Release type: Speech


Closing address to TAFE Directors Australia — TAFE meets parliament


The Hon Steve Irons MP
Assistant Minister for Vocational Education, Training and Apprenticeships

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Ministerial and parliamentary colleagues

Ladies and gentlemen.

It’s a pleasure to join you for this TAFE meets Parliament event, representing the Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business, Senator Michaelia Cash.

Having been an apprentice, I am the living embodiment of TAFE meets Parliament, and I am glad to see my parliamentary colleagues taking advantage of this opportunity to be better acquainted with this important sector.

I am passionate about promoting the value of vocational education.

This is something both Minister Cash and I are committed to and that is why both of us have been out meeting with businesses, industry groups, training organisations and VET students.

We want to lift the profile of vocational education and that is why we are working with state and territory governments, the VET sector and industry to strengthen our VET system.

This is essential if we are to build the skilled, flexible and innovative workforce we need to prosper as a nation.

You are rightly showcasing as part of this event, the important work that TAFE does to contribute to innovation and economic growth across the country.

I feel privileged in my current role, to see the transformative nature of VET, as it gives people the skills and capability to do their work well, to contribute to their community and participate in meaningful, rewarding jobs.

So it was great to hear just now from
James White [ACT Apprentice of the Year] about his positive, personal experience of vocational education.

I think we can all agree James is a great example to other young people of what you can achieve through a VET pathway.

2020 is the year of action in delivering the Morrison Government’s extensive improvement program for vocational education and training.

There is no doubt that recent events, like the bushfires, have brought the importance of a strong and flexible VET system into sharp focus.

We are a resilient country and through tragedy we have seen communities rally to assist in the recovery and that is why we are committed to our reforms so that employers can access the skilled workers they need for current and future jobs.

The Prime Minister put skills reform front and centre in his recent address to the National Press Club on bushfire response and it is a priority for the Australian Government this year.

In last year’s budget we invested $585 million in our skills package. This includes a new National Skills Commission, a National Careers Institute and Skills Organisations pilots supporting specific sectors.

We are increasing the pace in rolling out practical initiatives to boost the future skills of workers and job seekers.

We have reduced financial barriers for students in areas with the greatest industry need, by increasing the loan caps for critical VET courses.

This means that high-priority courses will now be eligible for the highest loan cap of $15,793, including community services, such as childcare, health and information technology.

And we have recently added to this, a commitment of $50 million to revitalise TAFE campuses across the country. Matched funding from state and territory governments will bring the total investment to $100 million.

The Revitalising TAFE Campuses Across Australia initiative will support small infrastructure projects to upgrade or refurbish campus facilities, as well as purchase or upgrade specialist training equipment and technological infrastructure.

This fresh approach establishes a productive partnership between the Australian and state and territory governments.

And it recognises the valuable role of TAFE in supporting Australians to skill, reskill or upskill throughout their lives.

Within the skills package, our Skills Organisations pilots are an exciting new way to rapidly effect practical change for key industries.

The human services care and digital technology pilots are progressing well with the formation of industry leader steering groups and we are collaborating with the Minerals Council of Australia as we establish the Mining pilot.

These pilots provide a crucial opportunity for industry and VET providers to trial new ways of working, while making sure training is tailored to the needs of employers and the economy as a whole.

Labour market forecasting will be essential to the success of the pilots and the broader reforms. It will help us provide a pipeline of skilled workers for industry and ensure national labour market priorities are met, including from developing technologies.

Adam Boyton, the Interim National Skills Commissioner is already drawing on a wealth of existing expertise to research and analyse future skills needs.

All along we have held significant consultations with a wide range of stakeholders, and the Government appreciates those here tonight that have engaged in this process.

The rapid review of the Australian Skills Quality Authority’s regulatory practices, governance and culture is also well underway, and due to be completed next month.

ASQA plays a critical role in regulating the national VET sector to improve its operation and performance.

The Government is committed to a quality VET system underpinned by a trusted, respected and independent regulator that takes appropriate regulatory action to protect students and uphold the integrity and reputation of the system.

This review will help inform a longer-term program of improvements to enhance ASQA’s regulatory approach and strengthen its capacity to engage with the VET sector.

The Government has recently introduced legislation into Parliament to give effect to a new governance model for ASQA.

Our Government is undertaking all of these comprehensive and practical reforms because we know how important vocational education and training is to meeting the changing needs of Australia’s modern economy.

There is strong support for this broader VET agenda from state, territory and local governments through the Council of Australian Governments and we are relentlessly targeting our skills reforms to respond to industry needs.

Put simply, we can’t afford as a nation to have anything but the best VET and apprenticeship programs — to give students and employers the skills they need.

And our Government’s funding, and our focus on VET reflects this.

In 2019–20, the Commonwealth Government will invest about $3.4 billion into the VET system.

As you know, VET is a shared system and states and territories have a very important role as owners and funders of TAFEs in their jurisdictions.

Funding from the Australian Government to states and territories – including for TAFEs –under the National Agreement for Skills and Workforce Development has been steadily increasing, from around $1.4 billion in 2011–12 to an expected $1.6 billion in 2022–23.

So there has been no ‘slashing of TAFE funding’ by the Commonwealth as some would suggest.

I feel there is growing recognition of the contribution VET can make in better meeting the needs of employers, workers and students.

But we can, and should, do more to ensure VET is recognised as an attractive choice for school leavers, for people thinking of changing careers, and also people looking to up-skill in their current job.

Our aim is for VET to be responsive to changing industry requirements and future-focussed.

To achieve all these aims, we will continue to work closely with stakeholders to ensure your feedback and advice informs the implementation of the Skills Package and our reform roadmap.

By working together, we can ensure that our VET system is responsive to changing industry requirements and focused firmly on the future. Thank you