Release type: Speech


VELG National VET Conference

I may be a little biased, but I think there’s no better location to host a conference to ‘Celebrate VET’. The world-renowned beaches, theme parks, dining precincts and year-round sunshine may attract 10.5 million visitors  a year to the Gold Coast, but I believe it’s the skilled tourism workforce that keeps them returning year after year. 

The tourism and hospitality industries that make the Gold Coast such a special place rely heavily on the skills of their well-trained employees – skills that you as training providers have delivered to our many restaurant and bar staff. To staff throughout our hotels, convention centres and major tourism attractions. And I’m pleased to say that in 2015 we saw an increase in participation in Government funded tourism and hospitality training on the Gold Coast from 3,900 to 4,500 students. 

The Gold Coast is just one small part of Australia’s large and diverse VET sector. Last year alone, more than 4.5 million people were engaged in skills and training through thousands of Australian training providers, many of whom are represented here today. 

And each of you would know, VET is often overlooked as the cornerstone of a prosperous and skilled economy.

VET provides the skills people need to have great careers now, and to prepare them for the jobs of the future. It plays a key role in Australia’s ongoing economic prosperity and our ongoing international competitiveness.

This is something I’m passionate about. My focus is on raising the status of VET, delivering strong outcomes and ensuring quality in the sector. These pillars will be central to everything I do. We can’t have jobs and growth without skills and trades.

One of the strengths of the Australian VET system is how it works in conjunction with higher education. 

I like to view the VET and apprenticeship system as part of Australia’s great ‘Education Highway’. You can get on or off a highway at different points, but a job in one of the many trades where skills are in demand is always a quality ‘destination’.

From a personal point of view, I started my working life as a mechanical engineer. 

In 1983 two women graduated in mechanical engineering from the Queensland Institute of Technology, now Queensland University of Technology– I was one of them.  

In my 30 years working in industry and industrial relations, I have developed a deep understanding of the importance of trade skills. You don’t work at power stations and chemical sites without understanding that these skills go hand in hand with those learned by doing a degree. 

That’s why I want to see more appreciation and value placed on trades. We need to build the reputation of trades careers and encourage young people to take up an apprenticeship or traineeship. Either as a stopover on the education highway, or a destination.

Promoting the value of the VET sector and ensuring quality is crucial to maintaining the confidence of students and employers in skills and trades and ensuring long term growth and sustainability. 

That’s why improving VET quality nationally has been and will continue to be a key focus of the Government’s VET reforms and my personal mission as Assistant Minister.

In speaking to you and other stakeholders during VET reform consultations, the Government consistently received feedback that the quality of assessment could be improved.

We agree that one of the key elements to ensuring enhanced confidence in VET is producing consistently high quality VET graduates.  

That’s why we established the Training and Assessment Working Group to explore options. The Working Group engaged in thorough consultations and received more than 200 responses to the Quality of assessment in VET discussion paper

I have received the report from the Working Group and am carefully considering the recommendations.

The report covers approaches to strengthening the skills of VET trainers and assessors, consideration of improved validation of assessment, including potential for greater industry involvement, and options for tougher regulatory interventions.

I will progress reform options for further consideration with the COAG Industry and Skills Council later this year. Reforms will be carefully considered and will maintain an industry-led VET focus.

It’s a priority for me to keep listening to industry. Through consultation and feedback we will ensure VET reform is a success. 

A key strength of the VET sector is the way that practitioners work consistently with employers and industry to maximise the relevance of the training they provide.

The Government has implemented a range of measures to ensure the VET sector is better aligned to industry needs.

In January 2016, the Government introduced new arrangements to give industry a formal, expanded role in the development and approval of training packages. 

These arrangements put the necessary architecture in place to allow industry to drive the development of training package qualifications to meet the needs of their industry.

This new arrangement is being led by the Australian Industry and Skills Committee (AISC). The committee includes industry leaders from across the country and brings a strong industry-based perspective that enhances responsiveness, quality and relevance of training.

The AISC oversees training package development work and draws on advice from around 70 Industry Reference Committees (IRCs).

IRCs are the primary channel for industry advice and the formal point through which industry’s skills needs – both now and into the future – are considered and defined in national training packages. 

IRCs receive support services from independent, professional service providers, Skills Service Organisations, who provide the support IRCs need to carry out this important role.

To ensure IRCs are delivering quality outcomes, a review of the scope and membership of IRCs is currently under way. This presents an important opportunity for industry to ensure they’ve got the right people at the table – people with experience, skills and knowledge of their particular industry.

IRCs are also putting together Work Plans for the next four years which will outline the training package review and development work needed by industry over that period. 

This new approach aims to benefit providers and practitioners, by preventing unnecessary reviews of training packages and therefore limiting the ‘churn’ many of you have rightly pointed to as a problem for your operations. 

IRCs will consult broadly to ensure a whole of industry view is reflected in the Work Plans. 

This is a good opportunity for IRCs to look holistically at their industry, along with the opportunities and challenges facing their workforce now and into the future. IRCs can then plan, review and update their qualifications to meet these needs.

Consultation with industry through different forums like IRCs has already led to many positive outcomes in VET. This partnership has been particularly successful in the apprenticeship space. 

Apprenticeships are one of the great strengths of our system, connecting the workplace and learning in a unique way. It’s important that we continue to look at the way we deliver this training so that we are well positioned to respond to the changing needs to industry.

That means placing employers at the centre of the training system, to make the training system responsive to industry needs. It also means looking for innovation in how we strengthen these parts of the system.

I recently announced five industry-led pilots which will share in up to $9.2 million to help entry level and qualified trades people into the labour market.

These new pilot projects will test training models which provide alternative skills development options for both industry and those undertaking the training.

This includes trialing higher apprenticeships, through the Australian Industry Group and PwC, to qualify people at diploma, advanced diploma and associate degree levels for roles in such areas as commerce, information technology and advanced manufacturing.

We support industry efforts to explore these new arrangements, and examine and test potential regulatory or administrative barriers to innovative industry-led apprenticeship training practices.

These projects are part of a broader Government commitment to improve and raise the status of Australian Apprenticeships.

The Australian Apprenticeship system really is a great example of the central role of VET to our economy. Currently more than a quarter of a million individuals are engaged in learning on-the-job as an apprentice or trainee.

Apprenticeships are vital for our ongoing national prosperity and are a critical part of our plan to build a highly skilled and qualified workforce to drive productivity and an innovation-led economy.

Importantly, apprentices and trainees are employed from day one, working on-site while they learn. Data from the National Centre for Vocational Education Research shows nearly 85 per cent of apprentice and trainee graduates are employed after training. 

Trade apprentice and trainee outcomes are particularly strong – 90.6 per cent of graduates are employed after training.

We must have an effective and efficient national apprenticeships system that is right for today. One that’s able to respond to industry demand and the challenges of modern workforce development at a time of significant economic, industrial, technological and global change.

We’ve already introduced significant reforms and support services to make that a reality.

This year, for example, the Government has committed up to $189.1 million to support the Australian Apprenticeship Support Network. The network will help ensure apprentices and employers make well-informed decisions and remain engaged until the apprenticeship is complete. 

Trade Support Loans are providing apprentices with flexible financial support. More than 49,000 Trade Support Loans have been accessed in two years. 

In 2015–16, almost 52,000 employers received incentives through the Australian Apprenticeship Incentive Program. 

The Government has also announced pilot projects to encourage young people to ‘test out’ an apprenticeship. This includes an investment of $6.82 million to the Multi-industry school-based and pre-apprenticeship support pilot led by the Apprenticeship Employment Network.

It will test pre-apprenticeship models and give young people in Victoria, New South Wales, and Tasmania hands on industry experience.

I have also released the Apprenticeship Reform Advisory Group report which will provide a strong basis to work with industry, the VET sector and state and territory government counterparts to look at further reform options, including pre-apprenticeships, incentive arrangements, and alternative models for delivering apprenticeships.

Alongside apprenticeships, the Government is also committed to providing opportunities for employment into the future. Two projects are underway offering scholarships to VET students as well as to undergraduate and post-graduate students. 

This includes 1,200 STEM scholarships for rural and regional students which will begin in 2017. 

I want to touch on the issue of VET FEE-HELP and offer some reassurance. 

It is the exploitation of the VET FEE-HELP system by a small number of ‘dodgy’ providers that is impacting the reputation of the high quality VET sector.

The Government has moved quickly to introduce reforms which include banning student inducements or incentives, making providers responsible for the actions of their brokers and tightening market requirements.

These efforts will continue with the introduction of a new scheme in 2017.

We are well underway with a thorough and comprehensive process to ensure that the redesign of this program addresses these problems and delivers a high quality system for Australian students and employers.

It must be sustainable and affordable to the taxpayer and protect the reputation of our education and training sector. 

I know that as VET professionals, the majority of practitioners and providers work hard to provide quality programs that meet the needs of industry and employers. You also support students to achieve their aspirations – and we should absolutely celebrate that fact.

And that’s what we’re here to do today. To celebrate the strengths of our system. I encourage you all to attend the broad range of sessions on offer which showcase the sector.

Today you will hear from a panel of young people who began their training while still at school, including our current Queensland school-based apprentice of the year, Daniel O’Brien.

You will be inspired by the stories of Jared Stone, Sandra Van Der Gaag (van der garg) and Rachel Bacon. Through different pathways, they have all secured a lifelong career through an Australian Apprenticeship. Then this afternoon, hear from those that have used training to facilitate a complete career change.  

Take the time to hear from Lyn Wilson about her exceptional work in improving employment outcomes for Indigenous people in Sydney. Since 2004, Lyn has worked with industry to address the challenges experienced by business in developing their Indigenous employment strategies. 

As Minister, I would like to reiterate my commitment to engaging with you and other stakeholders at every step along the way to reforming the system to deliver what is needed.

Already I have learned so much from visiting communities throughout Australia to talk to apprentices, students, parents and teachers, meeting with state government counterparts, industry groups and providers such as yourselves. 

We all play a part in getting the settings right for VET and I thank everyone here today for your commitment to delivering high quality training opportunities now and into the future. 

Thank you for your time and enjoy your visit to the Gold Coast.