Speech to AUSTAFE

Speech
  • Assistant Minister for Vocational Education and Skills

I feel very fortunate to be with you today representing the Minister for Education and Training, Senator the Honourable Simon Birmingham.
Your conference focus on innovation and leadership in VET is an important partnering of themes because individually and collectively they represent opportunity, and that’s exactly where we are with VET at the moment.
We’re facing an opportunity to build on our world class VET system and to lead the world in skills development.
As we know, we’re living in a time of great technological advancement – “Industry 4.0” – the ‘fourth industrial revolution’, which promises to change the way we live, work and study.
We’ve long known automation has progressively replaced repetitive manual tasks, but now, increasingly, artificial intelligence and machines are replacing repetitive cognitive tasks.
A recent article in the Australian Financial Review reported that the finance sector could lose up to 100,000 jobs in the next three years.
Similar trends are also likely to occur in legal professions.
And a report from the OECD estimates that on average across OECD countries about 9 per cent of jobs are automatable.
Now, this may seem all doom and gloom.
But this is not how I see it.
Evolving work practices have always been with us, and we have always adapted.
While some say the rate of technological advancement has never been faster than it is today, what we’re looking at is ongoing, incremental changes to how we work, not an overnight revolution. 
This doesn’t mean we should be complacent – far from it.
We’re already seeing big changes in industries such as transport, manufacturing, communications and broadcast entertainment, such as the rise of Netflix.
And this of course leads us to ask: what skills will workers need in the future?
We know technology will gradually replace routine tasks, both manual and cognitive, while so-called  non-routine jobs will continue to grow.
This suggests skills like social intelligence, as well as creative and complex thinking will be part of the skill-set graduates need in the future.
We also know that a person entering employment today will be likely to work in up to 17 different jobs over their career.
This will increase the need for graduates to have adaptable and transferable skills.
They’ll need to possess core skills in areas like maths and science, but will need ongoing training to keep their technical skills current, and adapt to changes in the workplace as they occur.
While changes to the workforce won’t happen instantly, the rate of technological development and the speed of innovation has certainly increased, and we have no reason to suspect it will slow.
We need our training practices to be just as agile, just as innovative, to meet the challenges of the future.
I believe, as a government, we have implemented the structures needed to achieve this.
A flexible and adaptive sector

While we know workplaces will always change, it’s difficult to predict what they’ll look like. 
Even so, we can make changes to ensure we can be as flexible as possible. 
But, with the nature of work changing, the potential for training to become outdated quickly is very real.
No one knows better what skills industry needs than industry itself.
This is why we’ve created a sector with industry at its centre. 
Our Industry Reference Committees are made up of people with experience, skills and knowledge of their industry. 
Their advice is aimed at ensuring training packages meet the needs of employers, and offers training relevant to the current realities of the workplace.
By establishing a close relationship between training providers and industry we create a sector that’s ready to adapt to whatever changes may occur to the way we work.
To ensure this agility is maintained, we are also looking to the future.
We have established the National Training Products Reform Working Party, which is examining training products and their relevance to support skills development as technology and industry changes.
This work will go towards ensuring our training remains relevant and appropriate to the workplace.
But of course, we need to make sure we have the people to train to meet our future workforce needs.
Attracting young students to vocational education is a key objective for this government.
But retraining more experienced workers who are seeking a new career – is also a priority.
Too often VET is seen as a second choice for our best and brightest.
Of course, we know this just isn’t the case.
I was recently made aware of Margaret Folkard’s story.
She was a trained physicist, but came to VET, undertook a four-year fitter and turner apprenticeship, and now follows her passion of designing and manufacturing highly precise sundials. 
This probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when it comes to 21st century innovation. This isn’t an app you can download on your phone. 
But it requires precision engineering, as well as an intimate knowledge of science and mathematics – a great example of STEM skills in practice.
It’s an occupation that would not be possible without the expertise acquired through a VET qualification. 
We know that VET is going to play an important role in securing Australia’s future labour-market needs.
It’ll be the breeding ground of tomorrow’s innovators.
The challenge for us is to get the word out to potential students, and their parents, to highlight the benefit and value of a VET qualification.
As a government, we’ve taken a number of initiatives to assist in prosecuting the case for VET. 
We’ve gathered a group of high profile advocates for the sector.
The VET Alumni Program brings together the best of Australia’s VET students, training providers, teachers and employers to promote the sector.
This includes the Australian Apprenticeship Ambassadors Program - shining examples of people who have gone above and beyond as part of their training in VET.
Such as Sharine Milne – a single mum working shift work in regional Queensland until she walked into her local TAFE to see what they could offer her. 
Within seven years she became the owner of a successful motorcycle repair business, with qualifications in motorcycle mechanics and business under her belt.
And Brad Meyers – not only is he a carpenter – he’s an NRL apprenticeship mentor and a household name, who’s also played Rugby League for his country, his state, and in premierships in the UK.
The objective of these programs is to take people who know the sector, are passionate about what they do, and use their success to inspire the next generation to see VET as a means of fulfilling their ambitions.
And I look forward to the program continuing its important work of promoting the virtues of our vocational education sector.

We’ve also committed $3 million towards the development of a National Career Education Strategy, which will help students to navigate their careers and make informed choices about post-school pathways. 
The strategy is aimed at ensuring students are ‘work ready’ and prepared for life beyond school, including the jobs of today and the future.
The strategy will build on existing initiatives including the Core Skills for Work framework and the Australian Blueprint for Career Development.
Three important focus areas will be addressed through the strategy to support students successfully transition to further education, training and employment or a combination of these:

  • Skills and capabilities for the future;
  • Strengthening school and employer collaboration; and
  • Career management and navigation.

The strategy will assist in creating stronger links between the secondary and tertiary education sectors, and will better equip students to make informed decisions about their future.

Part of our efforts for preparing Australia’s workforce for the future includes the Skilling Australians Fund.
The Fund is a collaborative effort between the Commonwealth, state and territory governments. 
The Commonwealth announced that an estimated $1.5 billion will be available over the next four years, to be matched by the states, to deliver 300,000 more apprenticeships, traineeships, pre- and higher-level apprenticeships and traineeships.
Funding will be prioritised towards occupations in demand industries and sectors of future growth, industries and communities experiencing structural adjustment, and rural and regional areas.
Priority industries include: tourism, hospitality, health, ageing and community and social services, engineering, manufacturing, building and construction, agriculture and digital technologies.
Higher-level apprenticeships, of which we are looking at an additional 20,000 over the next 3 and half to four years, seek to place students in industries that have not traditionally used the apprenticeship model of training.
This includes industries on the cutting edge of future technology advancements, such as automation, artificial intelligence and big data, as well as business, IT and financial services.
This is part of our ongoing effort to identify where the jobs of the future will be, and find new and innovative ways to provide industries with properly skilled employees.
And I’m sure we can all agree there are few better ways to gain the skills to succeed in the workplace than through the practical on-the-job training that apprenticeships offer.
As TAFEs you’ll play a critical role in this ongoing work.
Working together we have an opportunity to ensure apprenticeships and traineeships are strong and delivering the skills students need to succeed.

Maintaining the training sector’s quality is a key part of ensuring students are getting the skills they need.
One of the biggest threats to the sector’s reputation in recent years has been the VET FEE-HELP scheme.
Unscrupulous providers took advantage of vulnerable students, enrolling them in inappropriate courses, leading to poor outcomes for students and tax-payers.
On 1 January this year, the new program, VET Student Loans, was implemented.
VET Student Loans provides value for money by being a student-centred program that delivers high quality training, is fiscally sustainable and holds providers to account.
We are ensuring there won’t be a repeat of the mistakes of VET FEE-HELP.
Although the VET Student Loans program has only been in effect for six months, the early figures are encouraging.
To June 30, over 24,000 students had a VET Student Loan approved, with $78 million paid to approved providers.
It is also worth noting that out of the top ten providers ranked by value of loans paid, nine were public providers.
And in terms of student numbers, all of the top ten providers were public.
This highlights the important contribution of TAFE in our sector, and the reliance students have on TAFE as an avenue for training and a pathway to employment.
And encouragingly, the unit completion rates under VET Student Loans were around 10 percentage points higher at 75.2 per cent for the first six months, than they were under VET FEE-HELP.
While it’s still early days, this indicates our objective of only providing loans to quality providers is being effective and the measures we implemented are working.

I’m sure you’ll agree that quality is an important part of training and regulation, and we need to support the Australian Skills Quality Authority’s functions and powers, to make sure they align with best practice, and are flexible enough to change with the sector as it evolves.
That’s why we’re undertaking a review of the National Vocational Education and Training Regulator Act.
This will involve examining the standards for registered training organisations and the legislation that shapes the regulation of the sector.
Professor Valerie Braithwaite, who is leading the review is an internationally recognised expert in regulation, and I expect to have her final report by the end of the year. 

I’d now like to move from domestic VET issues to the international stage and recognise the critical role that VET plays in Australia’s international education sector, and in achieving the vision set out in the National Strategy for International Education 2025 – for Australia to be a global leader in education, training and research.
Australia has a strong international reputation for delivering high-quality skills training.
In 2016 there were nearly 40,000 student enrolments in Australian VET courses being delivered overseas.
And 84 per cent of those enrolments were with Australian TAFE providers.
There is vast potential for Australian VET – both onshore and offshore, but it will only be realised by highly innovative approaches.
I believe our standards-based VET system, driven by industry and supported by strong quality assurance frameworks, positions Australia well to engage internationally.
However, the international market is looking for customised solutions to its training needs.
We need to leverage these strengths to enable sustainable growth in our international VET services, both onshore and offshore.

Let me conclude by saying that we should not be surprised that our workplaces are changing.
Advances in technology have brought about change in how we work and live for centuries and will continue to do so into the future.
The pressure to be agile and adaptive has never been greater, and we need a training sector to match.
The structures we’ve created, to place industry at the heart of our sector, means we have the best chance to provide training that’s relevant, and able to quickly adapt as work practices change.
At the same time, we’re also taking steps to maintain the quality of the sector into the future, and to make sure that the training delivered is of the highest standard.
There’s no doubt VET will play an important role in securing Australia’s future economic prosperity and labour-market.
Not only will we provide businesses with employees equipped with the necessary skills they need, but we’ll also be training the next generation of innovators and leaders.
It’s been a pleasure to be here today and I wish you all the best with the remainder of your conference.
Thank you.

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