The federal election on May 18 saw the Liberal – National Coalition form government. So, what does this result mean for the VET sector? On Wednesday 29 May, Senator Michaelia Cash will be sworn in as Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business. The VET Sector will also have a junior minister as part of this portfolio when Steve Irons becomes Assistant Minister for Vocational Education, Training and Apprenticeships. Steve Irons is the Member for Swan in WA. He was raised in Melbourne and moved to Perth in 1981. He has 30 years of experience in small business and owned an air-conditioning company before entering Parliament. He has also completed an electrical apprenticeship.

Where were we on May 17: the day before?

Pre-election polling predicted a Labor victory. If they had been elected Labor had promised a ‘once in a generation’ review. Its terms of reference had already been set last year. On the other hand the Morrison Government had announced and already conducted its own VET review, leading to the Joyce report entitled ‘Strengthening skills’. We highlighted this report and its recommendations in an earlier VDC News article. This review heavily influenced what went into the 2019-20 budget papers released in early April this year. We highlighted the proposed initiatives in the April edition of VDC News. The Joyce Review now deserves far more serious attention than it has received so far given the federal Liberal victory. Read and digest it if you haven’t already.

The promises

An article in Campus Review on 16 May this year contrasted the Labor and Liberal visions for VET. The Liberals “flagged $525 million to train 80,000 new apprenticeships in the next four years,” employer and apprentice incentives and identifying labour market shortages and subsidising courses to address those shortages. This would be done through the National Skills Commission recommended by the Joyce Review. Joyce also made a number of recommendations aimed at upgrading ‘the architecture of the VET sector’ to address long-held concerns about it. In contrast Labor proposed re-establishing TAFE as the primary VET provider and waiving the upfront fees of 100,000 students. It, too, put a strong emphasis on apprenticeships and pre-apprenticeship programs.

One important next step? A greater emphasis on teacher quality and professional development

Neither the Hon Steven Joyce’s review or the proposed Labor one had that much to say about VET’s teaching workforce and how its quality and vocational currency would be addressed in their respective terms of reference. However, the Joyce Review did address teacher quality, suggesting:

“High-quality teachers are essential for a high-quality training system that is respected by students and employers.”

Some of the respondents to the Joyce Review also pointed to difficulties in recruiting “experienced trainers with relevant industry experience, especially in regional and remote areas, and in particular specialties.” One approach Joyce has suggested to improving quality is placing “strong regulatory requirements around the registration and quality assurance of all RTOs.” But that is never the whole answer. He also argued that this approach needs to be complemented by Governments targeting measures that “encourage and highlight best practice” and “by recognising and rewarding teacher quality through teaching awards and providing access to quality professional development.” So, this is a challenge, and one which – perhaps – needs more attention now. More will be expected of the system in terms of meeting individual, industry and community needs. This means that more and better trained teachers will be needed to meet these demands. Maybe it would be good to see teacher quality and development get more emphasis and support as the new federal government works with the states and territories to improve the VET’s status and quality?