This recent report from NCVER, authored by Tabatha Griffin and Upekha Andrahannadi, looks into how the training sector could better meet the needs of those in regional, rural and remote Australia. As they point out, this delivery is not easy because these locations are unique in terms of “their landscapes, economies, industries and cultures.”

It found that gaining a real understanding of local skill needs requires local intelligence, “gathered through informal relationships, formal partnership arrangements and other targeted activities.” You can’t just rely on what data tells you.

Rural, regional and remote RTOs want to do a good job.

The report points out that RTOs delivering in regional, rural and remote (RRR) Australia “display a determination to assist individuals in these locations to succeed, as well as to provide good service to local industry.”

These RTOs “also demonstrate the importance of the right mindset and a flexible approach; characteristics that allow them to adapt to overcome the challenges in regional, rural and remote VET delivery.”

Barriers to RRR delivery

According to the report, RTOs face a number of barriers in delivering training in these locations.

National, state and territory-based agencies use a variety of data sources “to determine skills supply and demand at the national and state levels. However, “these become patchy and unreliable at the local level. The lack of data means that state training authorities, as well as regional development organisations and RTOs, rely on consultation to understand local skills needs.”

Other challenges are RTO- and/or market-based and “tend to be faced before training begins. They include missed opportunities to deliver training in a location, trainer shortages and thin markets.

There are also location-based barriers, including travel and access problems for training, issues with the “lack of infrastructure/resources, technology and/or [internet] connectivity, limited pathways and/or job opportunities” as well as the lack of other needed services in the delivery location. The training available may also not be matched as well as possible to local training needs.

There are student-based barriers associated with the availability of student support, including that required for language, literacy and numeracy (LLN) and digital literacy. In addition, there can be “cultural differences and a need for cultural awareness in Indigenous communities.” Finally, “industry interviewees identified other training-related issues that impact on their local workforce development. These, as highlighted above, included a lack of local training providers and a lack of trainers, training facilities and necessary equipment. Delivering in regional, rural and remote Australia also incurs increased costs, and “these challenge the viability of training in such locations, especially in areas of thin markets.”

How better RRR delivery might be facilitated

The report suggests that more effective provision of training in regional, rural and remote Australia may be assisted through reconceptualised policy and training package development processes that might better enable the levels of local flexibility and devolved decision-making required. This, the report suggests, “may help to minimise mismatches between national, jurisdictional and local training needs.”

Next, funding models need to acknowledge and understand “the true costs of delivery in such locations to ensure that funding arrangements better cover them [and additionally] that information on local training needs is effectively fed into funding decisions to [make sure] these needs are better met.” It’s suggested that this is a difficult and resource-intensive process, “but is necessary.”

Thirdly better coordinating training demand across employers could help alleviate issues of thin markets local RTOs face by creating a sufficient volume of students. This process, it’s suggested, could be facilitated by a third-party, “but adequate resourcing of this role is likely to be required for it to be effective.”

Finally, those interviewed in the research process confirmed the importance of building relationships and forming partnerships to allow successful delivery of VET locally in rural, regional and remote areas. This requires developing “mechanisms to assist in the development of informal relationships or formalised partnerships to help ensure that communities and local industries get what they need from training.” As the report points out “there may be a role for government in assisting RTOs and other stakeholders in facilitating such linkages.”

VDC News readers may also be interested in the podcast covering this work, which can be accessed here.