State of VET in Australian schools and the need for greater links with industry and training providers

Speech
  • Assistant Minister for Education

Canberra, 7pm, Wednesday 5 March 2014

Key Topics

  •  Current State of VETiS in Australia
  •  Key ideas and concerns to come from the Minister’s roundtable last month with 40 representatives from schools, industry, training providers and government
  •  Next steps towards modernising a national VETiS Framework
  • Launch of TAFE Scholarships Program

It’s great to join you tonight to launch the TAFE National Achievement Scholarships.

I’m delighted to have been appointed as Assistant Minister for Education, with particular responsibility for vocational education and training in schools.

I bring some personal experience to my ministerial role given my career path prior to being given the honour to serve in the Parliament.

I’m a qualified pilot and I did that in the TAFE setting.

I’ve also been an air traffic controller and an aerial stock-mustering pilot in outback New South Wales and Queensland.

I’ve been a shed hand and shearers’ cook through a large chunk of rural Australia.

From my experience I can tell you that as a mustering pilot you don’t get much done if the team on the ground don’t know how to handle livestock – skills many gain both at TAFE and on the job.

Since becoming Minister, I’ve been increasingly excited by the potential for VET in Schools – otherwise known as VETiS - to ensure students get exposed to the possibility and potential of an exciting skills based career.

I’d like to spend some time this evening talking about VETiS statistics and the related economic and demographic trends, as well as sharing a few of the outcomes from my recent stakeholder roundtable on VETiS, which will feed into an updated National Framework on VETiS.

VETiS statistics

More than 240 000 school students were enrolled in one or more VETiS subjects in 2012.  That’s around 30 per cent of year 10, 11 and 12 students – a terrific result, but one we can improve.

22,500 of these students were in school-based apprenticeships and traineeships – that’s only around 9% of VETiS students – a figure we can, should and must increase.

And when we look at school leavers in 2012, we see that 40% were studying at a higher education institution and just 19% were undertaking a VET or other course.  That is, again, a number we can improve.

To boost these numbers, our school system must support students when they’re considering a career in skilled areas and equip them for these careers - whether it be the building trades, cooking or animal husbandry.

I know the more than 1000 campuses of our TAFE institutions across the nation are actively partnering with their local schools in a variety of ways.

You are playing an important role in building the workforce of the future in delivering training that links to a job after school - training that prepares students for real jobs in the real economy.

Economic and demographic trends

The reality is that changes in our society and the economy have seen a substantial increase in the proportion of jobs that require formal qualifications.

There are simply fewer unskilled jobs, even at entry levels.

We’ve seen a reduction in traditional occupations of manufacturing or labouring and a shift towards a more service-based economy, with a corresponding move away from trades and skills in favour of university qualifications.

The current skills shortages in industries such as construction and telecommunications make it clear this trend has gone too far.

But in the past four years, there’s also been a dramatic increase in the number of young people staying on at school until they are 17.

This has significant implications for schools.

Given that 40% of 2012 school leavers went on to study at university in 2013, schools need to cater to a proportion of young people who are staying in school, but not necessarily planning a university future.

Schools must provide a high quality vocational pathway that engages students and prepares them to take on the high-skill and high earning roles our economy demands.

To address these trends, we need a first-rate VET in Schools system.

Successful VETiS programmes require collaboration between what I call the three pillars of the system - schools, the training sector and industry.

And these three pillars then need to work with Federal, State and Territory Governments…

A stronger VETiS system

On 20 February I convened a roundtable consultation amongst these key stakeholders – involving schools, training organisations, industry and the state and territory governments - to work on ways to strengthen VETiS.

Together, we began to chart a course to achieve our goal of a stronger VETiS system.

A number of people here tonight attended the roundtable, so thank you also for your contributions.

I will be consulting further in coming months, and I look forward to seeing many more of you involved as representatives of the TAFE sector.

The basis for these consultations is a document published in 2001 but still entitled – the New Framework for Vocational Education in Schools.  This is the existing framework but its name becomes more ironic as time continues to pass!

The entire economic, industrial and educational landscape has changed in the past 13 years so it was time to get schools, government, industry and trainers in the one room.

The Framework is the right vehicle to help the VETiS system keep up with these changes because every State and Territory Government needs to agree to the Framework.  It presents an excellent conduit to a greater level of national consistency.

The VETiS system is - and must be seen as - a valued pathway to a great career.  We want to elevate the status of the trades and traineeships because we understand the importance of that pathway for every young person.

There are several key principles which underpin my approach, and for which I received agreement from the stakeholders who attended the 20 February roundtable:

  • Firstly, we need to be very clear on what VETiS is.  There is a clear distinction between “vocational learning” and “VETiS”.  The updated Framework needs to recognise that vocational learning - which is important for all students for life - is different to VETiS - which is linked to skilling an individual for a job.
  • The Framework also needs to encompass training that is high quality and relevant.
  • All trainers, including those in the schooling sector, need sufficient workplace practice to acquire and maintain current industry knowledge.
  • Regulatory arrangements must be streamlined to ensure the system is flexible and responsive. Red tape was an issue raised by various stakeholders.  For example, training providers that work in multiple states are required to address multiple regulatory requirements.  National employers who seek to hire a graduate find that the quality and work readiness of a VETiS graduate is different in one state to another.  Cross-jurisdictional red tape can be addressed through an updated national framework.
  • VETiS courses must be promoted to all students and seen as a different though equally valid pathway as the pathway for young people heading for university.
  • Career advisors have an important role to play here – in fact they need to play a stronger role in identifying suitability and potential in students – not just look at their grades.  Only then can they set students on the path that is right for them – rather than investing a couple of years in a VETiS course only to discover they don’t like it half way through.
  • I also want to be sure we have a system which makes it clear to our kids that they no longer have to choose between school and a trade – that they can graduate Year 12 with the necessary skills to successfully continue their training with an employer.
  • VETiS courses should be equivalent to academic courses in rigour and in their expectations of students, even while emphasising an applied learning approach.
  • And the achievements of VETiS students should be equally celebrated - as we are doing here tonight by launching the TAFE National Achievement Scholarships.

In short – VETiS must clearly offer value to students – as the basis for well-paid, satisfying and interesting employment.

It must clearly offer Australian businesses value as a source of highly skilled and motivated workers that contribute to the labour market – particularly in areas of skills shortages.

This means courses should be driven by workforce demand and skills needs.

It means that industry should be an integral part of programme planning at both the national and local levels, providing expertise to complement the strengths of the schooling and training sectors.

This may manifest itself in very practical ways  - with industry input into a new VET in schools framework - or by ensuring VETiS courses can meet a local employer’s needs to have a School-based Apprentice at work for a portion of the school week.  TAFE has a key role to play here, given its close industry links.

If there is one key measurement of success I’d like to see in VETiS - it is increasing the apprenticeship focus so that more than 9% of VETiS students are carrying out a school-based apprenticeship.

Apprenticeships provide students the invaluable opportunity to experience their chosen vocation and interact with employers.

The on-the-job experience provided by apprenticeships position VETiS students well for a rewarding career and offer the labour market highly skilled and work-ready individuals.

The Trade Support Loans policy we took to the last election will provide real support for current apprentices to complete their skills training and provide a stronger incentive for young Australians to become apprentices.

It will specifically target occupations on the National Skills Needs List such as plumbers, diesel mechanics, electricians and fitters.

The capped loans amount of $20,000 will be spread over the four years of an apprenticeship, diminishing as wages increase so that maximum support is provided in the initial years when most needed.

Apprentices who complete their training will be eligible for a 20 per cent discount on their loan amount - which is a great incentive to finish their apprenticeship.

Where to from here?

All levels of government need to work with the three pillars of VETiS – schools, the training sector and industry – to develop an agreed vision, principles and implementation strategy for the next phase of VETiS.

The ideas discussed at the recent VET in Schools roundtable will help inform this process, and will have a significant influence on the next wave of policy development in this crucial space.

The Framework document I have mentioned throughout this speech is key to establishing collaboration and consistency.

So I’ll be taking these stakeholder views with me to the Standing Council on School Education and Early Childhood on 11 April to inform our discussion regarding an updated National Framework that is, amongst other things, designed to:

  • address skills shortages;
  • more broadly incorporate career advice; and
  • reduce red tape so that educators, industry and students can work productively.  In terms of red tape, a truly national framework is vital in order to reduce the cross-jurisdictional red tape that so many stakeholders continue to raise with me.

The Scholarships

The TAFE Directors Australia National scholarship Foundation is another important step in elevating the status of VETiS and VET more generally.

I understand these scholarships pick-up where the Mick Young Scholarships left off.

I think the TAFE National Achievement Scholarships for VET in Schools Graduates are a worthy supplement to the Mick Young Scholarships that will highlight and drive excellence in VETiS.

We want more students like those receiving scholarships - eager to develop skills that will set them on a valuable pathway that contributes to the Australian workforce.

I’m sure that those who receive the scholarships will become role models to help inspire more students across Australia to consider a vocational skills career.

I applaud the many people who will take on the task of raising funds for future scholarship endowments. And I look forward to working with everyone here to improve vocational education and training in schools.

It is my great privilege to be here at the launch of the TAFE National Achievement Scholarships.

ENDS

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