Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today.
It is an absolute pleasure to be here today. Can I acknowledge the participants who are here today and congratulate you on your interest and passion in vocational education. And can I also acknowledge my parliamentary colleague, Senator Cameron.
It is a great pleasure to be here today to talk about something which I am passionate about. Which is making sure that vocational educational takes its place as centre stage in delivering skills needs for the future.
And today I want to share my vision for the VET sector is respected and valued. Where all Australians know and appreciate that Real Skills lead to Real Careers.
Clearly, we need to work together to maintain VET’s reputation for excellence and quality, and boost apprenticeship and traineeship numbers to ensure Australia has the skilled workforce it needs for the future.
Australia’s skilled workforce is what has historically underpinned our country’s stability and prosperity.
And as such we must ensure that we can continue to strengthen our training system to produce a high quality skilled workforce for the future, and provide opportunities for work, and for the chance to be self-sufficient and contribute to the wellbeing of our communities.
As Assistant Minister for Vocational Education and Skills and I’ve held this portfolio for two years now. It’s actually two years on Wednesday. I am certainly interested, passionate and committed about reinvigorating the sector – and building on Australia’s very proud history in skills and training.
We must not lose sight of the vital importance of the vocational education and training system, and the enormous contribution it has made to our successful, liberal democratic modern economy, nor the legacy it has given us to build upon.
The positives speak for themselves, and I’ll name just a few of these:
Australia delivers high quality training that aligns with the needs of industry.
Nearly 80 per cent of VET graduates have a job soon after completing training and graduates in fulltime employment earn a median annual income of about $55,000.
Australia’s international reputation is up there with the best and many nations look to Australia as an example of best practice in vocational education and training.
Just on an international focus, I’ve had an opportunity over the last couple of years to visit a number of countries, some of our nearest neighbours and talk to them about Vocational Education. Visited Germany, India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Fiji. What stands out to me is the high regard our VET sector is held by those countries. Surprisingly even Germany who I think is certainly perceived to have one of the best and if not, the best vocational training system in the world. And I have to say, I think Australia’s system is just as good and I believe it is actually better than the German system.
However, this is not a time for us to be complacent and we all need to take the opportunity to build on what we have here. Now I take the opportunity here to wander from my prepared speech, I hope you don’t mind. I listened to the comments on the stability and churn that the sector has gone through.
I agree that the sector has gone through an enormous amount of change and it is time have some stability built in to the sector. I am committed as the Minister responsible that we strengthen our base and use that base to build on so we are not going through churn and reform for the sake of change.
What we want to do is make sure we build confidence in the sector. We have gone through some difficult times, everyone in this room would be very aware of the problems we faced with the VET FEE-HELP. We now have VET Student Loans which has been operating for some 18 months now. Although there was six months transitional period and we actually have to look at what we can do continue to restore the confidence people have in the sector.
Let me be quite clear on where we’re headed to from here.
Real Skills for Real Careers
My vision includes a tertiary system where universities and vocational education and training providers meet the demands of students, employers and the economy in tandem.
As more people move in and out of jobs and pursue a number and very varied careers, an outstanding feature of the VET sector is its ability to support the workforce through retraining and reskilling.
People need to understand their options. And to help with this, we have revamped the My Skills website and will continue to make information available to assist people with undertaking a VET pathway.
In addition, we have introduced the Real Skills for Real Careers initiative to raise awareness and unify and promote the sector.
Changing the perception of VET will take a sustained effort and we are committed and in this for the long haul.
As Real Skills for Real Careers suggests, the strategy focuses on showcasing success stories and introduces ambassadors who represent their industry and share their experiences.
These ambassadors are people who have been identified through the Australian Training Awards as top performers in their field and are passionate about the career path that they have taken.
They advocate for Australian Apprenticeships and they promote the benefits of vocational education and training.
It was just the other week I met again with a number of our ambassadors, and they are truly extraordinary and inspiring group of people.
They are keen to get out there, to talk to young people who they can relate to, to talk to them about their career opportunities and pathways that are available through vocational education. I am absolutely committed to assist them with the schools and the communities to integrate throughout the education system, to show people what the pathways are through vocational education and lead by example.
In terms of real skills for real careers initiative we have developed, that actually came from one of my earliest meetings with the Australian apprenticeships ambassadors. Where they spoke about the need to encourage more people to undertake a VET pathway. And we were talking about advertising information and how we could start that message rolling, and what they actually said to me is if you look at the Australian Defence Force advertisements, going back about two years. What the ADF does is actually say, look here are the jobs that are out there, they have key people talking about the jobs that they are actually doing and they conclude by saying they got here through the ADF. So what we’ve done with the Real Skills for Real Careers strategy is used that to say, here are these people that are out there doing these jobs. This could be in child care, or manufacturing, it could be in aerospace engineering. We’ve showcased these people and their pathway to that certificate III or Advanced Diploma. But it’s a VET pathway to get there.
It is starting to resinate, but there is still more that we need to do in that space and we will.
Tangible improvements to restore VET’s reputation for excellence
Over the last couple of years, 18 months in particular.
This Government has made tangible improvements to the VET system, creating a strong and secure platform for students and providers.
But we are looking for innovative ways to improve the system, rather than go back to the drawing board. So we will be building on what we already have in place. In other words, to secure our future, we are building on the legacy of the past and the positive legacy of the past.
We fixed many of the problems with the VET sector since we took office.
Importantly, we have created a strong foundation for the sector by introducing quality assurance and regulation mechanisms and by overhauling the VET Student Loans system and the failed VET FEE-HELP program.
We think, as a government, the best approach is to concentrate on bedding down the many quality and funding reforms that we have introduced and then back this up through a process of continual improvement.
Reinforcing protections; building confidence
As I said before, we are committed to building confidence in the VET sector, and this includes reinforcing protections for the around four million students who are enrolled in VET across Australia.
When we took office, we confronted the crisis of the VET FEE-HELP scheme. This catastrophe sent shock waves through the sector and caused considerable amount damage, a mess that, I believe, has finally been sorted out.
Students need to be assured that they are signing up for a quality course and will get value for money.
The VET Student Loans program, in place since 1 January last year, is providing this assurance.
Tightening up regulations and holding training providers to a higher standard of accountability and quality will avoid the mistakes of the past.
I am very pleased to see that there are improvements since the removal of VET FEE-HELP with unit completion rates rising 16 percentage points in the second half of 2017. Which is a great achievement.
Research shows that the average tuition fee under the new program has dropped markedly compared to the average fee charged under VET FEE‑HELP.
This indicates success of the new program and a testament to the new system that has been put into place.
Now as the Coalition Government builds the confidence in the VET sector, we also need to ensure that training is of a high quality. So the review of the National Vocational Education and Training Regulator (NVETR) Act provides an opportunity to improve the current system and we as a Government are committed to improving transparency and, engaging more with the sector.
The findings of the Review demonstrate that quality remains at the heart of Australia’s vocational education and training sector. And of course this is of vital importance to us.
The Government response to the review of the NVETR Act is grouped into five key themes: engagement between the regulator and the sector; strengthened registration requirements of RTOs; teaching excellence; improving the collection and sharing of data; and information and protection for students. These are the areas I’m focussed on for the future.
Now I’d like to be clear on one issue that raises its head from time to time, and that is, that the number of RTOs is a matter which should be determined by the market. The government does not have a strategy to reduce the number of RTOs. That is not part of our strategy. I’d like to put that to bed for once and for all.
In terms of the NVETR Act review, we will continue to liaise with stakeholders on the review recommendations and how to go about their implementation.
Boosting the numbers of Apprenticeships; driving economic growth
A key element of rebuilding the VET system and restoring it to its rightful place as a central pathway to skills and work is a high quality Australian Apprenticeship system.
As you know, apprenticeship numbers have been in decline. In 2012-13 apprentice numbers fell by just over 110,000 – around 22 per cent, and it has been on a worrying trajectory ever since.
Just be clear, when I speak apprenticeships, I am speaking Australian Apprenticeships, so it does include traineeships in the numbers I talk about.
During that period of time, state investment in VET has been falling almost across the board. Under the previous five year National Partnership Agreement, state-based funding for VET has been cut by about $1.56 billion from state budgets.
In 2018–19, the Coalition Government will provide approximately $3 billion for VET.
This includes $1.8 billion provided to states and territories and $1.2 billion for the Commonwealth’s own programs, such as Australian Apprenticeships Incentives Program and Adult Migrant English Program.
Our commitment and our leadership is real. It is backed with good policy and sufficient funding, noting, of course that state governments do have responsibility for running their own training systems. And of course that is one of the issues that we all need to work together and into the future, because there are at least to funding sources for the VET sector – the Commonwealth and also the states and territories.
We can’t have a world-class system if we’re going to work in isolation, so it is important that we work together and we do benefit from the Commonwealth, and the states and the territories directing their efforts to where the priorities are for the future.
Through the Skilling Australians Fund we are aiming to address this.
We have been working with states and territories to create an additional 300,000 apprenticeships and traineeships through $1.5 billion of funding under the Skilling Australians Fund over a five year period.
The National Partnership Agreement on the Skilling Australians Fund has helped us to work with states and territories placing apprenticeships as a national priority.
Now I will say, when I first moved into this role some two years ago, it was clear that there was a lot of work that needed to be done in the VET sector and it was a case of determining what the priorities were going to be. One of the very clear priorities was dealing with apprenticeships, and that’s why there was so much focus from the Commonwealth on the SAF that was aimed at increasing apprentice numbers. To arrest the decline and then increase it back to some levels that are going to meet our current skills need but also future skills needs.
In 2017-18, the Skilling Australians Fund has supported an additional 50,000 commencements in apprenticeships and traineeships, pre‑apprenticeships and traineeships, higher apprenticeships and other employment related training. This has been funded [Commonwealth funding] through projects worth almost $170 million in total.
To show just how committed this Government is to ensuring the success of the Apprenticeship system we are funding the Australian Apprenticeships Support Network up to $189 million annually.
This Network provides advice and support services tailored to the needs of employers and apprentices throughout the apprenticeship lifecycle.
After three years of operation, it is now time to consider enhancements and innovations to make sure it is ready for the growth in apprentices that is coming.
An evaluation found that the current model is comprehensive and widely supported by stakeholders, but identified some areas for improvement. It is timely to consider the actions and recommendations of this recent review. We need to draw upon the successes and continuously improve the current support network towards enhancing the VET system.
Last month, I released a discussion paper on the services provided under the AASN. Consultations are being held around the country which will further inform the development of the AASN into the future.
The review of the Network is an example of getting the foundation right and then continuing to fine tune by listening and responding to what the sector has to say.
It is also time to look at the funding mechanism underpinning the AASN arrangements and during the consultation processes and part of the discussion paper, we will be canvassing options and ideas from the sector.
A strong VET sector: preparing Australia’s economy for the future
The changing workforce, and that has been touched on already today, brings challenges for us all.
The tertiary system has a responsibility to support Australians to prepare for and adjust to the changing nature of work.
It needs to be responsive to stay relevant and offer flexible learning.
The Australian Qualifications Framework covers qualifications across the education sector and is currently being reviewed.
An expert panel will look at ensuring our qualifications can respond flexibly to changing industry and skill needs into the future, including by considering the rise of micro-credentials.
The review of the AQF, will ensure the framework works as a tool used by employers and students, and supports quality and transparency in our education system.
A ‘whole of life’ approach to education is essential to enable current and future generations to meet the challenges and opportunities of future labour markets.
Given that two thirds of VET students are over 25, the Government is also investing in reskilling and upskilling, creating a culture of lifetime learning.
We know that it is likely that low skilled and older workers will be more vulnerable to a changing labour market.
The national rollout of the Skills Checkpoint for Older Workers Program is an example of where we are responding, currently investing $17.4 million.
This program provides older Australians with advice and guidance on transitioning into new roles within their current industry or pathways to new careers, including referral to relevant education and training options. I look forward to working with states and territories to examine training products more broadly.
This work will ensure VET qualifications remain relevant into the future and support skills development as technology and industry change.
A revitalised VET sector, I’m sure you will agree, will boost jobs, help deliver the infrastructure and services we depend on.
It will offer pathways to reward hundreds of thousands of young people giving them the opportunity to acquire real skills for real careers.
Australian industry plays a very key role, and they will continue to play a leading role to ensure the VET sector meets employer needs and supports productivity and competitiveness. And I welcome this opportunity to build on this collaboration and instil industry engagement in skills programs.
I think it’s very important for each of us to recognise how far the VET sector has come in recent years and how well placed it is now. It was not so long ago, that one of the key stakeholders in the sector said to me ‘I can actually start to see the green shoots of VET’. And when I thought about it, I thought that’s absolutely right. They are just still green shoots at this time and we still have a long way to go.
It is incumbent on all of us to be positive about the sector and to boost peoples confidence in it, to deal with issues so that VET is not see as the poor second cousin of the university sector. I’m sure some people in this room would agree, that while university might be a pathway for some, for others it is not a pathway that is going to lead to a fulfilling job. The VET sector will provide that opportunity.
If we work together we have the opportunity to ensure that we are meeting Australians skills needs both now and into the future. That our younger Australians have the opportunities and older Australians have the opportunity to enter into emerging industries, meeting our skills needs and they are able to have fulfilling careers into the future.
I am absolutely committed to VET, and we are on the right pathway to success.
Thank you so much for your time.