Release type: Speech


TAFE Directors Australia Convention

I would like to acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the Land upon which we stand.

I would also like to acknowledge our international guests and TAFE Directors Board Members.

Thank you Stephen (Stephen Conway, Chair of TDA and CEO TasTAFE) for the introduction and to TDA for inviting me to be with you today.

As Assistant Minister for Vocational Training and Skills, I am pleased to see that the convention, and the workshop sessions cover a huge variety of topics that address issues relating to the skills Australia needs in post mining boom Australia, global jobs market demand, digital technologies and opportunities in international education.

I’m keenly interested in all of them but today I’d like to focus on your theme of ‘skills resurgence’. I want to frame that in the context of the broader issues facing the sector and the status, outcomes and quality of VET.

According to the Reserve Bank , mining accounts for seven per cent of our economic output.

Services on the other hand generate 58 per cent of our activity. 

We are now seeing a transition from the capital intensive mining sector to the more labour intensive service sectors. 

Within the services sector, retail and health care and social assistance have been the largest contributors, each growing by around 60,000 jobs over the past year.

Everyone here today is critical to support the skills and training required for many of these jobs. 

Our economic prosperity depends on the quality of our graduates, the outcomes of the training you give them and whether they are skilled in the way employers need them to be skilled. Our international competitiveness depends on skilled people meeting employers’ needs.  

To deliver we must first become more innovative in the way we approach the task of generating a workforce capable of keeping pace with the economy’s rapidly changing needs.  

We also need to elevate the status of VET in the education system, and in the hearts and minds of all Australians. 

I can assure you that raising the status of VET is very high on my list of priorities.

We are on the cusp of a period of growth and new activity. 

A period that will position you and your students to meet future skills needs.

I have no doubt that each of you here today is well aware that you must continually build the quality of the skills and training courses you offer if you are to meet that challenge.

As you do, you will experience better outcomes and it will cement your collective reputation as the ‘go to’ sector for employers looking to thrive in a modern economy. 

I’m fully aware of your dedication and the professionalism you bring to the sector and I know that many prosperous small businesses, in particular, credit the TAFE system for their success.  

Last year some 4.5 million people were training in the Australian system with thousands of providers. 

TAFE training attracted around 930,000. An amazing achievement. 

But there are challenges as you know and conventions like this one give you the time to discuss, think about and design ways to further engage students with training that will get them a job. 

We all have a role to play in meeting the challenges with the VET FEE-HELP redesign, and today’s major announcement from the Education and Training Minister, Senator Simon Birmingham, who has policy carriage of VET FEE-HELP is a giant step forward.
For government, it is about getting the regulation and policy settings right. This way we avoid the consequences of the troubled, outgoing scheme so recklessly expanded by the previous government.

I appreciate that while only a relatively small number of providers deliberately set out to exploit the scheme, their actions – enabled by a poorly structured system – tarnished the entire sector’s reputation. 

The Government will now reign in the rorters, and we will ensure the new scheme is sustainable and affordable.  

Above all, the changes we seek to introduce will restore confidence and protect the hard won reputation of Australia’s education and training sector.

The Government’s reforms ban student inducements and incentives and direct approaches.

We will close off new loans under VET FEE-HELP at the end of 2016, with the new program entailing new providers, course restrictions, loan caps and student engagement requirements commencing from the start of 2017.

Central to the changes is the need for private providers to go through a rigorous application process and extensive monitoring and evaluation to ensure they are delivering education that students and employers value and that taxpayers are willing to continue supporting. TAFE providers will not need to go through this application process. 

The new VET Student Loans program will return integrity to the vocational education sector and deliver a win-win for students and taxpayers through a range of protections.

There will be much discussion and much consultation in the coming weeks.
BUT, here’s the key point. It’s vital we get support ACROSS THE BOARD for this set of changes. Because they must happen. We know that.

I’m pleased to say we have other reforms underway to maintain the confidence of employers, students and parents in the quality of the VET system. 

The Training and Assessment Working Group is exploring options to improve the quality of assessment.  

Its report synthesised more than 200 responses to the Quality of assessment in VET discussion paper. The report canvassed various approaches to strengthening the skills of VET trainers and assessors.

I’m carefully considering this report, in particular ideas to improve validation of assessment—including potential for greater industry involvement—and options for tougher regulatory interventions. 

I will be proposing options for the COAG Industry and Skills Council to consider later this year.  These reforms will benefit those of you already engaging in best practice. 

Embedded in best practice is the capacity for innovation to which I referred earlier. We all have a role to play in driving it.

Government has a job to do to support innovation—to adapt systems and support flexibility to reflect innovations that have already happened or are underway. 

And training providers are central to this. They must identify an industry’s need, or skills gaps to address and they adjust their offering to meet the market’s need.

I understand that it can be challenging for institutions, such as large TAFEs, to be as responsive in the way that a small training provider, without as many constraints, can be.

But that does not mean it cannot happen. 

Good training providers understand that we now live in a world where agility and adaptability are the currency of survival. TAFEs and other stable training providers help students get the right skills to match job opportunities.

Chris Henbery, a Vocational Student of the Year finalist at last year’s Australian Training Awards and graduate of Swinburne here in Victoria, shows how VET, well delivered, can help people keen to retrain or adapt their skills.

When Chris immigrated to Australia in 2011 with his wife and young son, he left behind his London banking job. He took the opportunity of a new country to indulge his passion for horticulture and now, thanks to vocational education and training, he works at a job he loves far more than banking. 

But what you offer goes beyond individuals and their individual needs, no matter how important that is to people like Chris. 

Businesses also appreciate how you help them navigate the employment waters of the economic and social environment that is today’s economy. 

They look to VET, to sound training providers, to adapt and tailor services to meet their needs.  

And that’s exactly as it should be because the changing labour market impacts the types of jobs available. 

It’s clear that some jobs are becoming obsolete. And some roles in existing industries are changing significantly.

Technological innovation is constantly generating new jobs. Emerging industries like 3D manufacturing and the increasing use of drones in agriculture require dramatic new skills.

And working in some of the high paying jobs in Australia , you’ll find structural steel construction workers, and crane, hoist and lift operators, and gas, petroleum and oil power plant operators all working with new technology. All have a strong skills base – and almost all had their training delivered through the VET system. 

In the job mix are the entrepreneurs, people creating their own job roles, their own businesses, even industries. 

These types of new jobs and roles all need a core set of skills, the sort that give individuals the ability to be agile and flexible, to demonstrate their creativity and to problem solve. 

These so called ‘soft skills’ are highly valued and some say that our country cannot prosper without them.  

The COAG Industry and Skills Council is now considering reforming training packages to enable providers to keep pace with the changes to these skills. 

Australia’s VET and apprenticeship system is also adapting, as it must. I like to think of it as being part of Australia’s great ‘Education Highway’.

People, of any age, can come on and off the highway to build the skills they need for employment throughout their working lives.

It’s training providers like you that help individuals get to their chosen destination. With the skills and the qualifications they need.

It’s the Government’s role to ensure this is a smooth journey with minimal regulatory roadblocks.

That’s why we have supported ASQA, the national regulator, to improve its regulation model to one that’s modern, responsive, and risk-based. 

But make no mistake, the model applies more scrutiny to high-risk providers and prioritises the issues that pose a serious risk to safety and the integrity of the VET sector.

Let me now turn to apprenticeships which are the bedrock of the VET system. They are one of the great strengths of our system, connecting the workplace and learning in a unique way.

When I was first appointed in this Ministerial role I released the Apprenticeships Reform Advisory Group Recommendation Report as a priority, and am using it in further discussion and action on apprenticeships reform. 

The Report provides recommendations on three key areas of reform – incentive arrangements, alternative models of delivery and 
pre-apprenticeships – and also recommends broader systemic improvements. 

We have already taken action in key areas outlined in the report. 

Through the Apprenticeship Training – alternative delivery pilots the Government seeks to test and open up alternative training models on a broader scale providing greater skills development, choice and industry acceptance.

The Australian Government is supporting the multi-industry school based and pre-apprenticeship support pilot project with a $6.82 million grant. 

The Apprenticeship Employment Network in Victoria, New South Wales and Tasmania will deliver the pilot over two years. 

This pilot will give young people hands-on industry experience and a pathway into an apprenticeship or traineeship.

Future apprenticeships reform will be a key focus of discussion with state and territory skills ministers at the next COAG Industry Skills Council meeting in November 2016, and there has already been much fruitful discussion with industry and other stakeholders on the next phase of reform. 

I look forward to building on this engagement and momentum; working collaboratively with you all. 

Now I know the issue of funding is one you are all interested in and I do not want to finish without acknowledging that. 

Public debate often references funding, most recently in reports from organisations such as CEDA and the Mitchell Institute.

As you know funding is the joint responsibility of states and territories and the Commonwealth. In 2016-17 the Australian Government will provide support of approximately $7 billion to the VET sector and the states contribute an estimated additional $3.8 billion. 

The future direction of the VET sector is a collaborative effort between the Australian and state and territory governments. 

I am meeting with a range of key stakeholders to identify priorities for VET to see where, how and if they align with the Commonwealth’s.  What our joint, collaborative approach might look like in the future.

Like many of you, ’m heading over to the Worldskills Australia National Competition here in Melbourne. It’s the largest trades and skills showcase in the country.  

For hundreds of competitors the pressure will be on as they undertake three days of intense competition against the nation’s best in their field – from auto electrical, to mechatronics, and from game design and development to cookery. 

They will be chasing a gold medal and the coveted title of ‘National Champion’ in their respective fields.

And for me it will give me a further insight — and the real evidence — into what a skills resurgence in Australia looks like. 

In closing I want to reinforce that VET is vitally important to our economy and it gives individuals the skills they need to build a career.

VET is at the forefront of adaptation and the innovation needed to meet the future needs of our nation.

It is unique in that it can deliver the skills employers are looking for in a practical and timely way.

I will work with the VET sector to ensure training is of high quality and has the status it deserves as a lynch pin for innovation.

I look forward to hearing the conclusions, analysis and particularly the innovative ideas I’m sure this convention will generate. Those insights will be invaluable as we shape the sector to meet future challenges.

Thank you for your time.