This very recent and comprehensive report from Jobs and Skills Australia “examines the provision of – and access to – vocational education and training (VET) in regional, rural and remote areas of Australia.” It is really worth a read if that’s your bag!

It points to VET’s very important role in these areas and a key finding is that “regional VET activity is driven, to a large extent, by local industries.” The report also reveals that “training is driven to a large extent by local industries with higher enrolments in agricultural and engineering-related training when compared with major cities.” Not surprising really!

The findings

This 55-page report first provides a very useful profile of regional, rural and remote (RRR) communities in Australia (remoteness is relatively low or non-existent in the ACT, Victoria, NSW and Tasmania). It highlights a range of other interesting findings too. First – and not unexpectedly – the split of regional and remote training delivery differs by state and territory, “with remote training delivery occurring most commonly in Queensland and Western Australia.” Second, and as expected, “a larger proportion of VET students in regional, rural and remote Australia are Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander students, and students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds” in comparison with major cities.

Third, “VET students in regional and remote areas are more likely to undertake lower-level qualifications than those in major cities. In particular, students in remote areas a more likely to undertake qualifications at the Certificate II and below level (32% of enrolments compared to 24% for all Australia) while those studying a Diploma or higher VET qualification in outer regional and remote areas is less than 8%.” In fact, beyond year 12, individuals in regional and remote areas are on average more likely to hold a Certificate III or Certificate IV as their highest qualification. This means that “individuals working in regional and remote areas who work in similar roles to those in the city are more likely to be VET qualified than to hold other (e.g. higher education) qualifications, reflecting labour market opportunities and competition.”

Other key findings are that “while the number of RTOs with head offices located in remote areas is lower compared to major cities, this may not be a true reflection of RTO presence (i.e. their campus or delivery location) in those areas because data on RTO location typically reflects the location of an RTO’s head office and not necessarily its teaching locations.” In practice, this means that larger RTOs such as TAFEs and larger private RTOs “may span several regions to deliver training to both metro and regional/remote students.” And, as in many other cases, proximity of a training opportunity, and available travel options, often dictate the training that will actually be taken up. Indeed, “there may be latent demand for training that is not being met because people lack access to transport or because of the absence of a local provider.”

That said, the report notes that:

While less variation in the number of training products accessed is generally observed as remoteness increases, analysis at an aggregate level does not point towards significant issues in relation to access to VET study options.

Finally, the report found that “students in regional and remote areas have lower completion rates on average, with these differing across jurisdictions.”

The challenges

First, “enrolment data shows smaller class sizes and potential difficulties in attaining economies of scale as remoteness increases.” These are “challenges commonly associated with delivering education in these areas.” Second:

Assessing scope does not allow for the variety of ways that training is delivered (e.g. online vs in-person) to be observed, nor where that training takes place (i.e. at a RTO head office or campus location, or elsewhere).

So, the message is that getting a true picture of available training in these areas can be tough.

In conclusion

The Jobs and Skills report suggests ways in which a more detailed picture might be gained. These include undertaking more in-depth analysis to “consider both what is approved to be delivered and the delivery locations that RTOs offer these options by (requiring detailed market research).” In addition, “more explicit analysis of industry training and activity in regional and remote Australia would help to develop an understanding of the extent to which employers drive training, compared to students seeking out training options prior to employment.” Finally, “the linkages between study modes and to occupations/industries could help to explain the reliance on classroom-based delivery which is apparent in remote areas.

Have a look at the other article addressing RRR issues in this issue too.