Commonwealth Skills Minister Brendan O’Connor (pictured) has announced an additional $4.1 billion “to negotiate and agree upon a 5-year National Skills Agreement – boosting the overall Commonwealth investment to $12.8 billion.” The announcement was the highlight of his opening speech at yesterday’s AVETRA Conference in Melbourne, which was attended by CCA CEO, Dr Don Perlgut.
“I am seeking an agreement that enables more Australians, especially those who have been excluded and under-represented in the workforce, to gain the skills needed for secure, well-paid work, and to reach their full potential,” Minister O’Connor said.
“Importantly this offer includes a further 300,000 Fee Free TAFE and vocational education places. I will seek an agreement that puts TAFE at the heart of the VET sector, including by directing at least 70% of Commonwealth funding for VET to TAFE,” Minister O’Connor said.
The Minister also emphasised foundation skills: “I hope we can introduce a landmark foundation skills commitment, where every Australian who needs it, can access literacy, language, numeracy, and digital skills – a ‘no wrong door’ approach to accessing the supports that Australians need.”
First Nations Australians: “In light of the Government’s commitment to the Voice and to Closing the Gap, we are seeking in this agreement to deliver a step change in the way we approach skills development for First Nations Australians,” Minister O’Connor said.
The Minister also listed what “keeps me up at night”:
- Why do half of the students and workers that start a VET course don’t finish – and how to turn that around?
- Getting more women into male dominated occupations, where they can earn better, fairer wages, is another big challenge…. For more than half of occupations in national shortage, women make up less than 20% of their workforce.
- There are about 4,000 RTOs in Australia. We know there is great variation in what they do and how they do it. It is essential that we know more about how different types of RTOs operate, their relative strengths and weaknesses, the public and private value they provide, the business models used, and the various markets they operate in.
- How do we best support and sustain the central role of public TAFE and what should the next iteration of a world-leading VET sector look like, in an Australian context? And, importantly, how do we get there?
- We need to understand how to ensure a high-quality VET workforce. If we don’t have enough teachers and trainers – in classrooms and workplaces – with the right knowledge and skills, we will struggle to address any of our skills challenges.
CCA CEO, Dr Don Perlgut, comments: “The Minister presented a refreshing and detailed view of what skills priorities the Commonwealth will likely focus on in the next two years. While we note his use of the more generic term ‘Fee Free TAFE and vocational education places’, his language continues to be TAFE-centric, occasionally equating all of VET with TAFE. There was also no mention of the Australia’s vital adult and community education sector, which has a very special role in foundation skills. We strongly endorse the emphasis on First Nations skills development and are keen to ensure the important not-for-profit community-based Indigenous RTOs are involved in this policy development.
“CCA is also pleased about the emphasis on making sense of the thousands of RTOs in Australia. ASQA has reported that any given time many hundreds of RTOs are simply not operating, and there is an active ‘market’ in buying and selling RTOs. CCA does not believe that RTOs can be treated like commodities, because ultimately the learners – and our national skills development – will be the losers.
“We are pleased there will be an emphasis on engaging women into VET, and we note Australia’s community education sector over-performs in this area, with upwards of 60% of female students, the most of any VET provider type.
“We also endorse the emphasis on ensuring a high-quality VET workforce and are keen that workforce includes foundation skills teachers and aged care and childcare professionals, especially in regional areas. The Reading Writing Hotline’s recent major survey showed the lack of qualified teachers was usually the second greatest barrier to proper services, only behind lack of funding. The report also indicates a strong need for more specialised First Nations literacy teachers.”
Read the Minister’s formal announcement about the additional $3.7 billion for a five-year National Skills Agreement (NSA) to be negotiated with states and territories, in addition to $400m to support another 300,000 TAFE and vocational education and training (VET) Fee-Free places.