The Future for the Vocational Education and Training Sector

The vocational education and training (VET) sector is essential to Australia’s economy, and equally important are the businesses and employment opportunities that are connected. The sector provides skilling to 4.2 million students, through more than 4,000 registered training providers.

As highlighted at the World Economic Forum, access to skilled workers is a significant factor in distinguishing between successful enterprises and unsuccessful ones. However, many Australian employers are not happy with the VET system and employer satisfaction is the lowest it’s been in the last ten years.

The boom of the digital economy and evolving industrial revolution are predicted to cause major job disruptions. That means that industries are quickly changing and the VET sector needs to keep pace. There are continuing concerns about the quality of the sector itself, after the rise of some shonky organisations offering obscure qualifications.

In November 2018, the Federal Government appointed former New Zealand Skills Minister, Steven Joyce, to lead a review of VET. Known as the Joyce Review, the Coalition government based many of its pre-election promises on some recommendations in the Review, which were released in April 2019.

The Joyce Review contained 71 recommendations which 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 focuses on:

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

The Review indicated it may take five to six years to action a lot of the recommendations however in the meantime, it was suggested there was a need to focus on addressing the declining confidence in the area. The initial steps outlined are:

  • Bringing forward reforms to strengthen the Australian Skills Quality Authority – the national VET regulator;
  • 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;
  • 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;
  • Revamping apprenticeship incentives to increase their attractiveness to employers and trainees;
  • Establishing a National Careers Institute, which would provide better careers information to students;
  • Introducing new vocational pathways into senior secondary schools to create a more seamless transition from Year 11 and 12 into VET courses; and
  • Providing new support for second-chance learners needing foundation language, literacy, numeracy and digital skills.

The Federal Government has agreed to implement most of the initial steps and has committed $525 million to the Delivering Skills for Today and Tomorrow package but there is an underlying issue with urgency for implementing the early steps.

Only two of the six initial steps have been budgeted for in 2019-2020 – the establishment of a National Skills Commission and a National Careers Institute. Some of the steps are not planned until the 2023-24 budget.

One of the Review’s main recommendations highlighted the slow process of creating and updating qualifications. However, there was significant input provided by various industry groups which requested greater collaboration between the VET and university sectors and Business Council of Australia wanted a single market platform and funding model for the two sectors to enable individuals to seamlessly retrain and re-skill.

Both the Review and industry accept that change will take time and the Federal Government must work with the States and Territories, and changes will need to be trialled by vested industries.

Some States and Territories have already started experimenting with a few VET sectors to overcome industry concerns. Rio Tinto is collaborating with Western Australia’s South Metropolitan TAFE to develop an autonomous vehicle qualification, and Blockchain Collective has developed an Advanced Diploma of Applied Blockchain. The New South Wales government’s Sydney School of Entrepreneurship is working with TAFE NSW, universities and industry, and the Factory of the Future is collaborating with the Victorian Government, Swinburne University and Siemens.

These collaborations evidence a willingness in governments, industry and broader VET sector to work together and experiment. This will assist the momentum in making changes to the VET sector, and result in more success in meeting the needs of future employers and students.

Source: This article was written by Pi-Shen Seet, a Professor of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Edith Cowan University, and Janice Jones, an Associate Professor in the College of Business, Government and Law at Flinders University. It was published by The Conversation

3 June 2019