TAFE Directors Conference highlights Australian Government commitment to a revitalised VET

The TAFE Directors Australia (TDA) annual conference has highlighted the Commonwealth Government’s renewed commitment to Australian vocational education and training (VET).

As the opening keynote speaker at last week’s conference in Brisbane, Assistant Minister for Vocational Education, Training and Apprenticeships, The Hon Steve Irons (pictured), told the conference that he has first-hand experience of the VET system, “having completed an apprenticeship as a sparky, back in the day.”

“Now, I know a lot has changed in VET since then, so I am keen to learn more from everyone in this room about the pressures and concerns you have, and how we might be able to address these from the Commonwealth perspective,” Assistant Minister Joyce said.

Other highlights from his speech:

“One of the most important events in the recent history of VET happened just last month, although it occurred without much fanfare. That was the discussion at the most recent Council of Australian Governments’ meeting held in Cairns. There, all jurisdictions signed on to a clear and shared vision for the future of vocational education and training.

“The vision recognises VET is a responsive, dynamic and trusted sector that delivers an excellent standard of education and training. But the vision also recognises the changing nature of work and workplaces.

“I cannot overstate how important it is that we now have this top-level agreement across jurisdictions on the future direction of VET in Australia.

“I feel we are seeing positive progress in this area and there’s also growing recognition of the contribution VET can make in better meeting the needs of employers, workers and customers.

“It was clear that the time for tinkering around the edges had passed and we needed a fresh approach incorporating a clear and positive path forward for VET.

“Our aim is for VET to be responsive to changing industry requirements and future-focussed.

“We want VET to be seen as a trusted and equal partner with higher education in the success and outcomes from Australia’s tertiary system,” the Minister said.

Assistant Minister Irons concluded by saying:

“I would encourage you to look at this as a once-in-a generation opportunity to strengthen VET. We cannot afford to tread water. It’s up to all of us to make sure the evolution of VET is positive by being open to new ways of working and being ready to collaborate across traditional boundaries.

“That might mean making stronger links with universities and larger employers in your region or bringing together small business operators, community groups, and the different levels of government to devise local solutions to any skills gaps in your region.

“I encourage you to do things like meet with the National Careers Ambassador, and perhaps provide input to the National Skills Commission and the Skills Organisations on how they should fulfil their charter.

“Formal qualifications are rightly the backbone of the VET and university systems, but we are in a dynamic environment now where workers are needing to update their digital or other technical skills, without the time and expense of undertaking a longer course.

“Our success will depend on tapping into your knowledge and expertise, so please take the time to collaborate and share with us your insights.”

CCA Comment

Dr Don Perlgut, CEO of Community Colleges Australia, commented: “The Assistant Minister’s speech underlines the expansive – and very welcome – view that the Commonwealth Government is taking to its approach to VET. He referred to a “once in a generation opportunity to change VET”, and indeed that may be true. We are pleased that the Commonwealth has committed to a co-design approach and to encouraging the VET sector to engage with community groups and all levels of government. It is only with this broad approach of consultation and involvement can Australia’s VET sector move forward. With almost 12% of national VET enrolments in 2018, Australia’s not-for-profit community education sector has an important role to play in a revitalised VET system.”

Other Conference speakers

Other speakers of note at the TDA Conference included:

  • Michael Brennan, Chair of the Productivity Commission, who provided a close analysis of VET policy decisions and impacts;
  • Professor Peter Coaldrake AO, Chair of Jobs Queensland, who spoke of a “regional divide” that was impacting Australia’s economy;
  • Dr Don Zoellner, Charles Darwin University (and a speaker at CCA’s upcoming conference), who pointed out how government decisions had impacted the history of VET, and said that “market failure is a made up idea with no experiential basis”.
  • Dr Rick Huijbregts, George Brown College, Canada, who quoted Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen as saying that half of American colleges “are bound for bankruptcy in the next few decades – and noted how their focus increasingly was on mature age students; and
  • David Hughes, Chief Executive of the UK Association of Colleges, who described their “love our colleges” public relations funding campaign.

Dr Don Perlgut gave a well-received workshop presentation on CCA’s work in Western Sydney, entitled “Collaboration with adult and community education providers: Leveraging VET and foundation skills to drive economic development in Western Sydney.”

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