It has been ‘All quiet on the Review Front’ for a few years but there is an election in the wind. So VET is being reviewed again. Steve Joyce has been appointed as the reviewer and he must provide his report in March. There is an opportunity to provide input via an online form on the website of Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. There are four questions to guide a response. Murphy’s Law is in play. Theoretically submissions close at midnight tonight. However, maybe they’ll turn it off on Tuesday morning.
My response is below. Feel free to re-use/add to it/ignore it if you would like to contribute to the review. Announcement of the Review: click here
Submission to 2019 Vocational Education and Training Review – by Marilyn Harvey
What is working well in the VET sector?
1. Clients are happy
NCVER surveys students and employers about their satisfaction with VET training on a regular basis and year after year the results are very positive. The evidence:
- 2018 survey shows 90.4% of learners who completed a VET subject were satisfied with the overall quality of the training, whether it was government-subsidised training and or training on a fee-for-service basis.
- 2017 survey shows 82.2% of employers were satisfied that nationally recognised training provided employees with the skills they require for the job.
The Australian Skills Quality Authority now uses a risk based supervisory framework with an auditing model that makes sense to RTOs. Regulation is necessary. It’s a bit like medicine. Most RTOs acknowledge it keeps the sector healthy. The evidence:
- ASQA’s 2017 survey drew a response from 2353 training providers and 77% of them rated ASQA’s overall performance as a regulator as excellent or good.
3. Resilience of the VET sector
There are approximately 4,500 training providers operating in the VET sector. All but a handful of them qualify as ‘small businesses’ by both the ATO’s definition (annual revenue under $2 million) and the ABS’s definition (fewer than 20 employees). This a reflection of the economy generally, as over nine in ten Australian businesses are small businesses.
They operate in a competitive environment where responsiveness to the market and flexibility in provision of services are not just desirable – they are core survival skills.
What are the key challenges in the VET sector?
1. Continual propagation of negative image
The VET sector could be described as a ‘soft target’ in that it is relatively unprotected or vulnerable to attack from several sources, including political parties, the media and lobby groups with vested interests. It is not unusual to read that VET needs to be ‘fixed’ or ‘reformed’, ‘re-modelled’, ‘re-directed’ or ‘return’ to what it was somewhere in the past. Over-generalisations are the order of the day.
2. Criminal operators
Criminal operators gravitate to any industry where it is possible to access government monies. This includes the VET sector. They damage the VET brand and most training providers support ASQA’s focus on closing them down.
3. RTOs not regarded as stakeholders
Training providers are rarely consulted as part of any decision-making process that is integral to their reason for existence. In the past, I have seen several diagrams of all the stakeholders in the VET sector that did not even include training providers. It is odd. It is like saying that schools are not part of the secondary education sector.
TAFE Directors Australia (TDA) and Australian Council for Private Education and Training (ACPET) both work towards making sure the voice of the sector is heard in the corridors of power. There are many VET professional networks and associations. Were they invited to participate in this review? Is there even a list of these anywhere? Were training providers generally informed that this review was taking place and directed to the website if they wished to make a comment?
What changes would you make to the VET sector?
1. Acknowledge that VET is now about more than getting people into jobs.
29.6% of students who enrolled in a VET subject last year did so to get employed (NCVER data). Excellent. This reason feeds into current political narratives very well.
However, 70.4% of VET students were not looking for a job. They wanted a new career, or extra skills or they were required to do it as upskilling for their work role or for other personal reasons. Adults are turning to VET in droves to ensure that they stay skill-relevant in today’s work landscape.
2. Acknowledge that training providers are part of VET
VET is the frontline when it comes to skilling Australia’s workforce. Training providers are a source of solid market intelligence as they are inside industries on a routine basis and have a grass roots perspective. Acknowledge that training providers are an integral part of the VET sector and have a vested interest in its’ ongoing wellbeing.
How can VET help Australians prepare for the future workforce?
This is the heart of the matter. VET must be a major part of the solution.
Whole industries are being transformed at lightspeed. The question is how does VET provide the upskilling required for people who already have degrees or years of experience?
At a futures-oriented conference recently, I was quite shocked by the number of speakers who issued pleas to the audience for skilled staff. No IT boffins needed, but did anyone know a product manager, a marketing strategist, a business analyst or a logistics specialist who had any experience, or even some understanding, of the digital business world? The link to my editorial is below.
There are systemic and practical issues that need to be addressed but there are no quick fixes for them. One example is the restricted nature of the training packages. Qualifications are important. However, they do not cater for the marketplace call for micro-skilling in specific areas.
Perhaps there is room for a series of Investigative papers to inform future decision-makers about realistic options in this space.