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

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

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

CCA CEO, Dr Don Perlgut, will present a live Zoom webinar on the role of VET in tackling Australian inequality.

When: Thursday, 15 June 2023 at 11.00am (NSW, VIC, QLD, TAS, ACT), 10.30am (SA, NT) & 9.00am (WA). Duration: one hour.

How to attend: Register via Eventbrite (no charge). Open to all, not just CCA members.

The presentation

Dr Perlgut’s presentation takes on extra importance with the announcement in the recent Commonwealth Budget of a substantial increase in foundation skills funding, and the Budget commitment to addressing entrenched disadvantage in communities through “better use [of] place‑based approaches to target disadvantage and to support a greater ability for communities to make decisions reflecting their needs.”

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. 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% of VET students nationally, and specialise in delivering to vulnerable and disadvantaged learners. ACE providers have a long sectoral history of investing in and responding to community needs.

Dr Perlgut will conclude 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. Embed systemic approaches and place-based access to VET and foundation skills training to ensure equity and accessibility. More than three years into the pandemic, the tremendous rush three years ago to move post-secondary education to online platforms must ease and develop a more sophisticated and balanced approach. VET providers and regulators have no excuse to let the quality of learning depreciate through inappropriate and poorly delivered online learning accompanied by reduction or elimination of in-person learning. Place-based “community-led initiatives are collaborative, long-term approaches to building thriving communities where many people and organisations work together towards a shared vision for their community.”
  3. Develop regional skills plans, in both metropolitan and non-metropolitan areas, which prioritise social justice goals and consider the needs of the most disadvantaged learners.
  4. Properly fund VET and foundation skills (FS) – language, literacy, numeracy, digital and employability skills – 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. With 7.0% inflation in Australia in the year through end of March 2023, funding must be heading backwards.
  5. Implement a national VET outreach program to re-engage disadvantaged and vulnerable learners – a large percentage of whom will be on a foundational skills learning level – who have left training because of the impact of natural disasters or COVID-19 concerns. This program can be based on a model like the Victorian Reconnect Program, the earlier TAFE NSW Outreach program or the soon-to-be-launched NSW ACE Program Outreach Support Officer, with a focus on student support and mentoring. It is not possible to expand the delivery foundation skills in Australia without a substantial expansion of programs of community outreach and engagement to prospective learners, their workplaces, their families and their communities.
  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. A full statement is needed to ensure programs are underpinned by strategic policies.

Background: Inequality in Australia

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%.

Australia Institute research shows those in the top 10% of income and wealth received almost all (93%) of the gains of economic recovery from 2009 to 2019. “How long can Australia sustain an economic and social setting which excludes the bulk of its people from sharing in the economic gains?” the Institute asks.

About Dr Don Perlgut

As the CEO of CCA since late 2015, Dr Don Perlgut has worked to strengthen CCA’s research, communications and advocacy activities. Prior to his commencement as CCA CEO, he worked as the CEO of three other organisations, including the Rural Health Education Foundation and the Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils (WSROC). Don has also worked as Deputy Leader of ASIC’s Community Outreach Program; Executive Officer of The Bright Alliance, UNSW Faculty of Medicine; and a business development manager for both the Australian Institute of Management (NSW/ACT) and a start-up IT company.

As ABC TV Project Manager, Open Learning and Adult Education, Don had responsibility for the ABC’s partnership with Open Learning Australia (now Open Universities Australia) and 15 Australian universities undertaking distance learning. He also supervised the development two ABC TV adult literacy series with NSW TAFE and received a Commonwealth Literacy Medal for his work during International Literacy Year 1990. Don also developed an AusAID-funded English language teaching series broadcast both in Asia and Australia.

Don has committed much of his professional career to advancing social and economic justice through adult, community and post-secondary education. He was nominated three years in a row – 2019, 2020 and 2021 – for the Pro Bono Australia “Impact 25” social sector awards. He holds a PhD in media/communications from Macquarie University and a Master of City Planning (MCP) from the University of California, Berkeley; and is a former professional film critic.