When it comes to delivering high-quality training that aligns with the needs of industry, few nations perform better than Australia. In fact, many countries look to Australia as an example of best practice in the vocational education and training sector.
Yet, within our own borders, students aren’t always aware of the great outcomes VET offers.
Nearly 80 per cent of VET graduates have a job soon after completing training, and graduates in full-time employment earn a median annual income of about $55,000. In addition, the top 10 occupations predicted to have the most jobs growth by 2020 are all in areas that require a VET qualification.
Despite this, we have a culture where families and schools often look to encourage students down the university path as a first choice. While it’s fantastic that more people have university access as an option, there are clear benefits at a personal, business and economic level in choosing a VET pathway.
Students with a natural aptitude for vocational professions should be supported and encouraged to pursue a career that enables them to achieve their full potential, rather than being automatically corralled down a path that could squander their talent and deprive industry of skilled workers.
I think about people like Matt Morrissey, the head chef at Canberra’s Bent Spoke restaurant. Matt studied hard and had a successful career in media and marketing within the Australian Public Service.
But it wasn’t until Matt made the decision to pursue a different career — one that really interested him — that he found genuine enjoyment at work. Matt now holds a certificate III in commercial cookery and, as a head chef, is training future generations of passionate foodies.
Many young Australians automatically head down the university path without considering what other fulfilling and rewarding career options are out there.
How much easier would it be if people were better able to get on the right path from the get go? Often they’re prevented because they simply don’t know what their options are.
That’s why I have been working to not only create greater awareness of VET, but to ensure training is of the highest quality so students can be confident that the skills, training and education they receive is relevant to the workplace and aligns with the needs of industry.
Late last year, I launched a high-profile initiative to raise awareness of VET in Australia.
It’s called Real Skills for Real Careers and it is a long-term, sustained effort to unify and promote the sector.
It offers a single focus, around which all other facets of the sector can unite. The government has teamed up with a group of extraordinary VET graduates whose real-life stories of success, found through VET, will be the vanguard of the strategy.
Along with our other business and philanthropic partners, we will work to reach young people on a daily basis, through sport, community programs and mentoring. This opportunity to actively promote VET comes from a base of real achievements made over the past 18 months.
As was widely reported, when the Coalition government came into office, there was a crisis in the VET sector. The old VET FEE-HELP scheme, designed to assist students to take out loans to pay for certain VET courses, had been hijacked by a minority of unscrupulous providers.
Underhanded tactics were used to lure students into signing up for training that left them with large debts and often no qualification.
Action had to be taken to stop the rorting, which is why the government introduced a raft of measures that clamped down on the exploitation ahead of VET FEE-HELP’s removal and the introduction of the new VET Student Loans program.
The VET Student Loans program, which started on January 1 last year, holds training providers to a much higher standard of accountability and quality.
Loans caps have kept downward pressure on course fees, and criteria for course eligibility have ensured that training aligns with industry needs. There are also more stringent reporting requirements.
The program’s most recent report showed that in the second half of 2017, $144 million in loans had been approved to support more than 35,000 students. On top of which, we have also seen unit completion rates rise 16 percentage points above what was experienced under VET FEE-HELP.
This shows we’re providing support to the students who need it, and we’re returning confidence to the sector.
Another point of concern has been the decline in the number of apprentices and trainees enrolled. Apprenticeships are a bedrock of Australian industry, and if declining figures are left unchecked, it could threaten our future workforce capabilities.
That’s why this government has committed to arresting this decline through the Skilling Australians Fund. With support from the states to match commonwealth funding, the program will prioritise occupations in demand, industries and sectors of future growth, trade apprenticeships in the bush and industries and communities experiencing structural change.
By collaborating with industry and the states, we will identify projects with the greatest potential for success. Continued industry engagement in these projects and the VET sector will support employment outcomes for apprentices and trainees.
Through these measures, the government has made important headway to improve the VET sector.
We have taken action to make quality a hallmark of our VET system once again. Our sector is responsive to the needs of industry and trains students who are job ready for the workplaces of today and tomorrow. We have a new initiative in place to drive home the message that our VET system provides people with real skills for real careers.
We have a VET sector that is internationally renowned. Now it’s time to work to promote the virtues of VET here at home.