Prime Minister announces training priorities for a post-pandemic Australia

Prime Minister Scott Morrison addressed Australian vocational education and training (VET) and employment challenges in his talk at the National Press Club on 26 May 2020. He also announced a “JobMaker” program.

Selections from the Prime Minister’s speech follow:

Vocational Education and Training

“We will all have to have to retrain, to live and work in a way that creates a sustainable COVIDSafe economy and society as you are indeed doing here today.

“On skills, we need Australians better trained for the jobs businesses are looking to create because that’s important.

“The lack of clear information about what those skills needs are, now and into the future to guide training and funding, ask any student and their parents about what they think about the system and whether they are getting value out of it and they’ll tell you.

“A funding system marred by inconsistencies and incoherence, with little accountability back to any results. Currently, the average timeframe to develop or update training products is 18 months, with a third taking over two years to update.

“For prospective students, the large number of choices that they face for qualifications can be bewildering and overwhelming. Compounded by a lack of visibility over the quality of training providers and the employment outcomes for those courses.

“VET funding across all jurisdictions, with the exception of Tasmania, has fallen by 25% on average over the past decade in real terms, on a working age per capita basis. So it’s time to make some changes:

  • Better linking funding to actual forward-looking skills needs, based on what businesses need.
  • Simplifying the system, reducing distortions and achieving greater consistency between jurisdictions, and between VET and universities.
  • Increasing funding and transparency and performance monitoring. Taxpayers, students and employers should know where the money is going.
  • Better coordinate the subsidies, loans and other sources of funding, we’ve got to make the valuable support that is provided is going where it needs to go.

“This is a system I’ve made very clear to Premiers and Chief Ministers that my Government would be prepared to invest more in, but throwing more money into a bad system does not get you results.”

During discussion time, David Crowe (SMH & The Age) asked, “We have seen total investment in VET fall from, I think, $9.3 billion in 2013 to $7.7 billion in 2017. Do you need to commit more funding, and is money the problem here?”

Prime Minister response to David Crowe: “I don’t think money’s the only problem here, but you’re not going to invest money in a dud system. That doesn’t fix it either. I’m very interested and committed to investing more in a better system, where we can have some confidence that the investment that we make turns out more people with more skills that businesses need, because there’s a return on that investment. There is a partnership between the Commonwealth and the states in supporting and delivering these services. But I wouldn’t say it’s a very effective partnership at the moment. It is a fault of the design of the system. I hope we can redesign that system and it will see greater investment that goes somewhere.”

JobMaker

Prime Minister: “We need a JobMaker plan for a new generation of economic success, that can guarantee the essentials that Australians rely on…. I will address the many other components of our JobMaker plan in the weeks and months ahead, as we proceed to the Budget in October. A process that is one of patiently putting each brick in the wall.”

Community Colleges Australia (CCA) Comment

“CCA welcomes the Prime Minister’s focus on training as an essential component to lead Australia out of the pandemic-induced recession,” said Dr Don Perlgut, CEO of CCA.

“CCA agrees with the Prime Minister that there are significant problems in the design of Australia’s VET system – particularly that the system has encouraged and allowed more than 1,400 private for-profit VET providers to deliver government-funded training to more than 400,000 students each year. That’s more than 36.5% of all government-funded VET students.

“In total VET terms, more than 71% of all Australian total VET students enrol with a private for-profit provider. Compare that with the university sector, where only about 5% of university students enrol with 62 for-profit university providers.

“That huge difference shows that Australia has a deeply unbalanced system of post-secondary education. We cannot be proud of the effective privatisation of Australian VET. When the Prime Minister made a reference to ‘a lack of visibility over the quality of training providers,’ surely he had private for-profit education companies in mind. This was the sector that gave Australia possibly its greatest public policy funding disasters, by systematically abusing the VET FEE-HELP scheme.

“CCA looks forward to the necessary re-balancing of Australian VET by taking away the profit incentive, which simply does not belong in education,” said Dr Perlgut.

Other Commentary

Morrison’s “focus on reskilling and upskilling the workforce with reforms to technical and vocational education is a hoary old chestnut that his and other governments keep talking about while slashing funding to the sector,” writes Paul Bongiorno in The Saturday Paper.

ABC TV News, 27 May 2020, Finance reporter Daniel Ziffer (on the introduction of private for-profit colleges and the ill-fated VET FEE-HELP loan scheme: “It’s been a debacle. Many students have been left with huge debts and incomplete courses from worthless institutions, like cooking schools without kitchens. The schemes have been wound back but with huge damage to the reputation of the sector.” Bruce Mackenzie (Mackenzie Research Institute) also noted that the “silly policy” of letting private sector, for-profit providers into education did not work and was further exacerbated by “a focus on universities at the expense of vocational education and training.”

Links

Transcript of the Prime Minister’s talk here.

Transcript of the question and answer period with journalists here.

Transcript of the Prime Minister’s interview on Sunrise, 27 May 2020, in which he also discusses training.

CCA’s news item “VET FEE-HELP 15 Months On – An ‘Epic Fail’ Still Causes Pain,” 29 April 2018.

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