Creating a sustainable VET sector in Australia

How do we create (and fund) a sustainable VET sector in this country?


I was asked for my opinion on this question a little while ago, gave a fairly quick answer and have been thinking about since.  It is one of those questions which tends to dig into your brain and just keep niggling at you for an answer, well more precisely a good answer, or at the very least a better answer than the last one you had.

So why is this question so difficult to answer, primarily I think because there are so many factors to consider when even beginning to think about a question like this.  The problem is also, that there seems to be a not insubstantial number of people (on all sides of politics and everywhere else as well) out there who seem to think that this is a fairly easy problem to solve, where as in reality it isn’t.

For me the place to start when thinking about all of this is the first word in VET, that is Vocational.  This is a system which, at least to my mind, is about vocational outcomes, it is about meeting the workforce needs of the various industry sectors.  It is not a system whose purpose is to create wealth for RTO’s be they public, private or enterprise, or so that organisations can back away from their responsibility to train staff, or to reduce government unemployment statistics.  This is a system whose purpose is to skill people to either get a job or to be better at the job that they already have.

One of the big questions around a sustainable VET sector is of course who pays for it? Which of course brings up a number of really salient questions such as;

  1. What courses should the government fund and at what level?
  2. Should participants contribute to the cost of their courses?
  3. If particular industries need particular skill sets should they have to foot the bill themselves?
  4. Should industry be subsidises for training its staff?

These are all tough questions and I think that the real answer sits somewhere in the middle of the whole swamp of competing agenda here.  We need however to have some sort of sustainable, sensible, cohesive approach otherwise we end up in this strange situation where for example a Diploma of Counselling can cost you between $0 and $20,000 depending on the provider you choose, your circumstances, your employment status and your employer.  That is a big variation in cost for a course which by its very nature should have the same outcomes for students whatever they pay, as everyone is assessed against the same performance criteria.

However I think if we look at thing through the lens of vocational outcomes, funding and sustainability becomes a lot clear, because after this is a system which is supposed to build capacity and capability.  I know this might sound harsh to some, but I have long thought that if a course is not going to result in ‘real’ vocational outcome, like a job, or an increase in productivity or a decrease in workplace incidents, then it shouldn’t be funded.  Further if it is ‘less sexy’, less well paying, difficult to learn or where there are large shortages of trained staff, then there should be more funding, better incentives and easier processes around those qualifications.

The big thing for me is that the system needs to be driven by the workforce needs of the States and Nation as whole, it is not about what providers need or want, again be they TAFE, private RTO or enterprises, or the particular agendas of industry groups.  It is about what is is we as a country need to keep us moving forward and meet our workforce needs both now and into the future.

So do I have a definitive answer, no, do I have ideas, yes and one day with some luck they might form themselves into a more cohesive package of thinking, but for right now it is something that I like to toss around in my head from time to time.

About pauldrasmussen
Paul Rasmussen is one of Australia’s most widely read Vocational Education and Training Commentators. He provides deep, unbiased analysis and insights not only on topical issues, but also on the underlying structure and policy which supports the industry. His writing and analysis has been praised for its uncompromising and thought provoking style and its ability to focus on the issues of real importance to the sector. He has advised various government departments and ministers, training providers, public and private organisations, not for profits and small to medium enterprises on the VET sector and the issues and opportunities facing it. He is one of Australia’s most awarded learning professionals and a regular speaker at a range of conventions and forums. His extensive experience in vocational education, and learning and development coupled with formal qualifications in philosophy, ethics, business and education management allow Paul to provide a unique view of the road ahead and how to navigate it.

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