National Training Institutions Must Focus on the Needs of Indigenous Australians

In the following opinion article, CCA’s CEO, Dr Don Perlgut, argues that recent statements from many of Australia’s national vocational education and training (VET) bodies do not recognise the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.


Australia’s national VET institutions need to pay proper attention to the needs of Indigenous Australians. The recent release of the annual National Agreement on Closing the Gap outlines both the current challenges and national targets:

  • Target number 6 – “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students reach their full potential through further education pathways…. By 2031, increase the proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 25-34 years who have completed a tertiary qualification (Certificate III and above) to 70 per cent.” (See figure 1 below.)
  • Target number 7 – “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth are engaged in employment or education…. By 2031, increase the proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth (15-24 years) who are in employment, education or training to 67 per cent.” (See figure 2 below.)

These are important steps. What are Australia’s national economic policy and VET institutions doing and saying? Not enough.

As Claire Field writes: Of “the 76 submissions to the Productivity Commission’s Interim Report on (National Skills and Workforce Agreement) VET funding, only 9 submissions argued changes are needed to improve outcomes for First Nations learners.” And the Commission’s “Interim Report makes only two mentions of First Nations people in its 322 pages. Even more disappointing, the draft COAG VET Reform Roadmap is entirely silent on the role of VET in improving outcomes for First Nations people.” Curiously, the Productivity Commission devoted a full chapter to Indigenous VET participation in its 2015 Report on Government Services. But totally ignores its own research this time.

CCA’s submission to the Productivity Commission was one of those nine which addresses the needs of Indigenous Australians. We also criticise the Commission for ignoring the needs of other vulnerable and disadvantage groups, including people with disabilities, people from non-English speaking backgrounds, lower socio-economic groups and residents of regional, rural and remote Australia.

It’s not only the Productivity Commission and the VET Reform Roadmap: the newly established National Skills Commission’s (NSC) first report, A snapshot in time: The Australian labour market and COVID-19 (1 July 2020), examines youth, gender and geography, but not one mention of Indigenous Australians. The Government will increasingly rely on the NSC to plan future VET delivery, including JobTrainer; the Prime Minister has charged the NSC to collect data on the qualifications to include in JobTrainer.

Indigenous Participation in VET

How is it that Indigenous Australians are being ignored in VET? Indigenous people participate in VET at twice the rate of non-Indigenous people, and participate in tertiary education at about half the rate as non-Indigenous people. A paper from the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER – a national organisation that does document Indigenous VET involvement) notes, “In 2015, over 165,000 Indigenous students were enrolled in VET courses, compared with around 16,000 in higher education.”

Community Education Providers and Indigenous Australians

CCA is committed to ensuring its members maximise the positive impacts they can make in their local Indigenous communities. In doing this, we build on a strong base. For instance, in New South Wales, almost 13% of government-funded VET community education students are Indigenous, a percentage much higher than either TAFE (9.4%) or for-profit VET providers (6.4%).

Last year, CCA commissioned an Engaging Indigenous Communities Guide to support and build member capacity to engage with their Indigenous communities and learners – developed by the Australian Indigenous Leadership Centre (AILC), and shaped by input from CCA members. (We will release it publicly soon, for the benefit of the whole Australian vocational education and training sector.)

It’s time, national VET institutions of Australia, to recognise the importance of our sector to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Figure 1: Closing the Gap VET and Tertiary Targets

Figure 2: Closing the Gap Youth Engagement in Employment or Education Targets

(CCA has written to the Commonwealth Minister for Indigenous Australians and Minister for Employment and Skills.)

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