Readers may be interested in accessing the material on the National Skills Week website.

There were a whole mess of ministerial statements on the website that VDC News readers may like to look at, but a speech by Federal Minister Stuart Robert was the one that interested me. You can access it here.

TAFE Directors Australia highlighted the Minister’s presentation in a newsletter item in late August (scroll to find title: “Minister poses uncomfortable questions for VET sector.”). I have listened to his presentation at the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s Zoom launch of the week. Other speakers include Brian Wexholm from SkillsOne, BHP’s Laura Tyler and Tradesmen On Time’s Chris Lehmann speaking on emerging and current skills needs.

Minister Roberts noted the importance of the VET sector to Australia’s skills development agenda and the level and numbers of VET trained people we need given to keep the economy going, and that we cannot rely on migration so much at present. However, he identified issues with Australia’s VET system, including the time taken to update qualifications – why can’t qualifications be updated in a matter of months? the Minister asked.

He also talked about the number of Industry Reference Committees and the ponderous and lengthly processes for signing off changes. He noted the number of qualifications with little or no uptake, and also talked about the diversity and quality of careers advice, and the considerable variation in the cost of undertaking a qualification, depending on the jurisdiction in which training is taking place. Why isn’t there more uniform pricing, he asked? Good question, and one that the National Skills Commission is looking into. He also questioned whether there should be a greater availability and use of ‘stackable’ micro credentials.

However, as the TDA newsletter item noted:

“One of his main targets was apprenticeships, which, he said, have scarcely changed since the days of Charles Dickens: “Why does it take four years to do an apprenticeship? Why is it only 2% of people doing apprentices actually have recognition of prior learning, even though vast percentages of them are mature age students? “Why is it that only 54% of our apprentices actually complete? Thirty-six per cent actually drop off in the first year.”

He answered this last question himself: often it is the quality of the apprenticeship experience the employer provides. In terms of the level of RPL granted it is often whether these mature age students have relevant experience. And, although nominal durations of many apprenticeships are still 4 years, many apprentices actually do complete early. This early completion potentially brings its own set of issues in relation to the depth and relevance of experience their apprenticeship have actually provided, and whether they are actually fully trained according to Training Package requirements.

The answer probably gets back to the extent to which governments are willing to embrace change. One of the key issues for VET is that it is a shared responsibility between the federal government and the states and territories. Often this ‘balancing of power’ is a good thing as it prevents the implementation of poor policy and practice, but it also creates an environment of compromise – which may mean that the best solutions are ‘a bridge too far’ for some. For me, however, these problems are for governments and industry to solve.

Other speakers were interesting too. Laura from BHP talked about their ‘future fit’ pathways program of apprentice and traineeships in their company. She noted the changes needed in the skills profile of their staff and the nature of the training programs that flow from that. She also talked about the role of short courses, learning pathways and the need to support lifelong learning. Short courses are seen as a particular focus for upskilling/cross skilling, though. Can we have a ‘tetris way’ of building qualification and skills? Laura asked.

For small to medium businesses, Chris noted that the need for new technologies and approaches, and the training that supports those. Group Training Companies may be a way to solve some of these issues given that their completion rates can be better.

Towards the end of the video Minister Roberts noted that we cannot hold on to the old ways of doing things, we need to move forward and change. In the video there is a focus on apprenticeships, but maybe there is a more general story here? Intransigence is a big issue, and we need to find ways forward he suggests. Let’s see what happens.

Access the National Skills Week website.