Inequality in Australia: What can vocational education and training do about it?

Inequality of wealth and income. It’s blamed for everything from the election of Donald Trump as President of the USA to the passage of ‘Brexit’ to the growth of political third parties in Australia.

CCA’s CEO, Dr Don Perlgut, recently presented at the NCVER “No Frills” conference on the topic “Inequality in Australia: What can vocational education and training do to address it?” Watch his presentation on video here (YouTube, 25’39”).

Dr Perlgut’s presentation takes on extra importance, given the priorities in the upcoming Jobs and Skills Summit, which include priorities to expand employment opportunities for all Australians including the most disadvantaged; address skills shortages; maximise jobs and opportunities from renewable energy, tackling climate change, the digital economy and the care economy; and ensure women have equal opportunities.

Dr Perlgut finishes his presentation with six ways to enable VET to make Australia a more equal and just society:

  1. Create proper pathways, from ACE to TAFE, and from VET to universities.
  2. Develop regional skills plans, in both metropolitan and non-metropolitan areas, which prioritise social justice goals and consider the needs of disadvantaged learners.
  3. Fund foundation skills (FS) – language, literacy, numeracy, digital and employability skills – properly, recognising the importance of skilled FS trainers and the special needs of adult basic education students, who may not fit into traditional VET teaching models: this includes national recruitment campaigns utilising the Reading Writing Hotline.
  4. Ensure VET is properly funded – with 5.1% inflation in Australia to 31 March 2022, chances are VET funding is heading backwards – fund proper physical facilities and digital connectivity for ACE.
  5. Implement a national outreach program to re-engage disadvantaged and vulnerable VET learners who have left training because of COVID-19 concerns, based on the Victorian Reconnect Program and the earlier TAFE NSW Outreach program, with a focus on student support and mentoring.
  6. Renew the national-state-territory policy statement on the value and place of ACE and its place in Australian skills and training, to update the 2008 Ministerial statement.

Background: Inequality and Australian VET

The Evatt Foundation states that “the poorest 40% of Australian households have effectively no wealth at all, and half of them have negative net wealth because of debt.” By contrast, the top 10% and especially the top 1% are both getting richer, both in absolute and relative terms compared to the next 50% of households. The Foundation identifies two widening fault lines: between the bottom 40% and everyone else, and between the top 10% and the middle 50%. The pandemic has, if anything, accentuated the divisions, with lower income people more impacted economically, and the poorest in Australia dying from COVID-19 at a rate almost five times that of the richest – according to the ABS.

Australia’s future skills for the future are dependent on a vital VET sector, which can make a substantial difference in reducing inequality. VET students are drawn from lower socio-economic status groups and live in areas where VET is more highly valued, such as rural and regional Australia, where VET participation rates average 50% higher than in metro areas, because of economic and business structures. A much larger percentage of rural and regional VET students also study lower level qualifications – Certificate III and below.

This presentation looks at how VET reduces inequality and uses a case study of not-for-profit adult and community education (ACE) providers, which represent more than 10% national VET students, and specialise in delivering to vulnerable and disadvantaged learners. Strategic in their flexibility, they are not bound by government regulations like TAFE, nor beholden to produce dividends like for-profit VET providers. ACE providers have the freedom to take risks, and a long sectoral history of investing in and responding to community needs.


Wealth inequality update: The ACOSS/UNSW Poverty and Inequality report The Wealth Inequality Pandemic: COVID and Wealth Inequality – released on 22 July 2022 – confirms that even though Australians are now, on average, the fourth richest people in the world, the distribution of our wealth remains hugely unequal:
– The highest 10% of households by wealth has an average of $6.1 million or 46% of all wealth.
– The next 30% has an average of $1.7 million or 38%.
– That leaves the majority – the lower 60% – with an average of $376,000 or just 17% of all wealth.

Comments are closed.