Institute anyway.

[Read More]

New shadow ministry announced

In case you missed it federal portfolio responsibility for VET has switched from the Department of Education to the new Department of Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business.  Meanwhile, Tanya Plibersek, has retained the education and training portfolio in the new shadow frontbench line-up. In the outer shadow ministry, Graham Perrett was appointed Shadow Assistant […]

[Read More]

One more technical institute in Australia with hundreds of Nepali students faces deregistration

Many vocational and training institutes in Australia are facing regulatory actions for failing to meet quality.

Yet another wing of the Australia Institute of Business and Technology with hundreds of Nepali students has been deregistered by the country’s regulator for the vocational and training sector for failing to meet the admission compliances.

The Australian Skills Quality and Authority (ASQA), the regulatory body, which had deregistered AIBT in February, now has taken similar action against its international wing—the AIBT-International.

The institute, along with two other vocational and training institutes—NSW Business College and Zarah Institute of Education—faced the action with effect from June 19. The business college and Zarah institute have few Nepali students, but a majority of around 1,200 students at the AIBT-International are Nepalis. The regulatory body said the institutes were deregistered as they were found not to be abiding by the existing education rules.

The AIBT has been running two institutes targeting international students, mostly Nepalis, where students were enrolled in diploma courses on nursing, IT, community service and accounting.

“We are in a dilemma. The college has asked us to continue classes but we are worried about our future,” an IT student from the institute told the Post requesting not to disclose the identity because he feared action from the college administration.

In recent times, many vocational and training institutes (VET) in Australia are facing actions from the regulatory agencies for failing to meet quality and to demonstrate fair marketing practices.

Representatives of the Council of International Students Australia, an organisation of international students in the country, say some 200 such training institutes faced actions in the past year.

However, unlike AIBT, others have very few Nepali students.“Hundreds of international students including from Nepal are going through a tough time following the ASQA’s action,” Bijay Sapkota, president of the council, told the Post. “We are taking some legal steps to seek a permanent solution to this problem.”

The AIBT authorities told the Post that there was no need for the students to worry as they have already taken legal steps against the ASQA’s decision.Every institute can seek a review of the decision from the regulatory body.

The Administrative Appeals Tribunal has been set up to hear such cases, but the AIBT has directly filed a case at the Federal Court of Australia, which is the superior court of record and a court of law and equity of the country, calling for declaring the decision invalid and directing the regulatory body to revoke its decision.

“The court hearing is likely early this month. By then, we hope that we can deliver good news to our stakeholders and valued students,” Fiona Kee, head of compliance at the AIBT, told the Post in an email interview.

The representatives of the education consultancies also say students don’t need to worry even if the institutes are closed, as their credit transfer and fee protection will be taken care of.

“The students should not stop attending classes as long as the institutes function,” said Rajendra Rijal, vice-president of the Education Consultancy Association Nepal, an umbrella body of the country’s educational consultancies.The incidents of Nepali students getting in trouble at their foreign academic destinations, mostly in Australia, are increasing as their numbers have gone up significantly in recent years.

Records at the Ministry of Education show only 16,504 students had acquired ‘No Objection Certification’ letters, which are required to study abroad, in the fiscal year 2013-14.The number increased fivefold last fiscal, with 62,800 students acquiring the certificate to study in 72 countries.Among them, some 32,200 students got the certificate to study in Australia.Nepal is currently the third largest contributor of international students to Australia. Rijal said the Australian authorities have started saying that this is not an “organic” growth.

“I think the time has come for us to reconsider before sending students for the VET programmes,” Rijal told the Post.

“The Australian authorities also have started tightening visas for such programmes,” he said. “Visa rejection for such programmes is around 70 percent at present.”

Aus: ACPET becomes ITECA, refines focus

Australia’s education sector has a new representative body after the organisation formerly known as the Australian Council for Private Education and Training transitioned to the Independent Tertiary Education Council Australia.

ITECA will prioritise government funding arrangements for domestic students. Photo: ITECAITECA will prioritise government funding arrangements for domestic students. Photo: ITECA

Australia’s vocational providers attracted over 244,000 international enrolments in 2018

“Government funding needs to be agnostic as to the provider”

The decision, which came into effect in late May after an extraordinary general meeting earlier in the month, sees the organisation expand its remit from solely private to other independent not-for-profit providers throughout both the vocational and higher education sectors.

“These consultations identified a growing recognition on the need for reform,” said ITECA chief executive Troy Williams.

“Australia deserves an integrated tertiary education system in which the higher education, vocational education and training sectors operate as one to deliver students and their employees with the quality outcomes they are looking for.”

As part of the change, Williams said ITECA would refine its focus towards advocacy for changing Australia’s post-secondary funding system, which is currently split between higher education and vocational education.

“We need a funding system that blends private contributions with government funding and permits students to easily transition between the higher education and vocational training sectors,” he said.

“Importantly, government funding needs to be agnostic as to the provider allowing students to choose a quality independent provider, a public university or public TAFE college. It’s all about student choice.”

Australian international education bodies have welcomed the transition to ITECA.

“More than any other time, it is crucial that we have robust, energised peak bodies supporting the international education sector,” said IEAA chief executive Phil Honeywood.

“IEAA thoroughly welcomes both the name change and the new CEO as an opportunity to recast quality private providers advocacy for and on behalf of the dynamic international education industry.”

Australia’s vocational providers attracted over 244,000 international enrolments in 2018, of which 68% chose an independent provider.

The government keeps talking about revamping VET – but is it actually doing it?

The vocational education and training (VET) sector is integral to Australia’s economy and the businesses and workforce that underpin it. The sector provides skills to 4.2 million students at 4,200 registered training providers.

This is important because, as the World Economic Forum highlights, access to skilled workers is a key factor that distinguishes successful enterprises from unsuccessful ones. But many Australian employers are unhappy with the VET system – employer satisfaction is the lowest it’s been in the decade.

The rise of the digital economy and the fourth industrial revolution are predicted to cause major job disruptions. In essence, industry needs are changing rapidly and the VET sector isn’t keeping up. And there are ongoing concerns about the quality of the sector itself, after the rise of some dodgy private organisations offering questionable qualifications.

In November 2018, the federal government appointed former New Zealand skills minister Steven Joyce to lead a once-in-a-generation review of VET. The Coalition government based many of its pre-election announcements on some recommendations of this review (now known as the Joyce review), which were released in April 2019.

So, what did Joyce recommend and is the government actually heeding the advice?

What did Joyce recommend?

The Joyce review details 71 recommendations. These form the basis of a six-point plan to transform VET so it can provide students with skills that reflect the needs of employers.

The plan centres on:

  • strengthening quality assurance
  • speeding up qualification development
  • simplifying funding and skills matching
  • providing better careers information
  • providing clearer secondary school pathways into VET
  • providing greater access for disadvantaged Australians.

The Joyce review noted it might take five to six years to act on many of the recommendations. In the interim, the report advised moving early on recommendations that would address the declining confidence in the sector. These early steps are:

  1. bringing forward reforms to strengthen the Australian Skills Quality Authority – the national VET regulator
  2. piloting a new business-led model of organising skills for qualification development, and extending work-based VET further into less traditional areas, such as assistant professional jobs in health care or high-tech industries
  3. establishing a national skills commission, which would start working with the states and territories to develop a nationally consistent funding model based on shared needs
  4. revamping apprenticeship incentives to increase their attractiveness to employers and trainees
  5. establishing a national careers institute, which would provide better careers information to students
  6. introducing new vocational pathways into senior secondary schools to create a more seamless transition from Year 11 and 12 into VET courses
  7. providing new support for second-chance learners needing foundation language, literacy, numeracy and digital skills.
  8. Is the government doing it?

    The federal government agreed to implement most of the early action recommendations. It committed A$525 million to the Delivering Skills for Today and Tomorrow package. But it has a looser interpretation of how early these should be put in place.

    Only two of the six early actions identified by the Joyce review were budgeted for in 2019-2020: the establishment of a national skills commission and a national careers institute. Some actions, such as 40% of the funding for a new apprenticeship initiative, or A$108 million, are only planned to be resourced as late as the 2023-24 budget.

    The review’s recommendations mainly focused on the slow process of creating and updating qualifications. This is good, but it could be argued the review didn’t directly address the needs articulated by various industry groups.

    These included calls for more collaboration between the VET and university sectors. Then there was the Business Council of Australia’s appeal for a single market platform and funding model for the two sectors to enable workers to more easily retrain and reskill over their lives.

    However, the review agrees with industry that “change will take time”. It will require the federal government to “work with the states and territories” but also, as the Productivity Commission noted, the changes will need to be “piloted and evaluated by willing industries”.

    Some creative partnerships

    Some states and territories have already started experimenting with a small number of players in the VET sector to overcome industry concerns. There is Rio Tinto’s collaboration with Western Australia’s South Metropolitan TAFE to develop an autonomous vehicle qualification. And Blockchain Collective’s development of an Advanced Diploma of Applied Blockchain).

    Other significant experiments include the New South Wales government’s Sydney School of Entrepreneurship between TAFE NSW, universities and industry, and the Factory of the Future between the Victorian government, Swinburne University and Siemens.

    These green shoots point to a willingness in governments, industry and broader VET stakeholders to take the initiative to work together and experiment. We believe this will help overcome the inertia in making changes to the VET sector, and better meet the future needs of employers and students.

Governments urged to act on tertiary decline

Victoria University vice-chancellor urges government action on declining rates of tertiary participation. Picture: David GeraghtyVictoria University vice-chancellor urges government action on declining rates of tertiary participation. Picture: David Geraghty

Victoria University vice-chancellor Peter Dawkins has warned that Australia will be locked into falling participation in tertiary education well into the next decade unless governments take urgent action.

Professor Dawkins urged the federal and state governments to boost funding, particularly to boost student numbers in the vocational education and training sector, where participation has been in decline for many years.

In a new paper with co-authors Peter Noonan and Peter Hurley, Professor Dawkins projects that participation in higher education will be flat for the next decade and VET participation will continue to decline based on current government higher education policy and the two-year trend in the VET sector.

“There is a risk that participation rates in tertiary education (which includes both higher education and VET) will decline almost six percentage points overall, or one-fifth, from their peak in 2012,” the paper says, projecting that the rate in 2030 could be only 26.2 per cent, compared with 32 per cent in 2012.

“Unless governments try to take on the issues it will make the economy less productive. It’s a false economy to be disinvesting in tertiary education,” said Professor Dawkins, an economist who was previously a senior Victor­ian bureaucrat, as well as head of the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research.

But the paper also urges federal and state governments jointly to make reforms to tertiary education that will reduce its unit cost, while producing better graduates who meet employers’ needs.

Strategies to contain the cost of tertiary education reform include:

 Ensuring that lower-cost VET education grows faster then higher education.

 Offering an increasing proportion of higher education degrees through cheaper VET pathway courses.

 Boosting “micro-learning” in which students do short courses focused on upgrading specific skills.

 Increasing the investment by industry in education and training.

The paper also calls for a broad review of higher education and VET funding to be undertaken through the Council of Australian Governments.

The paper urges the two levels of government to jointly commit to “rethink and revitalise tertiary education”.

It says they need to co-finance growth in VET enrolments and rebuild TAFE.

It also recommends the federal government take over funding of VET courses at the diploma and advanced diploma level and that the incentive states have to move funding away from VET be removed.

The report calls for a HECS-style income-contingent loan system to be extended across the VET sector to ensure students do not face upfront tuition fees.

It also calls for VET learning to move away from the current “competency-based model”, which has “squeezed broader-based skills and capabilities to the margins of the curriculum”.

“This contributes to the current gap between what the VET sector is providing, and the skills needs expressed by Australian employers,” the report says.

The paper argues that its reform agenda will have many economic benefits generated by increased participation in tertiary education, workforce enhancement and promotion of economic growth.

“This in turn would generate more tax revenue for government and reduce its expenditure in dealing with unemployment and underemployment,” it says.

“This would justify an increased investment in tertiary education and training by governments, without imposing a fiscal burden.”

Last night, Professor Dawkins delivered the Mitchell Institute Policy Lecture, which was based on the paper.

Tinkering at the edges but little reform for vocational sector

TAFE Directors Australia CEO Craig Robertson in Canberra.TAFE Directors Australia CEO Craig Robertson in Canberra.

The vocational sector will likely be subject to “tinkering at the edges” but enjoy little in the way of fundamental reform as the Morrison government moves ahead with elements of the Joyce review, which was released just before the election campaign began.

While two of the report’s 71 recommendations received funding in the April federal Budget, sector experts say there is a valid question as to how far the newly elected government will go with implementing the entirety of the report from former New Zealand education minister Steven Joyce.

“We are not clear whether the government has accepted all the recommendations or whether the budget announcements are the limit of what they intend to do,” said Craig Robertson, chief executive of TAFE Directors Australia.

One key recommendation is that the federal, state and territory governments “commit over time” to reducing the funding imbalances between qualification-based vocational education and higher education.

So far, the recommendations for a national skills commission and a national careers institute have received a prime ministerial thumbs up after the Joyce report was handed to Mr Morrison in March.

The skills commission is intended to co-ordinate approaches to the funding and resourcing of vocational education and training between federal and state governments. The careers institute, designed to be part of the skills commission, will provide better careers information to students.

Both initiatives have received mixed reactions from experts. The commission has been described as a ‘‘lite’’ version of the Australian National Skills Authority that was disbanded under the Howard government. It would need industry to come to the table to be effective, Mr Robertson said.

The careers institute might offer useful information but it will be using workforce planning and employment outlooks from the commission which have been historically proven to be “unreliable” and “invented to give astrology a good name”, according to Gavin Moodie, an adjunct professor of education at RMIT.

“(The predictions) will be as unreliable as every other central body’s employment projections,” Dr Moodie said.

However, there are serious questions about the government’s ability to deliver on its most prominent budget announcement — 80,000 new apprenticeships over four years via $8000 employer subsidies. Currently, apprenticeships make up just 20 per cent of vocational enrolments, with commencements at their lowest level since 1996.

“Even if we dramatically increase the number of apprenticeships, they will still be a minority of the system. The federal government needs a policy for all vocational education, not just apprenticeships,” said Leesa Wheelahan, the William G. Davis Chair in Community College Leadership at the University of Toronto.

Claire Field, a consultant to private vocational providers, said that in the past employer incentives had been more successful in driving traineeships than apprenticeships.

She said the predecessor Skilling Australians Fund had been criticised as being too narrowly focused on traditional apprenticeships while overlooking the fact that jobs growth was largely centred in services, such as aged and disability care.

Ms Field said that while she rated the Joyce review highly, there was little to suggest that private vocational providers would see any growth in domestic markets under the Morrison government and they would need to look to international students.

There are also questions about whether the Morrison government has any plans to revive the public TAFE sector which has been decimated in recent years by ad hoc, pro-market policies and rampant defunding.

“Unless the federal government recognises the value of TAFE as a key anchor institution of the communities they serve and funds it accordingly, public vocational education is in danger of being reduced to atomistic, just in time and just for now, narrow skills training,” said Professor Wheelahan. “This is exactly what Australia has done to its aged care system and to the job services network.”

John Pardy, an education expert from Monash University, said the Joyce review’s aim for national consistency would need to be built in ways that could balance competing industries and needs on local, state and national levels.

“The challenge in this pivot for consistency is that it does not descend into a series of piecemeal approaches longing for a coherent policy base.”

He said both the skills commission and careers institute might play a role in nationally co-ordinating policy and practice “however slight”.

Before Spending More on Vocational Training, Let’s Ensure it Meets Market Needs

As lawmakers and students grow weary of the rising cost of higher education, vocational training programs are drawing more attention and funding. But a new report finds that these programs are wildly out of step with the needs of today’s job market. To provide a real alternative to higher education, states and schools offering vocational programs should align vocational education with market needs.

Career and Technical Education programs offer options for students looking to avoid student loan debt. These programs equip high school and post-secondary students with the skills and credentials they need to secure jobs for tens of thousands of dollars less than the cost of a traditional 4-year college degree. However, most students are pursuing—and taxpayers are funding—credentials that offer little access to jobs, let alone well-paid ones.

The Foundation for Excellence in Education, a national education research organization, partnered with Burning Glass Technologies, a job market research firm to study U.S. vocational education. They found that in the 24 states they studied, the credentials students earn through career and technical education do not align with job markets.

In total, the study found that for 10 of the top 15 most popular credentials, students are earning more credentials than there are jobs available. In some cases, these credentials lead to no job opportunities at all. “General Career Readiness” credentials, such as financial literacy and basic first aid, for example, account for 28% of credentials earned, yet the study reported zero market demand for them.

Even when students do find jobs with low-demand credentials, they are often low-paying. According to data from the study and the Bureau of Labor statistics, only four of the top nine licenses earned by K-12 students lead to jobs with annual median salaries of approximately $35,000 or more. By contrast, median U.S. household income in 2017 totaled $60,336, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Worse yet, taxpayers are footing the bill for these programs. A recent oversight reportfound that in the last few years, the U.S. Department of Education spent hundreds of millions of dollars on vocational education programs including hair and beauty schools, gaming and bartending classes, refrigeration school, and a Professional Golfers Career College. Last year, Congress agreed to channel and additional $1.2 billion to career and technical education over the next six years, and states augment this funding with hundreds of millions of dollars of their own resources.

Instead of funding credentials that translate to few or no jobs, these resources could be helping students obtain credentials that position them for available jobs with significant salaries. For example, the Foundation for Excellence in Education study found that employers are looking to fill tens of thousands of jobs with employees who have EEG/EKG/ECG Certifications, CompTIA A+ Security+ certifications, and with Cisco Certified Network Associates—positions that come with median annual salaries between $50,132 to $82,296 per year.

If the states and nation are earnest about making career and technical programs a viable path to gainful employment, they must do more than fund these programs, they should align the credentials they offer with market demands.

Finland’s vocational education program, for example, is shaped by just such analysis. According to the National Center on Education and the Economy, The Finnish National Board of Education determines what vocational education will be offered throughout the country based on regularly updated analysis of projections for what the the nation’s industry needs will be in 15 years.

This program has proved both popular and successful at helping Finnish students secure jobs. At age 16, Finnish students choose whether to focus on preparing for university or to pursue vocational education. According to the Organization for Economic Development, Finland has one the highest enrollment rates in upper secondary vocational education, with 71% of upper secondary students enrolled in vocational education programs. And overall, Finnish vocational graduates (age 20-64) experience a 73.4% employment rate, several percentage points higher than average vocational graduate employment rate in the European Union.

The United States could do similarly. Industry needs vary from state to state, so states and schools could optimize career and technical education resources by auditing which credentials are in demand in the labor market, and then directing students and funding to those credentials. These adjustments would benefit employers seeking qualified employees in high-demand fields, students seeking cost-effective paths to employment, and schools whose increased graduate employment rates attract more potential students.

Vocational education programs offer students tremendous education opportunities, but with some intentional adjustments, we can make them even more practical.