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Commonwealth Missing the Mark on Future VET Plans

group of people sitting on chair in front of wooden table inside white painted room

If the government thought its review of the VET system was going to:

 address some of the key obstacles in lifelong learning 

it misses the mark.  

When I read “Productivity Commission” I think “cost cutting” and that is precisely what I read in this Productivity Commission review

The recommendations are for cost shifting to a user pays system which will INTRODUCE obstacles to lifelong learning. 

As well as shifting from a government pays system, they move away from supporting TAFE delivery again.

You don’t need to have a long memory to recall how this has worked in the past with cheap to deliver courses being taken up by private training providers while expensive, workshop intensive courses were starved for funds in the TAFE system. 

The long term impact on skills delivered via the VET system has resulted in a skills shortage now that we can’t import skilled tradies and technical experts from overseas.

The National Agreement for Skills and Workforce Development is the framework for intergovernmental collaboration in VET. After ignoring VET for years the government thought it was time to check out what is happening. It asked the Productivity Commission to do a review.

Key pointsBev’s Comments
The National Agreement for Skills and Workforce Development is overdue for replacement.– Governments have stepped back from some of its policy aspirations. Targets have not been met and the performance framework has not held governments to account.The Framework hasn’t been actively managed since the Coalition came to power in 2013 when it no longer saw VET as a priority.Little wonder the Framework overdue for replacement.  
• A new intergovernmental agreement should be principles-based, modular (to retain flexibility and currency) and reviewed every five years. – Australian Government funding should remain largely untied for base funding but subject to much greater accountability and transparency. ·        contestability in VET markets, with a provider-agnostic approach to training deliveryThis is good new for private RTOs. Check P11 for the Principles  which give lots of emphasis to measurement and reporting and not much about how to support quality VET.
• Governments should continue to support the development of a more efficient and competitive VET market through informed user choice and a focus on quality.– Students need better curated information on career opportunities, the performance of training providers, course quality and prices. – Efforts to improve quality should be ramped up through faster changes to training packages, developing an evidence-based VET workforce strategy, and a phased introduction of independent assessment. “Informed user choice” could be a great thing given the lack of information around VET in WA. “Faster changes to training packages” is good. Industry complains about skills training not keeping up with industry.“Independent assessment” should hold to account some of the shonky providers.
• There is a manifest capacity for governments to achieve a better return on the $6.4 billion spent on VET by:– using the efficient costs and loadings currently being estimated by the National Skills Commission as a common basis for setting and simplifying course subsidies– introducing modest minimum student fees for Certificate III and above courses with exemptions for disadvantaged students– applying more contestability and transparency to public funding of TAFEs and enhancing the operational autonomy of public providers   – enabling State and Territory funding to follow students enrolled with an interstate provider.More collaboration between parties that smooth the transition from school could deliver a more efficient outcome. See Cyril Jackson’s Partnership Model.–        I like WA’s course subsidy model that favors training for industries where there are skills shortages. –        No. No. No. If we want an economy that keeps up with changes in industry, we must ditch this user pays model. –        Contestability of public funding of TAFEs led to the demise of expensive, high tech, “state of the art” training. The priority became making money rather than investing in emerging technologies.  –        I don’t know how happy WA taxpayers will be with this.
• To scale up workforce skills, governments should expand VET Student Loans (VSL) to more Diploma and above courses and to most Certificate IV courses. – Loan caps should better reflect course costs, and loan fees should be paid by all students.  –        Charging people who are trying to keep up with high end and rapid changes in their industry is an interesting concept in a smart economy!! –        I think this policy is the wrong way around. To incentivize workers gaining high level skills in a changing economy, Certificate IV and Diploma courses should be heavily subsidized. 
• Reforms to the trade apprenticeship system are best focused on:– improving completion rates by better screening and matching of prospective apprentices– making pathways more flexible and providing the same subsidy for non-apprenticeship pathways as for traditional pathways– adjusting the timing of employer incentives to provide more support when the risk of cancellation is greatest See my earlier suggestion on the Cyril Jackson Partnership Model. Better informed students make better decisions.    The Role of Good Practices in Youth Employment may be a good place to start putting some responsibility on employers. 
• There should be a coordinated national strategy to improve school education, ‘second-chance’ learning in the VET sector and other adult education services to reduce the large number of Australians with low language, literacy, numeracy and digital literacy skills.  At last, something positive!
• To address some of the key obstacles to lifelong learning, this report proposes improvements in foundation skills, better credit pathways, an expansion of VSL and a trial of a new financing instrument for mature-age Australians reskilling and upskillingI don’t think this strategy will achieve this aim.

You can read the Review HERE