Opinion article

Vocational education and training issues go beyond VET FEE-HELP: Professor the Hon. Stephen Martin

At the start of this week CEDA launched its latest research report VET: securing skills for growth.

Through developing this report and listening to industry and government at the first four of six launch events in Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide and Perth this week, it is very clear the same themes are emerging, which go far beyond the scandals involving VET FEE-HELP.

While all acknowledge the issues with VET FEE-HELP and the reputational damage caused by a small number of rogue private operators, the more interesting discussion has been where the VET sector needs to be reformed.

CEDA’s report calls for a comprehensive national review to underpin discussions to reach a new National Partnership on Skills Reform (NP). Obviously the NP needs urgent focus but what needs to also come out of this is a long term national approach to VET. In fact, there is agreement across some states for this approach already with both the Victorian Minister for Skills and Training and the NSW Minister for Skills both critical of the lack of a national approach with VET during their speeches at CEDA events this week.

Following these discussions, key areas that should fall under that review include:

Rethinking apprenticeship models.

Apprenticeships must reflect changing workforce needs. They need to reflect a broad set of skills beyond just the technical, they need to recognise the fact that young people today will have many careers and jobs throughout their lives and higher-level apprenticeships must be part of the discussion. Trades are utilising technology more and more so those undertaking apprenticeships need the skills to be able to also utilise technology in those trades.  For example, plumbers and electricians today use 3D printers to produce exact components and this will only continue.

Capitalising on the export opportunities of the VET sector.

Despite the reputational damage done by shonky providers, the Australian VET sector has a good reputation overseas. When it comes to exports of educational services, we are very good at bringing students here but reasonably poor in exporting our expertise. This is something that needs to be examined, particularly with respect to exporting our VET expertise to emerging nations.

Improving career advice for students.

Another key discussion point was the need for significantly better career advice in schools. Career advisors must be willing and able to promote VET and apprenticeships as equal options for further education. They need to also provide much better information on what different career paths actually deliver once students enter the workforce.

Better alignment of VET with industry and real job outcomes for students.

In line with the CEDA report, much of the discussion at our events has been around better aligning VET qualifications with the jobs of today and tomorrow. This will mean broader qualifications and portable skill sets that can be utilised across industry clusters rather than training for one specific job. There also must be stronger engagement with industry to ensure the right skill sets are being taught. From a government perspective, it is important that VET is not just seen as an education issue – interestingly in NSW the portfolio has been moved to industry from education – this sector must be recognised as vital across government departments from education through to innovation and industry.

I hope the discussions this week across the country act as a call to action to both Federal and state governments to work collaboratively in reviewing the VET sector as a whole, because this is a sector that is vital for delivering skills for the future and supporting Australia’s economic prosperity.

Absolutely sort out the debacle that has been VET FEE-HELP, and the comments from the Federal Education Minister suggest they are heading in the right direction, but we also need to ensure the focus on VET is much broader and a priority on the national agenda, to make it a strong tier of our education sector, delivering the right skills.

Following the events in Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide and Perth this week, CEDA VET research release events are also scheduled for:

Brisbane – 21 September 2016

Hobart – 7 October 2016

You can also watch video from the Melbourne launch event here.

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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