Release type: Speech


TAFE Directors Australia Convention 2019, Brisbane


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

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I would like to acknowledge and thank Mr Craig Robertson, CEO of TAFE Directors Australia for the invitation to speak to you today about the future of TAFE in Australia.

I have first-hand experience of the VET system having completed an apprenticeship as a sparky, back in the day.

Now, I know a lot has changed in VET since then, so I am keen to learn more from everyone in this room about the pressures and concerns you have, and how we might be able to address these from the Commonwealth perspective.

One of the most important events in the recent history of VET happened just last month, although it occurred without much fanfare.

That was the discussion at the most recent Council of Australian Governments’ meeting held in Cairns.

There, all jurisdictions signed on to a clear and shared vision for the future of vocational education and training.

The vision recognises VET is a responsive, dynamic and trusted sector that delivers an excellent standard of education and training.

But the vision also recognises the changing nature of work and workplaces.

I am sure we all appreciate that VET cannot stand still.

The world of work is changing with new technological, social and economic trends — and VET needs to respond positively.

So it is exciting that at CoAG, the Prime Minister and state and territory leaders signed on to working towards a VET system that:

  • is responsive to the needs of private industry and the public sector, ensuring employers have ready access to a highly skilled and adaptable workforce,
  • is flexible in providing skills at all points in an individual’s career, whether it be foundational training, initial training, upskilling or re‑skilling, and
  • recognises the importance of a viable and robust system of both public and private providers.

I cannot overstate how important it is that we now have this top-level agreement across jurisdictions on the future direction of VET in Australia.

There are many players with a stake in the operation of the VET system, and the agreement at CoAG provides leadership in recognising that our vocational education system needs to remain world‑class, modern and flexible.

So I am excited to be here today to tell you about our plans to help you build a skilled, flexible and innovative workforce through a new VET system, including a new vision for apprenticeships.

Minister Michaelia Cash and I are both passionate about lifting the profile of vocational education.

We both see it as a valuable career choice for many Australians that should not be seen as less important than a university degree.

I feel we are seeing positive progress in this area and there’s also growing recognition of the contribution VET can make in better meeting the needs of employers, workers and customers.

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 who are looking to up-skill in their current job.

The $525 million package announced in this year’s Budget is a new beginning for vocational education and training in this country.

It was clear that the time for tinkering around the edges had passed and we needed a fresh approach incorporating a clear and positive path forward for VET.

Our Delivering Skills for Today and Tomorrow package responds to the review of the VET system undertaken by Steven Joyce for us last year.

I’m glad to see Mr Joyce will be speaking at this convention tomorrow.

And I’m very pleased that Minister Cash has also appointed Mr Joyce as Chair of an independent Expert Panel, along with VET expert, Professor Peter Noonan from Victoria University’s Mitchell Institute, and accomplished businesswoman Dr Vanessa Guthrie, who will bring vital industry experience and perspective.

The Expert Panel will advise the Government on the implementation of the skills package, and on our future reform trajectory.

And of course we will continue to work closely with TDA and other sector stakeholders through a dedicated stakeholder committee which will provide essential feedback and advice as we implement the Skills Package.

It’s important that our reforms are practical, helpful and grounded by a range of perspectives and ideas, so I am pleased we will be getting this independent advice as we go forward.

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

We want VET to be seen as a trusted and equal partner with higher education in the success and outcomes from Australia’s tertiary system.

The Joyce Review of VET found that fundamental change is required to lift confidence in the VET system as a whole.

Australia’s VET sector must connect better with industry, reflect community requirements, and be supported with consistent funding arrangements.

The Government’s new skills agenda recognises that VET is a shared responsibility, and is encouraging all VET sector stakeholders to work together more closely and responsively.

The VET system also needs to be helping current workers to update their skills, so that employers can develop their existing workforce rather than letting people go and hiring others with the skills they need.

In this way, businesses will be supported by a skilled and flexible workforce that can reap the benefits for the business from technological advances, while supporting business growth.

We are establishing a new National Skills Commission — a $48.3 million investment — to provide leadership on workforce needs and VET funding by researching future needs and efficient prices for training.

A national co-design process will determine the functions, remit and governance of the new Commission.

Working in coordination with the Commission will be Skills Organisations, which will align training with industry skill needs and employment pathways.

It’s vital that we strengthen the pathway to employment, particularly for young Australians.

That’s why our Skills Package includes substantial funding to establish ten Training Hubs across Australia to help tackle youth unemployment in key regions by building better connections between local businesses, industries and schools.

Training Hubs will be established in these regions to help local young people to engage in vocational education and training, and to develop the skills suited to occupations in local industries.

We have also created a National Careers Institute to bring together information about career pathways, and provide a framework for quality career guidance on a national scale.

Work is already progressing to map careers advice and services in Australia and review international best practice to identify gaps in the delivery of advice and guidance to Australians navigating their learning, training and work pathways.

A Careers Ambassador will facilitate stakeholder engagement and drive the Institute’s agenda.

The Ambassador will work to lift the profile of VET and improve the quality of and access to careers advice nationally.

Our VET Information Strategy is addressing misconceptions around VET and promoting the opportunities that come from completing a VET qualification.

We are also establishing a competitive grants program to foster innovative partnerships between industry, schools, and providers.

The grants will be worth up to $350,000 each and will be awarded to education and training projects that best align with industry needs.

As a qualified electrician, I naturally have a strong interest in the success of the Australian apprenticeship system.

Among other measures in the Skills Package, we are investing $156 million in an Additional Identified Skills Shortage payment to eligible apprentices and their employers in ten occupations experiencing national skills shortages.

This new payment commenced on 1 July this year and will help create and up to 80,000 new apprenticeships over the next five years.

Occupations eligible for the payment include carpenters and joiners, plumbers, bricklayers, plasterers and tilers, with up to $4000 in financial support in addition to existing programs.

We’ve also doubled the size of the successful Australian Apprentice Wage Subsidy Trial from 1 July this year, to support up to 3200 Australians living in our regions with the opportunity of an apprenticeship.

And from 1 July next year, it will be simpler for employers to claim incentives under the new, streamlined Incentives for Australian Apprenticeships scheme.

Our overall aim is to grow the apprenticeships system and build the skilled workforce Australia needs to remain competitive internationally.

Before I finish speaking, I want to tease out what all this means for you.

I’m well aware that once this convention finishes you will be back in your offices facing day-to-day pressures and urgent work priorities — and the Skills Package may not be top of mind.

So here are three suggestions for how you can be ready for the changes that are coming:

First, I would encourage you to look at this as a once-in-a generation opportunity to strengthen VET.

We cannot afford to tread water.

It’s up to all of us to make sure the evolution of VET is positive by being open to new ways of working and being ready to collaborate across traditional boundaries.

That might mean making stronger links with universities and larger employers in your region or bringing together small business operators, community groups, and the different levels of government to devise local solutions to any skills gaps in your region.

Next, keep in touch with the various initiatives in the Skills Package as they roll out.

By engaging early in the process, you will be ahead of the curve in terms of getting the most out of the changes, as well as influencing how they are implemented.

So, I encourage you to do things like meet with the National Careers Ambassador, and perhaps provide input to the National Skills Commission and the Skills Organisations on how they should fulfil their charter.

These organisations will benefit greatly from practical input from TAFE representatives, and this in turn will make them more useful to you.

Lastly, I encourage you to think more about how you can fill skills gaps in your locality.

Formal qualifications are rightly the backbone of the VET and university systems, but we are in a dynamic environment now where workers are needing to update their digital or other technical skills, without the time and expense of undertaking a longer course.

The Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman, Kate Carnell recently said: “Small businesses need VET providers to be more flexible in their approaches to training workers, including tailoring courses to match the skills needed by employers.”

Related to this, there is work underway in my department and elsewhere on analysing skills using employment and education datasets to suggest flexible training pathways for workers or job seekers to enhance their career prospects.

This is an exciting time for vocational education and training in Australia and I am looking forward to working with you all to achieve positive change.

Overall, everyone here shares the same aim of seeing TAFE continue to support students and businesses so the national economy prospers.

I believe the Australian Government has set a strong direction, and that together, we can deliver a vocational education sector that provides workforce skills and relevant, up-to-date qualifications that are well‑matched to the evolving opportunities and challenges of Australia’s modern economy.

Our success will depend on tapping into your knowledge and expertise, so please take the time to collaborate and share with us your insights, as you are already doing by attending this TAFE Directors Convention.

I hope you enjoy the rest of the program and I look forward to our joint success in building a better TAFE sector for Australia.