JobTrainer’s focus on linking funding to the delivery of smaller packets of skills the economy will need could be a sign of things to come.
The JobTrainer package was welcomed by employers, apprentices and the vocational education and training (VET) industry when it was announced by Prime Minister Scott Morrison in mid-July 2020.
Representing a total of $2.5 billion in support, it promised to help businesses retain apprentices and provide school leavers and the new unemployed with low-cost training and reskilling for the future.
It was a strong dose of optimism for VET in what is a time of challenge.
An interesting aspect of JobTrainer is what it suggests for the future. With underlying thinking based on funding ‘skill sets’ in areas of economic need, is this an indicator of how future money will flow?
What is JobTrainer?
The JobTrainer package comes in two parts. The first is an extension of a previously announced Supporting Apprentices and Trainees program. An extra $1.5 billion is to be funnelled into wage subsidies for existing apprentices to keep them on the books and learning their trade. Worth half the wage paid by an employer up to a maximum of $7,000 per quarter, it is expected to reach the pockets of 180,000 current apprentices working in 90,000 businesses across Australia.
The second part is of direct benefit to VET providers. A total of $1 billion (if an expected $500 million co-contribution is agreed to by the states and territories) will be used to fund 340,000 free or low-cost course places beginning from September 2020 in areas of future expected job growth.
JobTrainer’s characteristics reflect a growing shift towards supporting training in the form of discreet ‘skill sets’, while at the same time directing funding to areas of potential jobs growth in the future.
JobTrainer will fund shorter courses and ‘skill sets’ in addition to qualifications. Skills sets have had a growing presence in VET Training Packages over the last decade (there were 1500 skill sets as of 2019). Acting as discreet, self-contained pieces of training, learners are using them for upskilling, compliance and licensing, meeting a defined industry needs or as pathways to further training.
Funding support for ‘bite-sized’ courses or skill sets indicates the perceived value of shorter forms of learning in the upskilling or reskilling of workforces as change and disruption occurs. With events like the Covid-19 pandemic causing change on a large scale, there is likely to be an upswell in interest in shorter forms of learning like micro-credentials as the workforce seeks to turn skills into money.
Health care, social assistance, transport, warehousing, manufacturing, retail and wholesale trade have been identified as having jobs growth potential– and are therefore the types of niches likely to attract JobTrainer funds. The National Skills Commission will help identify current and future skills needs, with states and territories to have input into a target list of qualifications and skill sets.
This suggests an appetite for prioritising and funding training in areas of economic shortage or perceived future need, based on the industry data available. With this program – along with the industry-based Skills Organisations now being piloted in human services, digital technology and mining sectors – data and employer skills needs are being moved further into VET’s driving seat.
Public, not-for-profit and private providers of education and training will all be eligible to apply for funding to deliver free or low-cost courses under JobTrainer. Through this agnostic approach to the delivery mechanism, the government is indicating that it will prioritise the end goal of workforce skilling, rather than the channel through which these skills flow through to the end learner.
Maria Spies, the co-founder of education intelligence firm Holon IQ, recently said in an interview with ReadyTech and VETtrak that Covid-19 could bring about change in a number of areas across the education sector. Just one of those was how future workforce education could be funded.
With the government’s initial response in higher education being to inject money into the delivery of short online courses in areas of national priority, Maria suggested this represented a willingness to direct funding towards new types of courses beyond full qualifications, as well as new providers.
Providers in the VET sector are already engaged with the industry skills needs of the future. Our recent Voice of VET survey found 75% of RTOs are deeply engaged with their industry niches, to ensure the qualifications they deliver were fit for the jobs marketplace beyond course completion.
They also have technology at their disposal. ReadyTech’s Student Management Systems JR Plus and VETtrak, for example, are innovating to support deeper industry engagement and shorter-form learning through the likes of digital credentials for education and training providers.
This will likely increase, with more thinking around how this breaks down into shorter training forms. After all, it may be that JobTrainer is just an inkling of how training may be utilised into the future.