Opinion article

State of the Nation 2016: VET must be supported through transition or face skill shortages

From State of the Nation 2016, CEDA Chief Executive, Professor the Hon. Stephen Martin discusses VET education and meeting Australia's future skill needs.

Our future economy, and the skills needed, is a key topic at CEDA’s State of the Nation conference this year and it is timely given the announcement last week of a long needed overhaul of the vocational education sector.

However, the old adage ‘be careful not to throw the baby out with the bath water’, comes to mind at present given predictions of at least another year of turmoil for the sector as changes are implemented.

The VET sector is going to be vital for delivering the right skills to a significant portion of the Australian workers as our workforce, and the type of jobs in Australia, face unprecedented change over coming decades.

The announcement last week by Federal Education Minister Senator the Hon. Simon Birmingham was absolutely what was needed and echoes the call of CEDA and many others on the changes needed, in particular around VET FEE HELP.

But we must be careful not to tarnish the reputation and operations of those doing a good job in the process, because industry needs the skills they deliver.

We desperately need a new National Partnership on Skills Reform (NP) agreement to provide funding surety for the sector. Our economy can’t afford to have one tier of the education sector struggle and that is true now more than ever with the rapid changes occurring at present.

The fourth industrial revolution is well and truly underway and the speed of change in the jobs in Australia and the world over has been and will continue to be unprecedented.

The challenge as we tackle this tsunami of change is to ensure, through continuous and innovative training and reskilling, that no section of the workforce is left behind.

VET has proven itself adaptive, changing to greater delivery of courses as new areas of employment emerge or increase their workforce, such as aged care, childcare and disability care services.

We also know as hundreds of workers finished up at car manufacturing plants last week, that retraining of the existing workforce is going to be as important as training undertaken after secondary school as the type of jobs we do shifts.

There are additional things the government should implement to assist VET that will help keep confidence in the sector and ensure it is delivering the right skills. These should include:

Improving data and transparency of data to help stakeholders make more informed decisions;

Shifting qualifications from narrowly defined qualifications to broader sets of skills transferable across occupational clusters; and

Providing national information around providers, pricing, qualifications, audit findings and satisfaction survey results to the public.

In addition, finalising the new Commonwealth-State funding agreement for VET – the NP – which is due to expire next year, would also help sure up the sector’s future and improve the confidence of legitimate providers.

In fact, on the Treasurers panel at CEDA's State of the Nation Conference which included NSW Treasurer the Hon. Gladys Berejiklian, Victorian Treasurer the Hon. Tim Pallas, and SA Treasurer the Hon. Tom Koutsantonis, the uncertainty around the NP agreement was a major issue raised with the Treasurers calling for progress on the agreement to provide certainty around future funding.

There is no doubt there has been waste and scandal in the VET sector, and an overhaul is needed but what must remain in focus is the need to keep delivering the skills that industry needs and that we will need for future jobs; and that students have the confidence to undertake VET courses.

A few rogue operators have done significant reputational damage to the sector, but let’s not forget they have been able to be rogue because of poor regulatory oversight by successive governments.

There needs to be consequences but we must support the many quality providers to keep doing what we need them to do – deliver work ready and grassroots skills to Australian workers.

Watch videos from State of the Nation 2016.

About the authors

Stephen Martin

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Professor the Hon. Stephen Martin
Chief Executive, CEDA

Professor the Hon. Stephen Martin has had a long and distinguished background in the Australian Parliament, academia and the private sector.

Read more about Professor the Hon. Stephen Martin.

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