Future of Work and VET in Australia – Needs to be a significant upgrade toward a modern, applied and fast-paced alternative to classroom-based learning

On 28 November 2018, the Prime Minister announced an independent review of Australia’s vocational education and training (VET) sector to examine ways to deliver skilled workers for a stronger economy. The review was led by the Honourable Steven Joyce, a former New Zealand Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment. Mr Joyce delivered the final report to the Government in March 2019.

For decades, vocational education and training (VET) has been one of the key pillars of Australia’s economic success story. Generations of tradespeople and skilled workers have successfully developed their skills and knowledge in a practical work-based learning environment.

Vocational education today remains an effective and efficient way of imparting the skills needed for employment. If anything it’s likely that work-based learning models will be more important in the future as technology-driven changes to the ‘way we do things’ need to be quickly transmitted across industries and around workplaces. Our fast-moving world will need flexible and applied ways of learning, so people can lay strong foundations for their careers and then build further skills and knowledge in order to participate in new and changing industries.

This Review set out to conduct a health check of the Australian VET sector to determine how ready it is to step up to the challenge of training more Australians, now and in the future.
Some good work has been done, particularly in setting up the key elements of an integrated national framework such as the national regulator, the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA), and nationally-portable qualifications. The Government’s creation of a universal student identifier and the new VET Information Strategy are further steps in the right direction. And the recent reforms to address the VET FEE-HELP issues have helped restore confidence in the sector that had been lost.

Most participants in this Review were very passionate about the vocational training model. They believe that ‘learning while you earn’ is critical for a fast-changing work environment.
However, many were also concerned whether the current VET systems and processes can deliver the sort of flexible work-based learning models that would help Australians obtain the necessary skills for the future of work.

Slow qualification development, complex and confusing funding models, and ongoing quality issues with some providers were cited as issues that needed addressing. Careers education, VET in schools and access for disadvantaged learners were also cited as needing attention to ensure VET continues to deliver for Australians.

These concerns are backed up by empirical evidence. Employer surveys show confidence in the sector declining, and numbers of qualification-seeking students decreasing.

This Review argues that there needs to be a significant upgrade to the architecture of the VET sector so it can successfully deliver the skills needed for Australia’s future.

It proposes a new vision for vocational education in Australia as a modern, applied and fast-paced alternative to classroom-based learning. This Review recommends a six point plan for change and a roadmap for achieving it. The plan seeks to deliver a stronger skills sector which is a positive choice for many more Australians, whether they are starting their working lives or need new skills to advance their career.

In total, the Review makes 71 separate recommendations around the six points of the plan:

• Strengthening quality assurance,
• Speeding up qualification development,
• Simpler funding and skills matching,
• Better careers information,
• Clearer secondary school pathways, and
• Greater access for disadvantaged Australians.

The plan requires strong intergovernmental cooperation with the States and Territories, and would need to be delivered over a number of years. There are several first steps that can be taken quickly by the Australian Government that will make an immediate positive impact for employers and students using the VET sector.

Early actions the Government can take include:

• Bringing forward implementation of reforms to strengthen ASQA and quality assurance in the sector.
• Piloting a new business-led model of Skills Organisations for qualification development, and extending work-based VET further into less traditional areas.
• Establishing a new National Skills Commission to start working with the States and Territories to develop a new nationally-consistent funding model based on a shared understanding of skills needs.
• Revamping and simplifying apprenticeship incentives to increase their attractiveness to employers and trainees.
• Establishing a new National Careers Institute.
• Creating new vocational pathways for introduction into senior secondary schools.
• Providing new support for second chance learners needing foundation language, literacy, numeracy and digital skills.

These are steps that the Commonwealth can take on its own and should do so.

The Review is very conscious that the vocational education system in Australia is shared between the Commonwealth and the States and Territories. Many of the 71 recommendations will require the shared agreement of the two levels of government. The Review recommends the Commonwealth, States and Territories meet early to develop an agreed vision and a strategic plan which addresses all the recommendations over the next five to six years.

The successful execution of this plan will go a long way to lifting the confidence of employers, students and trainees in the vocational education sector. Crucially, it will elevate the status of VET to see it sit genuinely alongside higher education in the ambitions of young Australians and their communities.

These reforms will set up a system of skills education that delivers more successfully for industry today and is ready to respond dynamically to the demands of tomorrow. Most importantly, it will ensure millions more Australians are ready and able to take advantage of new opportunities for skilled work whenever and wherever they arise.

Chosen excerpts by Job Market Monitor. Read the whole story at Strengthening Skills: Expert Review of Australia’s Vocational Education and Training System | Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet

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