The Federal Election’s over. What now for VET?

The recent Federal Election represented a contest of ideas on a number of fronts, including the traditional education battleground. Now that it’s over, did the VET sector win? Or did it lose?

The future of VET was not neglected in the recent election campaign. A feature in the education pitches of both major political parties, there was clear recognition VET needed to be addressed.

There were differences in approach. The Coalition was armed with its recent expert review of the system(the Joyce Review), which placed a heavy focus on addressing the skills needs of industry.

It promised $55 million in new money towards its program for future vocational education, while redirecting $463 million it had previously gathered under the Skilling Australians Fund initiative.

Labor wanted to go back the drawing board, promising it would put a revival of publicly-funded TAFE at the centre of its agenda. It was offering a $200 million injection for selected TAFE campuses.

So the question is did VET win – or lose – this election?

As a combined sector, we can say this: there was agreement VET needs to play a critical role in the skilling of our future workforce and that Government needs to support its evolution and success.

While there may be disagreement over how this can be achieved – especially given the drop-off in funding in recent years relative to universities – there is at least a broad recognition of VET’s value.

We can also say that – after a period of time when a change of Government was expected – we are now back at the start of a full term which will provide a measure of certainty for the VET sector.

This recognition and period of stability can be seen as a win. At the very least, it’s a foundation from which VET can use the next term to consolidate, innovate and even grow the value we provide.

VET as career

A key symbol of VET’s recognition was in the re-elected Morrison Government’s VET policy, which will now move forward in creating a National Careers Institute and a National Careers Ambassador.

In the changing world of work it’s clear young people are often unsure of the full scope of their post-school options, with a paucity of support for VET pathways among school careers advisors.

As research from Year 13 has shown, students would be highly likely to change their perceptions of VET pathways if they were supplied with basic comparison information with university pathways.

This policy aims to redress the balance. With $42.4 million set aside, it aims to improve the career advice available to both young Australians and those workers who are transitioning careers.

One of the aims? To raise the profile of VET as a career pathway of choice.

This should be recognised as an important step forward. By making more information available to younger cohorts of students, we widen the potential future pipeline of students coming through.

As an industry we often commiserate over a culture that does not recognise VET’s value. Here is an initiative that seeks to build community acceptance of VET as a viable choice and career pathway.

Related to this initiative will be $10 million in partnership grants in areas of skills need to fund innovative partnerships between schools, employers and the VET sector. There may be opportunities  for those VET providers willing to work with partners in education and industry on new projects.

Likewise, the Government has committed to funding more apprenticeships. In areas of skills shortage – such as carpentry and plumbing – up to 80,000 new apprenticeships over five years will be supported with incentive payments of an additional $8000 for employers and $2000 for apprentices.

While this is less than the number of apprenticeships Labor had promised to support (150,000 apprenticeships) the sector will still benefit from the funding on offer in areas of high demand.

Skilling with VET

There has been a broad consensus that, as we move into a rapidly evolving future of work, it would be necessary for vocational education and training (VET) providers to engage more closely with industry.

In fact, VETtrak’s parent company ReadyTech has been an advocate for VET developing increasingly closer ties with industry over time and made this clear in a submission made to the Joyce Review.

The Joyce Review quoted statistics that show employer satisfaction was at its lowest level in 10 years, with only 75% satisfied that qualifications provide employees with the skills they need for the job.

While much of the market is already moving towards closer alignment, there is still a perceived gap between the skills we are producing and the reality of actual front line industry demand.

The Government has responded with a plan for a National Skills Commission and Skills Commissioner to ‘put industry at the forefront of national leadership on workforce needs and VET funding’.

Post-election, it will also pilot new Skills Organisations that will create ‘a national model that embeds industry in the development of training products and ensures training meets industry needs’.

The VET industry will need to respond assertively to this industry shift. On the one hand, closer collaboration will open new opportunities for VET providers to build more relevant skills pathways.

For example, why wouldn’t more VET providers begin to sell themselves not just to the end student, but to the employers looking for a channel through which to develop their future workforce?

On the other hand, VET needs to ensure that it has a seat at the table. The Government now expects to put industry at the forefront of setting VET qualifications by developing new training programs and qualifications to help the training system to more quickly respond to industry needs.

At the same time, it says Skills Organisations will be charged with developing standards for industry to accredit ‘high quality’ registered training organisations (RTOs) and pilot independent industry validation of competencies, starting with human services and digital technologies industries.

VET will need to ensure it steps forward into this future change with a strong voice so that the skills needs of industry are met while being balanced with those of education providers and students.

Beyond three years

Australia needs skills. The Federal Government’s policy for Energising Tasmania is just one example of where those existing skills are not apparent and will need to be built. There, it is promising to help train a skilled local workforce to propel new pumped hyrdo and energy infrastructure. With $17 million, it will upskill Tasmanians with fee-free training in priority skills areas over five years.

The policy settings of the new Government reflect that VET will continue to be essential to the supply of new skills like these over the next three years. For VET to declare a ‘win’ from this election cycle, providers will need to use the support that is available to build the future of work and VET beyond.

You be the judge. How did our pre-election coverage stack-up?