Student cohorts, learning outcomes and employment possibilities

So as you may have noticed I haven’t posted anything for a couple of weeks, this was mainly due to two things, firstly I was on holidays and secondly I have actually been out on the boards so to speak again, delivering some training.  A certificate II in community services to be exact which has kept me in the field and somewhat away from the keyboard.  It has done something else as well, it has driven home to me the need that we have in this sector to make sure that when we enroll people in programs that they are in the right program for them.  The level of the program needs to be right, both in terms of content and assessment, it has to link to what they want to do with their lives and there needs I think to be the possibility of an appropriate outcome for them.  Unfortunately I think that perhaps we in the sector and those around the sector who recruit, for want of a better word (I will explain what I mean later), student cohorts for us to deliver training to sometimes don’t look hard enough at those who are going to be doing the course before we start them on their journey.

Now as most of you know I am a strong believer in the value of education for everyone, particularly in terms of the possibility of improving a persons lot in life shall we say, for example assisting them to move into gainful employment.  At the same time I am troubled that a lot of the programs and funding which is spread around by various governments with the idea of helping highly disadvantaged people to improve their prospects  may in fact by quite ineffectual simply because the student cohorts who are being recruited into these programs, for a range of reasons, such as, the  eligibility requirements, the pressure on organisations to reach certain numbers of attendees and recruitment being often done by third party organisations (community sector and NFP’s) who don’t understand the VET system.

I have had this exact thing driven home to me over the past weeks, while as I said delivering a Certificate II in community services through a program where community sector organisations are funding to recruit and provide a range of wrap around services like CV’s for example and the provider ‘simply’ delivers the accredited part of the program under standard funding arrangements. That I encountered such issues with a lower level qualification may puzzle some of you, but bear with me as I explain.  Firstly there are a range of criteria set by the government for who can undertake these programs, students must be either unemployed and not receiving commonwealth benefits or have been unemployed for a period of more than six months.  Now as anyone who has been unemployed for more than six months, either by choice or not, their are in general significantly more issues around getting back into the workforce then for people who are currently employed or only short term unemployed.  Secondly the organisations are given funding for a certain number of students, so if they don’t get the numbers they need they may well have to refund money to the government when the program is over and thirdly the vast majority of organisation involved in these programs have little no experience in the provision of accredited training, they are service providers not training organisations.

So what happens when all of this comes together?  Well you get a group of people (twelve to be exact) out of whom, I would suggest only two will gain employment as a result of the program and maybe another two more will go on to do further study.  So about two thirds of the group will not achieve one of the listed outcomes for the program. Why? Well there are a variety of reasons some of which are,

  • lack of social and work skills, to such an extent that it will take far more work and training than what they are having to overcome
  • Attitudinal issues bought about from previous experiences, both in work and elsewhere
  • a lack of ability to determine what is appropriate behaviour and act accordingly, and
  • their world view

The first thing that is interesting about this list is that for the most part none of these issues relate to their ability to successfully complete the assessments for the program.  There are one or two who have really struggled with the content and assessments, but all but one will actually successfully complete.  What is interesting is that when the class first started I thought the number of people who would get an appropriate outcome would be much higher, but as time has progressed and we have had more and more conversations, the students have felt safer and more comfortable, they have said and done things which show clearly why a number of them have had the experience of never keeping a job for more than about 3 months.

None of this of course should not be taken to suggest that the students have not grown, learnt things and perhaps become a little better equipped for life.  What it is to suggest is that we need where we can, across the board, to try and do a bit better job when it comes to recruiting students, across all levels of qualifications.  Now can we always get it right at the start, no and to think we could would be foolish.  We recently had to withdraw a student who had an undisclosed mental illness, which made it impossible for him to complete the requirements of the course.  He didn’t disclose it, because he thought it was going to have an impact, but as the course rolled on it did and despite the supports we were able to offer it was impossible for him to continue and as I have said with my recent experience, issues didn’t become clear until we touched on a particular subject or the student felt sufficiently safe.

The other thing that needs to be done is for the funding bodies to look at the criteria they are placing on these courses and programs and ask themselves some hard questions about whether the criteria themselves are making it more difficult for everyone, students included to get the desired outcomes.

Anyway that’s just my opinion.


Doom and Gloom or an opportunity to Bloom – VET student loans scheme

So they say a week is a long time in politics and this last week has been a cracker for so many reasons.  The only one I am going to talk about today though is the Vet Student loan scheme which Minister Birmingham announced last week.  Today we saw the release of the eligible courses list for the new program with around 350 programs making the initial list, though there is room for submissions for the inclusion of other programs to be made and these close on 23 October.  Enough about that for the time being, I will come back to the list a little bit later.

There has been a lot of criticism, some of which I think has justification, some of which I don’t think does.  What there has been is a lot of doom and gloom and a lot of talk about the government ruining people’s businesses.  We even saw AIPE go into voluntary liquidation on Friday.  What cam to my mind when I was listening to all of the discussions, most of which will continue I think for at least some time yet, was how it all linked to some of the things I have often talked about in terms of business models and the business of vocational education.  I have heard an number of people talk about the fact that their businesses will be destroyed as a result of these changes or at the very least they will have to downsize their businesses substantially.  Before I go on it is really important to say that I feel for these people.  These people have for the most part done the right thing, obeyed the rules and built businesses which provided high quality educational outcomes to their students and the industries they were involved with and at least in some cases the investments they have made in these businesses over the years will be seriously devalued.   What this drives home to me is the important of distributed revenue streams in your business.  Providers who rely to heavily on one source of revenue, particularly when that revenue stream is controlled by the government in some way are always going to be faced with these challenges.  The same can be said of providers who rely entirely on fee for service markets, when the market wobbles, particularly if they are involved in niche areas, so do they.  All of those who are in the business of vocational education, even public providers need to have diversified models of revenue generation in order for them to weather changes to funding models and changes to the market in general.  It may be okay to make hay while the sun shines, but you always need to remember that some days its rains.

There has also been criticism of the tiered or banded system for student loans, with the levels being $5000, $10,000 and $15,000 depending on the type of qualification, although when we look at the draft list which has been released we see that everything but business and commerce it appears will be in the $10,000 band or above.  The criticisms leveled have again be around how providers can deliver the course for the value of the loan the government has put on it.  Now to be fair the government has said that the loan cap is just that a cap on the amount of money they will loan a student to pay for a course.  They have said that providers can charge whatever they want to, but then the student will have to meet the difference between the two figures.  It is also fair to say that there is an argument about access and equity which can more than reasonably be made about having significant differences between the cap and providers fee, the ability of potential students to meet that gap and questions of equity which arise around that.  This is however an argument for another place, suffice it to say here that large difference between the loan cap and the provider fee will make it difficult for those in the most vulnerable and lower socio-economic groups to be able to afford to enter training through this scheme without additional assistance, where providers choose to charge fees higher than the loan cap.  There are of course also counter arguments about appropriateness of qualifications, state entitlement funding and employment outcomes.  Again however a range of these criticisms are tied to the kinds of business models which were encouraged under the old VET FEE Help system.  I know of a number of providers who despite having extensive Certificate I-IV scopes only ever advertised the high revenue VFH courses on their websites and through other media.  They also did not seek to build their entitlement funding or fee for service businesses because there were substantial sums of money being generated through their VFH business operations.  The funding drove the business models, a little bit like the tail wagging the dog so to speak.  One of the reasons why some providers will find it difficult to deliver under this new scheme is that their model of delivery, and student acquisition is one that relied on the continuation of VFH fees at particular levels.

I have often suggested that most, (and it is really important that this is taken for what it is, a generalisation which also acknowledges that there are outlier courses which cost substantially more to deliver), that most diploma level courses can be delivered in such a way as to produce high quality student outcomes and competency for $10,000 or less.  Why do I say this; because less than 5 years ago they were and there was very little if anything wrong with the graduates being produced.  Over 5 years we saw prices of some Diploma level qualifications rise by 300-400% and business models develop which required these increases to be cost-effective.  It is vitally important to note that most of these business model were not flawed or did not seek to rort the system or rip of the government or students.  Their only issue was that they relied so heavily on both VFH and particular levels of funding.  The ability to set fees where ever providers wanted allowed and even promoted providers adopting business models that only worked under a certain set of circumstances.  Are there models which will work under the new scheme?  Certainly there are and I think the suggestion that it will drive all providers to deliver one to many elearning with little or no support are false.  There are solid face to face models which not only can clearly operate under this new model but can also be profitable.

let’s go back to the list then shall we.  As I said earlier the vast majority of programs are at the $10,000 or $15,000 dollar level with it appears only management and commerce at the lower $5,000 level. A lot has been made about the government ‘picking winners’ so to speak and the inequity between someone who wants to study a vocational education course over a Higher Ed course and while there is weight to this argument there is also weight I think to the argument that where the money is being provided by the government, even if that is through an income contingent loan of some description, there needs be a return on that investment in terms of workforce outcomes.  Is, by creating a list, the government saying one course is better than another, no I don’t think this is the case.  I think the government is legitimately saying, one course seems to have better workforce participation outcomes than another and because of that we are going to provide funding for students who want to undertake this course.  The interesting question that arises from this of course is whether it is fair to apply a test like this to VET and not to HE, but again that is a debate for another time.

So why did I call this post Doom and Gloom or an opportunity to Bloom, mainly because I think as with all change this one presents us as providers with a choice.  We can either spend the next few months worrying, complaining and trying to get the government to change it mind, which it may do on small things, but I doubt it will on anything major, or we can look on this as an opportunity to re-energise what we do, consider our business models, look at ways of not just working, but thriving in this new environment.  I will let you guess what I intend to do.

Anyway as always that’s just my opinion.

The Business of Vocational Education – Purpose

What is the purpose of Vocational Education?  For me this is a really important question because I think  our answer to this question will have some wide-reaching implications for how we might view the sector, and how we might be able to conceive of a business model which would be ethically and financially sustainable and meet the needs of the many and varied stakeholders within the sector.  If we look at a simple definition from the Australian government, Vocational Education and Training (VET) is designed to deliver workplace-specific skills and knowledge, and covers a wide range of careers and industries, including trade and office work, retail, hospitality and technology. While this is a solid definition, I tend to think that it does not go far enough, simply because it fails to mention the link between VET and employment or workforce participation.  Other definitions talk about it as preparing participants for work or for advancement, by providing with the skills and knowledge mentioned in the original definition and this is I think an important link in the VET chain.

It is an important link because if we consider VET as related to workforce participation (whatever that might mean in the long run) then that changes the dynamic and the purpose, at least to my mind.  If the outcome or the aim for someone undertaking a VET course is a greater level of workforce participation, rather than just to undertake study for the purpose of study, then what an ethical business model is going to look like is certainly going to change as well.  I say this because ones ability to participate in the workforce is not solely dependent on having a piece of paper which indicates that you should possess certain skills or knowledge.  I have over the years fired heaps of people who had pieces of paper that said they knew and could do certain things, but after a short period of time it became abundantly clear that they could not.  It is actually having the skills and knowledge which the paper you have says you have and being able to put them into practice which at least to some extent determines how long you will be able to participate in the workforce.  If we put the idea of producing competent graduates who can participate in the workforce at the center of our business model, then a lot of other structure around what that model might look like seems at least to me to be self-evident.

It is easy to see the first things to go in approaches such as this.  Models that preface provider growth on the strength of continuing streams of enrolments, or where the central concern is the issuance of certificates to generate payments are going to have a difficult time justifying themselves;  whereas models which consider the student experience and competence outcome as their central focus are going to be those that make the grade.  This should however be taken to suggest that a provider cannot be both student focused and profitable, the two are not mutually exclusive at all, nor should it preclude us from suggesting that the delivery of vocational education should not managed in as cost-effective way as possible.  It is simply a recognition that what we should always be seeking as an outcome is competent graduates, graduates who have the potential to participate in the workforce, even if for whatever reason they do not.

These concepts of competent graduates, workforce participation and cost effectiveness become even more important when publicly funded rather than personally funded vocational education is considered. It could be suggested that where someone is funding their own education, providing we meet the outcome of competency, the need for a workforce participation outcome seems not to be as strong.  It does need to be suggested here though that where the ‘personal’ funding’ is something like an income contingent loan scheme (such as VET FEE Help) I tend towards the suggestion that workforce participation and cost effectiveness or ROI come back into play, and all three need to be present.

So it seems to me that the purpose of being in this industry should be to provide high quality learning which leads to competent graduates with improved workforce participation potential in an efficient and cost-effective manner.  Now if we believe this it seems to give us very solid base from which we can develop an ethically and financially sustainable business model.

Anyway that’s just my opinion.



Is there a problem with VET in Schools?

We all know what VET is schools is, vocational qualifications delivered through the secondary school system, with either the school being a registered training organisation in its own right or where it is tightly partnered with another provider.  Well it appears that there may be some problems?  I say this because it seems that there are a number of investigations, research, internal and external consultations going on at the moment at various levels across the country and it seems from what I have been told by more than a few sources that the results of these investigations for want of a better is well, not great, perhaps even damming.

So what is the problem?  It seems that the numbers of students completing certificate i and ii courses through the various VETiS programs is dropping, replaced by year 11 and 12 students undertaking certificate II and IV and in some cases even higher level qualifications.  Now you might be thinking is that actually a problem, delivering the higher qualifications will give the student advantages over just having a certificate i or ii when they leave school.  Now while that might be the case if these qualifications were being delivered properly, but it seems that at least two investigations have found that that is simply not the case.  They seem to have found that these higher level (certificate III and above) programs being delivered within the school environment are being significantly dumbed down, often having very little connection to the industries they are supposed to be being trained in, insufficient workplace based learning and placement time and a lack of properly qualified trainers.  All of this is leading to students finishing year 12 with a piece of paper they think is going to help them get a job, but is really in terms of their skills and employability little more than a certificate of attendance.

Now if these rumors (and I have to stress here that no one at any of the Departments of Education has verified any of this, at least not officially) are even somewhat true, it points to some significant issues within VETiS.  I was concerned sometime ago what I noticed more and more secondary schools delivering Certificate III and above programs internally as I had always viewed the role of VETiS to be preparatory, providing year 11 and 12 students with pre-vocational, and pre-work level qualifications, those qualifications that usually sit at a certificate i and ii level.  Given the changes to a range of qualifications where work placement and more assessment criteria based on actual work have been included, it has for a while now seemed difficult to me to figure out how a secondary school RTO could be meeting all of the requirements of at least some of the programs they are delivering, at a certificate III level.  The of course seems only to increase substantially as we move up the AQF levels.  I am also entirely uncertain that whether or not the vast majority of secondary school students have the capacity to be able to successfully complete diploma level study in particular while still in school.  This should not be taken to suggest in anyway that there aren’t schools out there that are doing fantastic things for their students in the VETiS space, or that some students may have the capacity to undertake higher level studies while still in school, it is however something we need to look at very very carefully.

It is already extremely difficult for school leavers to find employment, particularly employment in areas that they actually want to work in, not preparing them properly for entry into the workforce is only going to make that situation worse.  We may think that providing a student with an ‘easy’ route to a certificate iii or higher during their time at school, particularly where that student may not be going excel in other more traditional curriculum, will assist them to find work when they leave.  It won’t.  If they are not properly competent, even if they do get a job, they will find themselves out of a job just as quickly and find getting another job in their industry much more difficult.

VETiS should be there to prepare students to move into either further study in their field or to start work and learn while working.  It does that best at least in my opinion, by providing them with those courses which prepare them, which provide them with the basics of work of their particular industry, those traditional certificate I and II level courses, not certificate III and above.

I certainly hope that the information around the VETiS sector that we are seeing is not correct, but sadly for my experience it does seem to be the case.  I think VETiS is fantastic and I would hate to see it damaged by the pursuit of extra funding and an ‘easy’ solution for some students.

Anyway that’s just my opinion

Queensland’s VET Investment Plan – Moving forward 2016 and onwards

For those of you who are regular readers of this blog, you will know that for the most part I have been a supporter of the Queensland Governments VET investment plan both under the previous and current governments.  I also think it is necessary for me to indicate at this point that the organisation that I work for is a PQS under both VET investment and User Choice before I go any further however.  So with the end of the 2015-16 financial year approaching, yes it is almost the end of February folks, this means that the current plan is set for review.  I therefore thought that it might be a worthwhile time to have a look at the program and what possible changes might be useful and not useful in the next version of the plan.

My first thought is a simple one.  The PQS system, where providers are required to meet and adhere to additional guidelines and regulations in order to be able to access funding under VET investment is a great one.  Access to entitlement style funding, should have additional requirements attached to it, over and above simply being an ASQA registered provider.

My second thought is also a simple one.  Please don’t break something that is working.  I would appeal to the government not to follow the route of South Australia in thinking that portioning off a large amount of the available funding and earmarking it as TAFE only funding is a good idea.  We need to support TAFE and we need to have a vibrant and effective public provider, but cordoning off large portions of a funding program and making it TAFE exclusive is not the way to go.  Neither is I think putting in place quota systems, unless we are very very sure of the numbers of people we are going to need in particular areas over the coming years.  The system that we currently have is not broken, it is working and with a few modifications could be even more effective.  Throwing it out and trying to start over, or trying to massively overhaul the program is I think a recipe for disaster.

I guess what I am saying, is something that I have said before, I think Queensland has got there funding initiative pretty right, particularly if we look at the whole picture.

  • Skilling Queenslanders for Work – While only just starting up will really help to assist that segment of learners that are extremely disadvantaged, through programs supported by community services organisations.
  • User Choice –  Apprenticeships and Traineeships are important, in fact vital to business and industry and need to be continued to be funded
  • Certificate III Guarantee – This is a fantastic program which needs to be continued both for public and private providers, as with the SQFW program, this program really assists to get jobs and to change their circumstances.  Prioritised funding for those courses where there is high need and good employment outcomes continues to be the way to go and currently for the most part I think the government has the mix right.  The only tweak that could be made would be where a person has an extremely old qualification in a different field of education and wants to move into a new vocational area.  Being able to support this move for people who are not currently employed would make the program stronger.
  • Higher Skills – I am a fan of this program, the ability for people who are currently working and who only possess entry level qualifications to receive a subsidy to gain a higher level qualification or skill set is fantastic and has at least in our sector (community services) enabled significant numbers of people to improve their employment outcomes.
  • Funding for TAFE – TAFE needs to be funded, even if that funding is simply support to maintain their infrastructure and resources.  But keep it separate from the other funding and subsidy programs however, provide them with what they need to be strong and competitive, but also keep choice in the system.  Choice is actually vital to producing a vibrant public system.

On a side note with regards to the Certificate III and Higher Skills programs, having a mandatory student contribution is vital, however I would caution against setting what that contribution should be.

Therefore please @YvetteDAth and the Queensland Department of Education, lets keep what we have and keep it working.  Lets not go the way of some of the other states and throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Anyway that’s just my opinion.

Total VET Reporting – Lets talk about the figures.

So as some of you may have noticed I have had a little break from my usual posting schedule, mainly due to spending most of the last 2 weeks working with an organisation to delivery some initial TAE training to a large group of their staff.  Of course while I was having a break we saw the release of the Total VET students and courses data 2014 and a number of other documents which relate to it including Equity groups in TVA 2014, both of which I found to be very enlightening reads.  There have already been a couple of responses to the data, most notably Rod Camm’s which to me was quite reasonable, but I thought that I might look at some of the things which jumped out at me.

The first thing that really did leap out at me as I started to look through the data was, what part of this data related to VET FEE Help and what related to everything else and then I saw in explanatory note 30 – ‘It is not possible to identify VET FEE-HELP assisted activity by funding.’  Now I have to admit that this let me down a little when I read, because one of the things I was really interested in looking at in the data was the relationship between VFH and other kinds of funding, but as we can’t currently identify it there is not much that can be done.

So what are some of the figures which I found really interesting; firstly it was the break down of the actual number of students,  3,908,000 students enrolled in training with 4601 Australian providers, or 849 students per provider on average.  Let’s look closer at this however, as a lot has been made of the break up of figures between public and non-public providers and the effect that non public providers are having on TAFE admissions, with non-public providers servicing 57% of students.  What is not often considered, when we hear people talk about this is the massive disparity in the number of public vs non-public providers.  There are 57 TAFE institutes training 1,065,600 students and 2865 non-public providers training 2,252,900 students or 18,700 students per TAFE vs 786 students per non-public provider.  These numbers bear thinking about, at least to my mind, whenever public providers suggest that they don’t have enough students to make ends meet.  Even at a figure of say $2,000 per student, in terms of revenue that is over $35,000,000 on average for a TAFE as opposed to $1,500,000 on average for a private provider.  Now I know that I am talking in averages here and that there are big, small and medium players in both parts of the sector, but I still think it is interesting to consider.

The majority of students were male over the age of 25, which I personally found interesting because our student demographics are more slewed towards female participants. This has a lot to do with the fact that the vast majority of the training we deliver is in community services, where around 85% of the workforce is female.

What about the programs these students are undertaking, 30% of all enrollments were in Certificate III level programs and 86% of all programs completed were at a Certificate I-IV level.  This I think says something very important about the system that we have and that at its heart it is focusing on the right thing, that is, those programs that really are going to make a difference to people’s employment outcomes and their workforce participation options.  Business and commerce was the area in which most people studied, followed closely by community services.  While it has been suggested that the amount of business and commerce training being undertaken relates tightly to the VFH, its marketing and the perceived ease of deliver of these courses, and while we can’t see what amounts of these courses were funded using VFH or at least not from these figures, general business skills are deeply embedded in most of the things that people do so having a high percentage of people here may simply portray the market.  This could also be said of community sector qualifications, which are the second most popular.  The community sector is one of the largest employment areas and one in which the need for workers continues to grows.  It could be suggested that if areas like these were not high on the list that this may well be far more concerning than the current situation.

Another of the figures which I found quite interesting was in the equity group data.  By far the two largest equity group accessing VET were students from a non-English speaking background and students from rural and remote areas, with their participation rates being much higher than indigenous students or students with a disability.  Again within these groups we see that the overwhelming majority of students as with the general student population are undertaking certificate I-IV level programs, which as I said above is I think a good indicator that the heart of the system is targeted properly.  As we would also expect in a system where the vast majority of training delivered is around entry-level job roles, government funding made up around 60% of the way in which people ‘paid’ for their training with fee for service making up the rest.

So are there any disturbing pieces of data in this report.  In my honest opinion, when we consider that this is the first time this data has been collected and we don’t have a lot of previous data to base assumptions on, I don’t think there is.  I think the big thing is that this data needs to be improved and perhaps integrated with the data collected around VFH and other programs and then sliced and diced to give us a better picture of what is happening as will also happen as we accumulate data sets over a number of years and can begin to make comparisons.

Anyway that’s my opinion.

Paying for VET – The funding equation

So I have been thinking a fair bit recently about funding in the VET sector and different models and approaches.  A lot of this has been prompted by the release of the new QLD VET investment program and the issues with what has happened with funding in South Australia and the discussions about that, as well as the recent comments by Senator Birmingham and some of the insights which came out of the panel I chaired at EduTech.

As we are all aware there are a range of ways in which VET is paid for in Australia from income contingent loans (yes I know they are not technically funding as such but let’s go with it anyway), to skills shortage lists and priority areas, individual based funding and programs aimed at producing specific outcomes for specific groups.  When we add to this direct funding for public providers in what ever form that takes and apprenticeship and traineeship schemes it is no wonder the average person has difficulty in figuring out who is paying for what.

Firstly lets consider income contingent loans (VET-FEE HELP). I am actually a proponent of this style of ‘funding’ particularly for higher level programs and to be honest if it wasn’t for this kind of system I would never have got the education that I currently have (admittedly my education is from the Higher Education sector rather than VET but the same principle applies).  The advantage to these programs is that it allows people to undertake the study that they wish to, without relying on whether or not that funding is considered to be a priority by the government.  It allows a strong freedom of choice around both what is studied and where and how that study is undertaken.   There are of course problems with this style of system (outside of issues around the cost of a program) the biggest of which is that employment outcomes from these programs may not be as high as they are in other more directed programs.  Why?  Well because people get to choose what it is that they want to study regardless of whether or not there will be an employment outcome at the end of the program.  Is this really a problem though?  I am not so sure that it is, providing people entering into these courses of study understand that there may not be a significant employment outcome for them as a result of undertaking the course, or that they may need to take employment in a different area first, before they are able to utilise their chosen program of study.

What about so-called entitlement style funding, where individuals who meet certain criteria are able to have their training subsidised  by the government.  This funding is almost always tied to those skills shortage and priority occupations lists, which means that while an individual may be able to obtain their training for a very small out-of-pocket expense, they are limited in the areas in which they can study, if they meet the eligibility criteria.  This kind of funding is interesting because it accounts for a fair proportion of the funding provided to the sector by the State governments and different people in different states may therefore have not only different eligibility criteria, but also a different choice of programs which they can undertake, as well as differing choices around providers and co-contribution rates.  The upside of these programs, if well-managed and run would seem to be a much stronger connection to employment outcomes and workforce participation particularly at more entry-level positions, the problems of course are that not everyone will meet the eligibility criteria and even for those people who do, the courses which are available to them, may not the courses which they wish to undertake.

Specific purpose programs (like Queensland’s Skilling Queenslanders for work program) are similar to entitlement style programs, with one key difference, they are designed with usually quite specific outcomes in mind.  If we take the Queensland program as an example, it is heavily focused on youth, particularly those youth are disadvantaged in some way and entry-level qualifications.  It is designed to increase the level of workforce participation in group which currently has a high level of unemployment.  Of course youth (people under 25) are not the only targets of these programs, they are also targeted at anyone who is disadvantaged and who has had difficulty in obtaining work (medium to long-term unemployed).  There are a couple of advantages to these sorts of programs, firstly they are designed and funded with a specific outcome, which usually means more funding for supporting services which may assist students to actually achieve the result that the program is designed around.  Being specifically designed also means that providers and other who are involved also have a very clear idea of what the goals of the program are and what they need to achieve.  The disadvantages are the same of those for entitlement style funding in that there are very specific criteria for participation and in terms of what programs are offered.

Traineeships and Apprenticeships are a slightly different fish from the other styles of funding, primarily because before being able to access these types of funding one must be employed or employed as part of the program.  They also in most cases carry an incentive component for the employer in order for make it more attractive for them to take on a trainee (and the additional costs which may be associated with them) than may have normally been the case.  The advantages to these programs are obvious, people are employed as a result of them and they are specifically aimed at the student completing the qualification in question and continuing to be part of the workforce.  The problem with these programs tends to be the amount of paperwork and regulation involved for all parties concerned.

Then finally we have direct funding to public providers.  I am going to be really open here and say that I think that the vast majority of funding for VET should be contestable.  It should go to the provider who is chosen by individuals and employers, sectioning off parts of funding programs specifically for the public providers simply limit choice and creates state-run monopolies.  That being said however I sincerely believe that there should be funding provided to TAFE, it should however be transparent, not hidden under quotas and things like that.  It should also be for specific purposes, where there is market failure, or where there is a lack of providers, or specific skills or facilities are required.  There should also be funding for the up keep of government-owned assets (where those assets are being utilised or are needed for the future.  However like with non-public providers operational expenses should be met through the utilisation of  contestable funding and fee for service delivery.

So the question which comes from all of this for me is what works best and is there any realistic way in which we could simplify things to make things easier for everyone.  Problematically I don’t think there is, each of the styles of funding have a specific purpose behind them, which also means that it is difficult to determine whether one type of funding is better than another.  I do however think that often entitlement style programs are the most problematic, primarily because of the occupation and course lists which support them.  For these style of funding programs to be effective there needs to be a tight link between the courses on offer and the needs of the workforce, because if there is not they are doomed to not meet the needs of anyone.  The other issue with these style of programs is getting the eligibility criteria right, one of the criticisms of the higher skills part of the QLD VET investment plan is that holding a Certificate IV  in anything disqualifies you from gaining funding for a diploma or above level qualification, regardless of whether or not it is a qualification in the same sector.   Now I am not suggesting that these types of funding aren’t useful and don’t have a place, they do, governments just need to be very careful about the programs they subsidise and the criteria for students.

Anyway that’s just my opinion.

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