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This article was originally published in the Winter 2022 edition of The Australian TAFE Teacher. It is an edited extract of Pat Forward's keynote address at the Centre for Public Education Research TAFE symposium.
By Pat Forward
On 27 July 2020, the Prime Minister and the Premiers and Chief Ministers of the state and territory governments signed a new Heads of Agreement which is supposed to be the basis of the next national funding agreement for the Australian VET system. The new agreement was due to be in place by 1 January 2022 but has not yet been finalised, presumably because the parties cannot agree on its content. However, all Australian governments have indicated that they support: “a viable and robust system of public, private and not for profit providers, with contestability in VET markets, to ensure high quality training and student choice.”
Ten years after the signing of the 2012 National Agreement for Skills and Workforce Development (NASWD), and the National Partnership Agreement for Skills Reform which first introduced contestability as a requirement for access to commonwealth funds for the TAFE system, it is clear that governments at all levels have learnt nothing from the damage done to the system by contestability and market reforms.
It is timely to remember what was in these agreements, where the policy came from, and what damage these policies have done, and continue to do, to the TAFE system.
In April 2012, all states and territories and the Federal Government signed the National Agreement for Skills and Workforce Development, and the National Partnership Agreement for Skills Reform. The agreements were supposed to deliver almost $9 billion to the VET sector over the following five years. This funding was the Federal Government’s share of funding in the sector. The mechanism contained in the agreements which forced the introduction of contestability was a requirement to implement three key “structural reforms” in order to access a component of the funding. These reforms were:
The first reform – entitlement funding – effectively removed funding from TAFE and attached the funding to individuals, who could then expend the “vouchers” at a public or private provider of their choice. Private providers were incentivised to cherry-pick cheap and easy to deliver training. The second reform – making income contingent loans more easily available – was a mechanism to increase the uptake of a student loan system introduced with the support of both major political parties in the period of transition between the Howard and Rudd governments. The introduction of these loans was a bipartisan project aimed at shifting the costs of vocational education from governments onto individuals. These loans were perceived to be an important way to encourage the development of a competitive market.
The third and final reform was an overarching condition to require competition for funding and for students perceived as a mechanism to break TAFE’s monopoly on vocation
TAFE was not mentioned once in the 2012 National Agreements, but these agreements changed the TAFE sector forever. What followed was a wholesale shift in delivery from the TAFE to private for-profit providers, who moved rapidly into the market, offering incentives like laptops and cash to students in return for enrolments. Students' hopes and dreams were destroyed, TAFE teachers lost their jobs, and communities lost their TAFE colleges.
The VET FEE-Help scheme grew exponentially because of this weakening of conditions of access in the 2012 National Agreements, from a $25 million allocation in 2009 to more than $4 billion in 2015. More than 75 per cent of the funding for VET FEE-Help went to private-for-profit providers. There was no fee regulation in vocational education (providers could charge whatever they wanted), and the only limit students had on what they could be charged, and therefore have to borrow, was the $100,000 individual cap. In many cases, no training was delivered, and no qualifications issued. It took many years for some of these debts to be cancelled, as a reluctant Federal Government refused to take responsibility for the fraud that occurred.
Those who signed the 2012 National Agreements could not say that they did not know what would happen. Victoria had already led the way, introducing full competition for government funding through a student voucher system in 2007 and 2008. Following the introduction of this policy, Victorian TAFE’s share of this artificially created market declined from an already comparatively low 66 per cent in 2008, to only 45 per cent in early 2012. During this same period, the private provider share of the market grew from 14 per cent in 2008 to 46 per cent in 2012 – an increase of 370 per cent. For the first time in Australia’s history, TAFE became a minority provider in one state, with several others following suit.
This resulted in the proliferation of fly-by-night private providers, delivering training in a fraction of the time it took in TAFE colleges and the growth of high-volume, low-cost training (such as fitness instructors) in areas of the economy that were distinguished by their reliance on insecure work, and in which there were no identified skills shortages. The costs of training for individual students, often the most disadvantaged in society, rose by many thousand percentage points, with a whole generation of young and mature age workers forced to incur debt for qualifications which were of dubious quality, and which had no use in the economy.
The Victorian Government experiment effectively led to the massive growth of large private providers who gamed the system and used their Victorian funding and experience to position themselves to move into interstate markets as every state and territory in Australia implemented the market reforms required in the 2012 National Agreements.
What followed were punitive and damaging cuts to TAFE which undermined the capacity of TAFE colleges to successfully compete for funding and resources in the increasingly deregulated market. In many states, funding cuts to TAFE preceded the implementation of 2012 National Agreement reforms, weakening and diminishing the capacity of the public system.
State government budget cuts to TAFE in Victoria were quickly followed by budget cuts to TAFE in NSW, South Australia and Queensland, as these states moved to position their own TAFE institutions to meet the conditions of the then newly signed 2012 National Agreements. Following the lead of Victoria, these jurisdictions actively incentivised the private VET sector at the expense of the public TAFE system.
The impact of the 2012 National Agreements continues to be felt to this day. The proportion of funding allocated contestably was close to 50 per cent in 2020, despite policies such as “free” TAFE places (in restricted areas of so-called skills shortage). This is because the mechanisms for allocating funding have changed so dramatically, even if, under some state governments, the funding currently favours TAFE. There is nothing in the current arrangements to give TAFE colleges any certainty over future resourcing, and indeed, in many states, funding continues to be cut.
This article was originally published in the Winter 2022 edition of The Australian TAFE Teacher.
By Correna Haythorpe
Although the outcome of the recent federal election is being dissected and scrutinised, the importance of TAFE and vocational education as an election issue has gone largely unacknowledged. We want to change that.
Campaign and context
Launched in the first part of 2021 in the depths of the COVID pandemic, the AEU’s Rebuild with TAFE campaign began in the most challenging of circumstances. Building on the decade-long campaigns for full and fair funding for all public education, preschools, schools and TAFE, the new campaign captured a spirit of positivity about the capacity of TAFE to make a transformative contribution to the lives and wellbeing of Australians, our community and our economy.
The political landscape prior to the 2022 election was bleak. A three-term conservative government had wrought great harm on many institutions across our community and TAFE was a key target. During its time in government, the Liberal-National Coalition used the privatisation of the provision of vocational education – through policies begun under a Labor government a decade ago – to set about systematically shifting funding from TAFE to for-profit, private providers and placing crippling debt on TAFE students.
All across Australia people know that TAFE provides high quality vocational education and has changed the lives of millions. Polling prior to the federal election showed that 94 per cent of Australians want more funding to be provided to TAFE.
With hundreds of campuses all around the country, TAFE can help Australia rebuild in response to the COVID crisis. The immediate future requires the education and deployment of 200,000 skilled workers, particularly in the care sector, without which the Australian economy will struggle and vulnerable members of our community will miss out. TAFE is perfectly positioned to provide skills, jobs, purpose and opportunities to millions more Australians, and help to create a positive future for all of us. The missing ingredient is funding.
The Rebuild with TAFE campaign set four clear goals to restore TAFE to its position as the premier provider of vocation education in Australia:
Additionally, the AEU will be lobbying the government to address the casualisation of the workforce, stagnant wages, tenuous employment, excessive hours, stability of programs and prioritising government-funded programs to be delivered by TAFE.
Attitude and action
The impact of the COVID pandemic was projected to have a strong negative impact on the capacity of the community to mobilise in support of campaigns during the election.
While this expectation was borne out in some sections of the community and in some electorates, in many seats the election campaign was characterised by intense campaigning around social issues generated by the community: climate change, integrity in politics and equality for women.
The Rebuild with TAFE campaign tapped into a strong sense of “it’s time” in the public education community. The call to action during the election was met by unprecedented commitments by AEU members and community members who stood up to be counted when it mattered for TAFE.
There were many more volunteers to “Do Your Block” than at the last election, progressive politicians clambered to visit TAFE and be seen to be supporting a pivotal community institution and the major policy announcements on public education by Labor were about TAFE.
Optimism and outcomes
The work of everyone involved in the campaign to Rebuild with TAFE has delivered cause for optimism.
The election of a majority Labor government with the capacity to pass legislation in the Senate with the support of the Australian Greens and one other senator provides a clear mandate for, and mechanisms for the delivery of, the policy commitments announced during the election.
Labor’s key election commitments:
The policy principles of the past government can be changed. The active encouragement of students to abandon quality vocational education at TAFE in favour of sub-standard private, for-profit providers can be reversed. The restoration of TAFE infrastructure can begin. A guarantee of funding for public TAFE equal to 70 per cent of all vocational education funding will enable TAFE to rebuild itself as it rebuilds our community.
There is still much to be done and the AEU’s Rebuild with TAFE campaign continues, emboldened with hope for a better future.
This article was originally published in the Winter 2022 edition of The Australian TAFE Teacher.
By Jonathan Guy
In the last issue of The Australian TAFE Teacher we examined the State of Our TAFEs survey results in relation to the impact of the pandemic on TAFE teachers’ working lives. In this issue we will examine the impact of funding and resourcing cuts over the past few years, and how these have affected TAFE teachers’ working hours and workloads, how a lack of investment in buildings and equipment is hampering TAFE teachers and how cost cutting is undermining course quality.
Workload remains a key area of concern and campaigning focus for the AEU, and there were several key questions designed to identify the current workload burden for TAFE members, and how these have changed over the past two years. These questions were:
Across all respondents working in TAFE, both full time and part time, working hours exceed contractual hours by at least one day per week on average. Full-time workers reported an average of 43.8 hours per week, average working hours 25.1 per cent above their average contractual working hours of 35 hours per week – this equates to more than an additional day of unpaid work every week.
As has been shown in international workload studies of further and higher education teaching staff, part-time workers reported that they are the most likely to work hours that substantially exceed their contracted work time.
In this survey, the average part-time TAFE employees who stated that their work time exceeds their contracted hours by an average of 39 per cent (an average of 28.1 hours of work per week while contracted for an average of 20.2 hours per week) and those employed on very small fractions (0.2 – 0.4 FTE) are most likely to report working well above their contracted hours with many reporting that they are working double the amount of time they are paid for each week.
Those at the earlier stages of their teaching careers are working the most excessive hours. On average, TAFE members in their first three years of working in the sector are working an average of 28 per cent more hours each week than they are contracted to work and 35.3 per cent are working in excess of 45 hours per week on average, 18.5 per cent are working more than 50 hours per week and some early-career teachers have reported working in excess of 70 hours per week.
Survey respondents were asked “over the last two years, other things being equal, have your working hours increased, stayed the same or reduced”. Across the sector three-quarters of people stated that their workload had increased over the last 5 years, with 41.6 per cent stating it had increased significantly and 32.9 per cent stating it had increased slightly. 19.6 per cent indicated that their working hours had not changed and less than 6 per cent stated that working hours had reduced.
In addition to increased and unsocial and non-family friendly extended working hours, a significant and important component of workload pressure and stress can result from having to work at a continually high and unrelenting pace or intensity.
The vast majority of staff reported that the pace and intensity of their workloads had indeed increased in recent years. Two thirds of respondents reported that the pace and intensity of their work had increased significantly in the last three years, and another 25 per cent reported that it had increased slightly. In total, the vast majority – 90 per cent – reported that the pace or intensity of their work had increased over the last two years. Only 3 per cent said that it had reduced, either significantly or slightly.
Are workloads manageable?
When asked whether they are able to manage their workloads day to day, 6.6 per cent said their workload is entirely unmanageable, 28.5 per cent reported that their workload is either unmanageable most or all of the time and 36.9 per cent said it is unmanageable half the time. In total, 65.4 per cent said their workload is unmanageable at least half the time and only 3.5 per cent of people said that their workload is entirely manageable.
Changes in work time composition
In addition to quantifying the hours worked and intensity of work performed by staff each week, a primary purpose of the survey was to determine whether the composition of workloads has changed over the last two years, and whether any changes had altered the relative proportion of time that staff in TAFE spend on the various tasks that constitute the whole of their workload.
In order to gain greater insight into the impact of any changes in workload composition by primary activity, respondents were also presented with a list of frequent work activities. All respondents were also asked to indicate whether any changes to workload composition had resulted in an increase or decrease in the pace or intensity of their working practice for each activity over the last two years.
By far, administration was seen as having the largest increase as a component of total work time, with 87.9 per cent saying that it has increased as a proportion of total work time in the last three years and 66.8 per cent saying it has increased significantly.
The impact of the pandemic on the composition of TAFE teachers’ work was clearly communicated in these results. Members responded that the time they spend on individual communications and student consultation increased significantly (68.4 per cent) as has time spent on online meetings (85.3 per cent) and course review and development for online delivery (68.4 per cent) and on preparing learning resources (73.9 per cent). Nearly two-thirds said that the time they spend preparing and assessing students re-sitting examinations has increased – a result that points to the failure of Competency Based Training as the dominant approach to learning in Vocational Education. It is telling the activities that members were least likely to have said increased as a proportion of their overall work: research, reading and time spent teaching.
Top factors affecting changes to workload
We asked survey respondents to rank the top five contributing factors to changes in their workload over the last two years.
The most frequently selected contributory factor for TAFE members was, by far, increased administrative work. This was selected as the number one factor by more than half of respondents and selected as the top factor affecting workload by more than three times any other factor shown in the list below.
More than half also selected a widening of duties considered to be within their remit as a major factor (58.5 per cent) and 54.6 per cent selected adapting to new systems required for working remotely.
We also asked respondents to select the top five factors that impact on their overall experience of work. Again, excessive administration was identified by the vast majority (89.9 per cent) as having a substantial impact on their work, followed by overall workload (86.6 per cent). The hours of work required was identified as a major contributor by 61.7 per cent of respondents, which suggests that the pace and intensity of work is a greater concern than excessive working hours. The approach of management toward staff was identified as a top contributing factor by 70.8 per cent.
Resources have declined, class sizes have increased and significant investment is needed
We asked TAFE members if they were aware of how funding cuts and resource limitations had affected their institution. Of those who were aware either way, 83 per cent said that their institution had stopped providing particular courses in the last three years, and across all subject areas a lack of funding was the most common reason for course closure, followed by insufficient student numbers and a lack of qualified teachers.
The most frequently defunded courses were Creative Arts, Engineering and Languages, Literacy and Numeracy and IT courses. More than two-thirds of those who were aware of their departmental budget said that it had decreased in the last two years and nearly half of those in teaching roles said class sizes had increased.
TAFE needs urgent investment in buildings and equipment
Improved IT equipment on site (51.2 per cent) and IT equipment for remote working (46.3 per cent) were cited as requiring significant additional investment to be brought up to standard by the highest proportion of respondents and considered to require some upgrading by an additional 32.2 per cent and 30 per cent respectively.
The need for substantial capital works and equipment investment in our TAFE campuses is so great, that across the eight areas of resource that we asked about, an absolute minority considered current levels of investment to be adequate. For IT equipment, studio equipment, materials to support workplace delivery, technical and administrative equipment and trade equipment, the percentage of TAFE members who considered investment to be adequate was between less than 10 per cent to 11.5 per cent.
Constant cost cutting is undermining education quality
TAFE institutes are increasingly engaged in the practice of what is often euphemistically referred to as the “shaving” of teaching hours from their courses. In reality, this practice is the slashing of the amount of time that teachers are allocated for direct teaching contact with students, unusually without any commensurate decrease in the amount of content they have to cover. This slashing of course contact hours can only compromise the quality of education that TAFE teachers are able to deliver.
63.8 per cent of TAFE teachers told us that they had had hours “shaved” from the courses they teach and nearly all (98.5 per cent) said they were still required to ensure that students cover everything required for their courses within the reduced hours.
97.8 per cent of those who have had hours slashed from their courses through “shaving” said that it will impact on the ability of students to successfully complete their courses, with the majority saying that impact will be significant (69.4 per cent).
On average, when hours were “shaved” from a course, direct contact teaching time for that course was reduced by nearly a quarter.
The most telling impact of the reductions in teaching time, additional administration load, move away from practical lessons, poor assessments and equipment that TAFE teachers reported through the State of Our TAFEs survey is that 80.1 per cent believe that their students are not receiving the same quality of education as they were two years ago. Unsurprisingly, 81 per cent identified a lack of funding as the primary factor in the decline in course quality.
The State of Our TAFEs survey presents a candid picture of a sector that has borne the brunt of nine years of a reckless focus on marketisation and cost cutting at the hands of the previous Coalition Government. The recent election of the Albanese Government and its promise of fee-free TAFE, its focus on manufacturing skills and its commitment to guarantee at least 70 per cent of Commonwealth funding to TAFE is reason for hope and optimism, although there is still much work that must be done to repair the damage wrought on the sector over almost a decade.
This article was originally published in the Winter 2022 edition of The Australian TAFE Teacher.
By Alison Pennington
Strong vocational education and training (VET) systems are vital to the education and empowerment of workers, and the success of inclusive and innovative economies. Australia’s TAFE system once provided well-established and dependable education-to-jobs pathways, but decades of policy vandalism reducing funding to Australia’s TAFE system and diverting growing volumes of public spending to private for-profit providers has plunged the VET system into a lasting and multidimensional crisis. Several high-profile skills announcements at a cost of several billion dollars were made by the Federal Government during the COVID pandemic – with JobTrainer and Boosting Apprenticeships wage subsidies the largest programs implemented. Despite the high-vis photo-ops promising a skills bonanza, the programs have failed to repair the severely weakened system for vocational education and training.
The Centre for Future Work’s report ‘Fragmentation & Photo-Ops’ released in March this year presents comprehensive evidence of the continued erosion of the vocational education system in the COVID era, and why rebuilding comprehensive, job-qualifying training through TAFE institutes is critical to a genuine, broad-based economic recovery from COVID. The statistics paint a grim picture of a VET system starved of consistent funding or focus, fragmenting into scattered offerings of non-accredited and micro-credential courses, mostly provided by private for-profit training companies. It shows the “contestable funding” project unleashed in the 2000s has deepened during the pandemic. VET’s effective privatisation has continued, with private VET providers receiving a growing share of all VET activity, and cheaper short-form, piecemeal training experiencing stronger growth than job-qualifying accredited training. Meanwhile, more TAFE institutes have been closed and enrolments have continued to decline.
Throwing money at businesses, not real training
The government’s signature $3.9 billion Boosting Apprenticeships Commencements program introduced in October 2020 has focused on lifting the number of workers contractually defined as “apprentices”, but done little to guarantee genuine skills training is undertaken or completed. After almost a decade of collapsing in-training apprentice and trainee numbers, there was a moderate increase of around 74,000 over 2020-21, spurred by rich subsidies (up to $28,000 per apprentice per year) for employers taking on new apprentices and trainees. But empirical evidence shows rising apprenticeships “on the books” are not being matched by any rise in completions. The number of completions collapsed to a new low in the year ending June 2021, with just 77,000 apprenticeship and traineeship completions – down almost two-thirds (64 per cent) since 2013. Along with poor employment conditions on the job, major reasons why apprenticeship completions have not improved under Boosting Apprenticeships include the strong incentives on employers to recycle heavily subsidised short-term apprentices, no requirements on employers to ensure apprentices finish programs after the 12-month subsidy period, lack of jobs on offer after completion, and lower 5-10 per cent subsidy rates under the government’s companion program Completing Apprenticeships. This apprentice “churn” wastes precious public investments and failed to halt the crisis in skills.
There is no evidence the skills pipeline has been either “protected” or replenished under current government VET policies. Australia has one-third (173,000) fewer apprentices and trainees in training than it had in 2012. Short-form, piecemeal units of study have expanded, while accredited quality training has collapsed by over 500,000 enrolments since 2015. Shockingly, all VET enrolment growth over the last five years has been in non-accredited programs, which have grown by almost 70,000 enrolments since 2015. The weakening of the formal accreditation process to meet industry standards has created big opportunities for private sector organisations to expand their influence in VET. The consequences of eroding legitimacy in formal accreditation are profound for workers, businesses and government alike. Risks emerge from reduced skills policy planning capacity and declining employer trust in VET qualifications. Meanwhile, workers risk financial penalties associated with course fees and time out of the workforce to train, only for their qualification to be unrecognised by other employers. This reduces worker bargaining power within that firm, and across the wider workforce too.
The report finds the number of apprenticeships and traineeships undertaken within the government’s own priority areas have contracted. In 2021 there were over 9,000 fewer human welfare services apprentices and trainees (covering training for the aged and disability care sectors) than at 2013 – a decline of 42 per cent.
Long-term contraction in feminised sector apprenticeships continued during 2021 (even under Boosting Apprenticeships), with men accounting for around three in five of all new apprentices in training in the year to June 2021. Once again, women’s jobs and the demands of feminised high-pressure industries have been deprioritised in favour of the optics of high-vis male tradies.
The game was rigged against TAFE
Australia’s vocational education system underwent dramatic restructuring after 2012, with funding cuts to the TAFE institutes, expanded scope for private training providers, and delivery of large public subsidies through individual students. The subsequent collapse of many private providers, combined with declining capacity in the TAFE system, and scandals involving the misallocation of public subsidies, have deeply damaged once-reliable vocational pathways. A recent index comparing education systems and labour market outcomes across 80 countries indicated that Australia’s VET system, once the envy of the world, had fallen to 20th. For mid-level skills capability, the ranking was even lower, falling to 38th.
The new funding regime built on public providers competing with private RTOs for funds was always rigged against the TAFE system. After decades of delivering a full infrastructure of public vocational education, the TAFE system had ongoing fixed and operating costs that private providers simply did not incur, making them “uncompetitive” in tendering. Higher costs borne by the TAFE system include the delivery of low-demand and high-cost courses critical to workforce needs, providing education and training to outer-regional and remote regions, infrastructure, capital projects, and the maintenance of industry and schools partnerships. TAFE institutes were stranded, operating with increasingly insecure funding as the proportion of contestable funds grew year to year, and public resources flowed to private VET provision – often to fly-by-night operations established with little capital or infrastructure. This forced the cash-strapped TAFE system to pare back offerings.
The result of this effective privatisation of VET is that by 2020, less than half (49 per cent) of all government-funded VET students were attending TAFE institutes, while 33 per cent attended private RTOs. The remaining government-funded students attended universities and schools (12 per cent) and community and enterprise education providers (6 per cent). TAFE staffing and funding have also eroded further. Over 8,800 full-time equivalent TAFE positions have been cut since 2012 across five states and territories. This represents a significant loss in Australia’s stock of trained educators. The necessary growth and repair of the TAFE system will be seriously hindered by this period of short-sighted, self-defeating policy making.
Broken skills system lines up with weakening economy
The continued collapse in TAFE enrolments and eight years of declining apprenticeship completions make it very clear: Australia’s domestic skills pipeline is in disarray. A broken skills system joins a growing list of worsening jobs, skills, wages and economic indicators that have accumulated in recent years. Since 2013, wages have grown at their slowest pace in the entire post-war era. The proportion of workers whose pay and conditions are determined by current collective agreements has dramatically declined, halving in the private sector from 22 per cent in 2013 to only 11 per cent in 2021. Business capital investment has also collapsed since 2012, falling to just 10.5 per cent of GDP by 2021 (a post-war low), despite billions allocated by government in tax breaks and other measures to stimulate a “business-led recovery”. Business investment in intellectual property also languishes at its lowest share of GDP this century, one-quarter below decade-earlier levels. In short, the deep failures of VET policy are just one major part of a broader failure of economic policy in Australia to motivate and encourage far-sighted investments of any kind in the economy: whether physical capital, innovation or skills.
Fortifying the house that TAFE built
Australia desperately needs a more proactive, hands-on approach to workforce training and planning. Despite chronic underfunding, our research shows the TAFE system continues to make a strong and disproportionate economic and social contribution to the Australian economy – underpinning over $92 billion in economic benefits accruing to workers, businesses and governments every year. But TAFE is so much more than an economic powerhouse. It provides wide social benefits including greater participation and cohesion through the delivery of critical skills and education to low socio-economic, regional and indigenous communities, and providing “bridges” between school into post-school training for people whose needs aren’t met by the current education system. TAFE graduates are also more likely to identify themselves as leaders in the community upon completing their studies compared with graduates of private providers. Without renewed investment in TAFE, the significant annual economic and social benefits generated by the stock of TAFE-trained skilled workers in the workforce will decay.
All this confirms the TAFE system is critically important to rebuilding a broad-based, shared economic recovery, and addressing growing systemic inequality in Australian society. Revitalising the TAFE system to its full potential, as the central element of a broader strategy to rebuild a more coherent and effective VET system, is a vital prerequisite for Australia’s full post-COVID recovery. A new approach to training would support comprehensive, quality, accredited qualifications, rather than short-term fragments of training, with revitalised TAFE institutes leading the nation’s skills reconstruction process. The report proposes that a minimum 70 per cent of public VET funding be reallocated through the TAFE system, rather than be funneled – directly or indirectly – to private providers.
Australia must commit to rebuilding the TAFE system’s leading role in reliable vocational education – the national skills policy infrastructure that can restore Australia’s long-term investment vision in its people, skills, and innovative sustainable industries.
This article was originally published in the Winter 2022 edition of The Australian TAFE Teacher.
By Michelle Purdy
This article was originally published in the Autumn 2022 edition of The Australian TAFE Teacher.
As the world embraces net zero emissions, Australia should be leveraging TAFE to develop the skills of Australian workers to create good, secure jobs as a leader in green energy production.
Australia has easy access to rich, green natural resources, with more solar energy potential than any other continent, making us the envy of the world. Yet, Australia is failing to harness these resources, paying ever increasing household energy bills and not pulling our weight when it comes to addressing the climate emergency.
With the election looming, the Clean Energy Council has charted a way for Australia to become a clean energy superpower. Central to its plan is the call for a $200 million clean energy skills package that offers targeted support for training facilities to upskill workers for critical transmission and renewable energy infrastructure development, particularly in the regions.
Research by the National Skills Commission backs up their vision of the renewable sector as a huge source of potential future jobs. They are calling jobs in this sector ‘emerging occupations’ – ones where they are seeing a new trend in frequent advertisements for jobs with new skills. In this case it is solar installers, energy efficiency engineers and wind turbine technicians. Yet, according to the Clean Energy Council, the renewable energy sector is experiencing significant difficulties recruiting workers with the right skills right now and this is stalling future projects. They argue existing training systems are not providing the right skills and say the fault lies with the federal government.
“This is the time to invest in the renewable energy labour market with targeted funding to support a growing and diverse regional workforce,” said Clean Energy Council Chief Executive, Kane Thornton.
While state and territory governments have become the torchbearers of policy ambition for Australia’s clean energy transition in recent years, the Clean Energy Council argues that it is the federal government that needs to take the lead on a strong and co-ordinated renewables strategy.
“This should include establishing a taskforce involving governments, unions, regulators and training and research bodies to understand and map future workforce needs and gaps and establish clear strategies to address them,” says Thornton.
AEU federal president Correna Haythorpe agrees; “the clearest strategy we need is to rebuild the renewable sector by providing targeted funding to TAFE. Instead of overseeing a skills crisis in this and so many other sectors on their watch, the federal government should have responded to the clear needs of the market by rebuilding with TAFE. Instead we have jobs that can’t be filled and projects that can’t get off the ground.”
The Clean Energy Council reports that only three major projects were signed off in the second quarter of last year which is 70% below 2018 levels. While a lot of the blame can be placed on the Morrison Government’s failure to understand the urgency of climate change and commit
to national targets, it is also his government’s failure to support emerging markets.
The Australia Institute’s chief economist Richard Denniss told Renew Energy Magazine that much of the problem comes down to the fundamental flaw in how infrastructure projects are conceived. “We’re pretending the real skill of infrastructure is cooking up the contracts and financing. We’ve got every merchant bank in the country saying ‘oh yes, we specialise in getting new infrastructure projects by successfully bidding to do something… Oh we’ve won the bid! Does anyone have ten thousand skilled staff willing to start? Oh, I thought you did’.”
TAFE leading by example
Despite nearly nine years of policy vandalism by the federal coalition governments and constant bickering over climate change policy, TAFEs are already demonstrating they can lead the way in skills training and education for this sector.
Setting students up for the future
Canberra Institute of Technology (CIT) is one example of TAFEs stepping up to meet the need. They offer training in solar technology including Solar Photo Voltaic, Battery Storage Systems, Small Battery Training and Grid Connection Training for electricians and apprentices. CIT is also an exclusive provider of Global Wind Organisation (GWO) certified training in the ACT and surrounding regional NSW. Ilsa Stuart, Senior Manager, Renewables at CIT said; “We offer training in renewable energy technology these courses include Grid Connected Photovoltaic systems as well as Battery Storage Systems Training for electricians and our apprentices can choose to do solar training as their elective during their apprenticeship. Students also undertake training with wind power generation installation and maintenance.”
“Training as an electric vehicle technician is also a growing area of interest as more people embrace electric cars, training includes some online learning with workplace simulations for apprentices.”
CIT student, Grant Napier, who studied a Certificate III in Electrotechnology including training in solar and batteries, says the course is setting him up for a future career in renewables.
“I am studying because I know it is a career where I am challenged to find solutions and where my skills are tested constantly.”
“The CIT training is preparing me for all I face at work. I am currently working in mechanical electrical installing mechanical services and plant equipment, and maintaining building management systems and doing electrical upgrades, and new installations. The training will help me shift into renewables work.”
WA leading the charge in the battery value chain
With demand for batteries forecast to accelerate up to 10-fold over the next decade, a research collaboration involving the WA State Government, South Metropolitan (SM) TAFE and the Future Battery Industries Cooperative Research Centre (FBICRC) is working to give Australia a competitive edge in the growing battery value chain.
A key partner in the collaboration, SM TAFE already works closely with BHP’s Nickel West, providing training for workers at its nickel sulphate plant. SM TAFE also trains electricians in battery energy storage systems installation, applied engineering, and in light automotive (mechanics) to de-power and initialise electric vehicles. The SM TAFE campus located at Munster in the Kwinana Industrial Area and Western Trade Coast precinct means the college is well placed to assist companies moving into battery minerals refining and chemical production to skill and reskill workers for future jobs.
North Metropolitan (NM) TAFE is training Western Power and Horizon workers in the installation and maintenance of standalone power systems; and is moving into training for the maintenance and management of network battery, wind and solar power. NM TAFE is also training mining workers in minerals extraction, both relevant to the mining and processing of battery minerals.
The Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority (ACECQA) predicts the sector will need an extra 30,000 educators and 9000 teachers by 2023.
The recent Federal Budget provided long-awaited certainty on preschool funding, as well as changes to child care subsidies, which are aimed particularly at helping more women return to work when they want to. While extremely beneficial, these measures should also be supported by proper workforce planning to ensure that the sector has the workforce needed for the future.
Teachers and educators working in preschool, kindergarten and long daycare services, as well as family daycare services must meet the qualification requirements set under the National Quality Framework – which range from Certificate III through to Diploma and Bachelor degree qualifications.
With the demand for educators, in particular, skyrocketing TAFE is well placed to provide the vocational education and training needed to support and deliver the qualified personnel to meet this increasing demand right across the country.
As the leading provider of vocational education in Australia, TAFE supports the delivery, training and assessment for students undertaking Certificate III, Certificate IV, Diploma and in some locations Bachelor qualifications required for early childhood educators and teachers under the National Quality Framework.
The federal government’s National Workforce Strategy must recognise TAFE as the solution for addressing the workforce shortage. There is strong evidence that TAFE is the preferred choice for most employers thanks to its stellar reputation in the sector.
Liz Ingram, Head Teacher of Early Childhood Education at Tamworth TAFE explains “TAFE has a sound reputation among Early Childhood employers. TAFE Early Childhood Teachers work diligently and collaboratively with local Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) services in their community to ensure the provision of quality work placement opportunities for student educators. This gives TAFE students the edge and makes them the preferred choice time and again over students from private providers.”
“By studying through TAFE – students have access to the guidance of dedicated and professional teachers who are passionate and experienced in the early childhood sector and who deliver the training in a holistic and personal manner, catering to the students’ individual needs and also linking students to relevant support services throughout their learning journey”.
It has been demonstrated time and again that the quality of the early childhood and care sector is inextricably tied to the quality of training provided to those who work in it and this is what gives TAFE graduates the edge.
For Michelle Purdy, Federal TAFE President and Support Services Worker at TasTAFE, ensuring students are job ready is more than just gaining essential industry experience. “TAFE is the full package. All TAFE students can take advantage of support services that assist students who may need extra support with their literacy and numeracy skills. We also o�er dedicated support in English language for migrants who may need it. TAFE also has targeted support programs for Aboriginal students and migrants, which goes a long way to making preschools and other early childhood settings more culturally safe and inclusive when they complete their qualifications.”
The support and encouragement of dedicated teachers made a real impact on one of Liz Ingram’s students who studied for a Certificate II and enjoyed it so much she enrolled at the local TAFE to continue the pathway onto a Certificate III in early childhood and then a Diploma in early childhood studies, which quickly led to a job in the sector. After a long career in childcare she returned to TAFE to do her Certificate IV in Training and Assessment and now teaches the next generation of educators at TAFE.
She is just one of the many committed students that Liz Ingram has taught over her 22 years teaching. Ingram wants to see TAFE properly funded and resourced with more highly qualified staff who are adequately supported.
“Our passion is education, that’s why we’ve become TAFE teachers. It’s very disappointing to have that passion continuously knocked out of you as a result of not being able to get funding,” Ingram says.
AEU Federal President Correna Haythorpe wants the federal government to launch a coordinated effort to put TAFE at the forefront of an urgently needed early childhood education workforce strategy.
“TAFE’s regional footprint would enable governments to target local needs effectively ensuring that students can study and potentially work in their local communities. Leaving the creation of a major pipeline of workers to the whims of a contestable market won’t address shortages” she says.
“But first the federal government need to restore the more than $3 billion funding cut from TAFE and training since 2013, including the nearly half a billion cut in 2018 and 2019 alone.”
The Early Childhood sector is clearly in need of an effective national strategy for workforce renewal. Only TAFE can provide the wrap around support that is needed to lift completion rates and only TAFE has the nationwide and regional presence to train educators where they are most needed.
It is not only the early childhood education and care sector that would benefit, childcare workers are a lynchpin of Australia’s economy. As the pandemic has proven, without access to childcare, participation for parents in the workforce is stymied. A strong early childhood education and care sector supports Australians in work and boosts productivity. Indeed, unlocking the productivity gains that come from increasing women’s workforce participation would increase Australia’s GDP by $60 billion over the next twenty years according to KPMG.
Restoring funding to TAFE will create a triple dividend for Australia: a skilled and capable workforce to address current and future regional shortages, increased workforce participation to boost the economy and improved early learning outcomes for Australian children.
“To continue providing students with high-quality learning opportunities that give them the necessary theoretical and practical skills, it is vital that TAFE is properly funded by all governments," says Ingram. “Governments must also recognise the pivotal role of Early Childhood Education as a vital influence on a child’s formative years. Such recognition must influence and shape future policies that grow a skilled Early Childhood Educator workforce, with sufficient educators to meet the demand.”
Even before COVID upended the lives of young people, they were already having to face the disruptions of the fourth industrial revolution (Industry 4.0) with its changes to the way we work, live and study. Advances in technology and increased automation were making it more difficult for young people to find entry level positions in an already highly competitive job market. It’s hardly surprising that the youth unemployment rate was already twice the national unemployment average pre-COVID. Then with the lockdowns hitting the biggest employers of young people hardest – the hospitality and retail industries – more young people lost their jobs and life became even more uncertain.
So it’s surprising to hear the Government spruiking a national unemployment rate that is falling, but don’t be fooled, it’s not due to signs that job market prospects are looking up. Alison Pennington of the Centre for Future Work has pulled together the unemployment rate and, importantly the underemployment rate, to reveal the underutilization rate. It shows a fifth of the population - 20 per cent - are not working as much as they would like. Young people particularly are taking up casual work and working fewer hours, meaning they don’t get counted in the official statistics as unemployed. Some have reportedly even given up looking for work all together. As Alison puts it in a media interview: “The official unemployment rate is just the tip of the iceberg. Underneath that iceberg is a great chasm of people falling behind in the labour market that's failing to put them into jobs”.
Listening to the Morrison Government you would think the answer to youth unemployment is simple: Young people should make an investment in themselves and undertake a short course in a new skill area. Preferably one that helps plug the gaping skills shortages that have become progressively wider over the last eight years of Liberal governments.
The money that is being shovelled into short courses is astonishing, as if it is the panacea to full employment. But as Professor John Buchan highlighted at the recent 2021 NCVER VET Conference, while everyone is talking of skills shortages and VET reform, the issue of job scarcity remains ignored. We need to be focusing on the real issue of how safe, secure and well-paid jobs for young people will be created.
Yet, in times of high unemployment, it is easy for governments and employers to push the issue back onto workers by selling them the idea they need to get ‘rackable and stackable’ credentials to prove their skills. But, this is doing young people a disservice. These shorter qualifications limit education to the teaching of narrowly defined skill sets. They deny people the broader education they gain from a longer qualification to enable them to deal with the complexities of the modern workplace and become better prepared for their future.
Last month I visited the TAFE SA Giles Plain campus to meet with some of the teachers and students in the Early Education and Care program. I spoke to the students about why they chose a longer TAFE qualification and, not surprisingly, their response was the opportunity to get a well-rounded, high quality education. They valued the learning experience, support services and chance to become part of a community as much as the qualification. They also felt their TAFE course was highly respected in the ECE community. Unfortunately, the SA Government has decided to privatise these courses in Adelaide which means TAFE will no longer provide these courses from next year. These students can no longer undertake a diploma at TAFE after their Certificate III. As one student, Yang Gao studying for her Certificate III, summed up; “Education is not a business. We need qualified and professional educators, who have studied at TAFE” I couldn’t agree more.
On National TAFE day, AEU delegations lobbied MPs to ensure that they understand that TAFE should not be relegated to just another business in a competitive market, but elevated out of the market and respected as the anchor vocational education institution, system or provider, attracting the best of industry to educate future generations and help them prepare and re-imagine their futures.
TAFE must be viewed as repositories of expertise. A vocation takes years of dedicated practice to master and the act of passing down a rich history of knowledge and skills to the next generation should be better appreciated by all governments. TAFE institutes should be cherished as places where communities of practice can flourish and deep knowledge can be developed with a personal touch, rather than tying funding to outcomes or churning out short courses.
The infrastructure is already there, TAFE already has the teaching staff prepared to go the extra mile and the wrap-around services to give personal support to students, get to know them, advocate for them, and assist them on their lifelong, life-wide education journey.
New research by Monash University ‘Life, Disrupted: Young people education and employment before and after COVID-19’ backs up the power of this approach, concluding: “It is our contention that the job of educators is not just about developing in individuals the skills to navigate uncertainty, but to work with our students to imagine and create the conditions for a better, more secure life.”
While the Federal Government continues to push the message that all you need is a quick credential, it’s interesting to look overseas and see that post-secondary colleges like Lambton College in Canada are already pivoting skills training to look beyond Industry 4.0 and take a new direction.
They are questioning the place of machines in society and prioritising humanisation and inclusivity. As a public college they are committed to creating a fairer society by embedding Indigenous knowledge across their curriculum to prepare students for an interdependent world. They are calling this approach Industry 5.0, and supporting their students to redefine the future.
Australia should also be taking this opportunity to redefine our future. We know that society works best when it maximises the potential of all its citizens and there is opportunity for all, so equity should be our top priority as a society. We can make this an equitable and youth based recovery post COVID. It’s just a matter of political will. TAFE is ready to meet this challenge but needs funding and the backing of all governments to do so.
It’s time for a new social contract. One that puts the emphasis on government to provide the conditions for the safe and secure, well-paid jobs of the future. Governments need to leverage fiscal policy to support employment growth and, rather than meddling in VET reform, invest in TAFE to give students a high-quality education and a chance to determine their future.
11 August 2021
Critical industries like childcare, ICT, carpentry and plumbing are at risk of significant workforce shortages, which would undermine the strength of Australia’s COVID-19 economic recovery according to the Australian Education Union.
Investment in TAFE would help ensure a sustainable supply of highly trained workers and support people to gain the skills they require to get good jobs, Australian Education Union Deputy Federal President Meredith Peace said.
“TAFE has suffered over $3 billion in Federal Government funding cuts since 2013. Instead of adequate TAFE investment, the Federal Coalition has used taxpayers’ funds for poor quality private training colleges and the failing job network.
“TAFE is the centre of our vocational education system. Public TAFE institutions are ideally placed to train the workforces our nation needs to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The Federal Government’s Skills Priority List shows 153 professions with current workforce shortages and projects an additional 144 will experience moderate to strong levels of future demand by 2025.
Analysis of Federal Government’s Labour Market Information Portal shows a shortage of more than 207,600 workers in the next five years in critical industries including childcare, aged and disability care, hospitality, carpentry, plumbing, and ICT.
“In order to ensure these industries have the highly trained workforce they require to function effectively, Australia requires a properly funded TAFE system,” Ms Peace said.
“Today, on National TAFE Day, the AEU is inviting the community to support our Rebuild with TAFE campaign and sign an open letter to the Prime Minister calling for a guaranteed minimum of 70 per cent of total government funding for the public TAFE system.
“Without proper investment in TAFE, the Federal Government will fail to provide the education and training workers need to get real jobs. They will also fail to ensure critical industries have the highly skilled workforces they need to deliver the services we all rely on.
Media contact: Alys Gagnon, 0438 379 977, [email protected]
Jobs with shortages and strong future demand
The current Skills Priority List includes 153 professions with current shortages, 57 of these will also have strong future demand and another 87 are classified as having moderate future demand to 2025.
Among occupations with strong future demand in the five years from November 2020 to November 2025 according to projections in the Federal Governments Labour Market Information Portal are:
All these jobs are at qualification levels that TAFE delivers - skill level 4 (cert II or III) to skill level 2 (Diploma or Advanced Diploma).
Every year, National TAFE Day provides the opportunity to celebrate the achievements of the public TAFE system as a highly regarded educational institution which has supported and provided opportunities for individuals, communities and employers for decades.
It’s also a time to demand the politicians properly fund and support TAFE.
Due to COVID-19 activities this year will primarily be online. See some of our suggested actions are below and more actions will be added on 11 August.
With hundreds of campuses all around the country, TAFE provides high quality vocational education for all and is perfectly positioned to help Australia rebuild, but it urgently needs guaranteed funding to do so. The Morrison government is failing to ensure TAFE has the funding needed. Add your name to our letter to the Prime Minister here.
The lack of support for TAFE impacted deeply even before the COVID crisis, because TAFE needs funding to provide skills, jobs, purpose and opportunities to millions of Australians and to keep our economy strong.
Now more than ever we need to invest in a positive future for all of us.
That’s why we need you to take action to #RebuildWithTAFE and tell all federal politicians to guarantee TAFE funding for a positive future.
There are a number of things you can do to take action as part of this important day.
Before National TAFE day
On National TAFE Day
The Australian Education Union (AEU) is calling on governments across the country to make TAFE their first priority as Australia looks to rebuild from the COVID-19 pandemic and tackle the country’s skills crisis.
The AEU launched the ‘Rebuild with TAFE’ campaign in Canberra today and used the launch to call on governments to properly fund TAFE and maximise the system’s potential to assist with the economic re-build, re-skill and upskill workers, address the apprentice shortage, reduce youth unemployment and provide career pathways for all Australians.
AEU Federal President Correna Haythorpe said the TAFE system is a hugely valuable asset that is being neglected by the Federal Government and many state governments.
“We’re launching the Rebuild with TAFE campaign because we’re sick of governments and politicians putting TAFE last and letting a critical part of Australia’s economy and education sector waste away.”
TAFE has seen its funding cut by $3 billion since 2013 and is also suffering from the Federal Government’s privatisation agenda which has driven people away from TAFE and increased the amount of low-quality private training providers.
“All over Australia TAFE institutes are struggling with the impact of these funding cuts and poor policy decisions resulting in the loss of jobs and the cutting of courses. This is disastrous for the communities they support and must be addressed urgently.”
Australia is facing many challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic and as the public provider of vocational education TAFE is best placed to address those challenges if it is properly funded and supported.
“Australia currently has a shortage of 200,000 apprentices while at the same time we also have plenty of Australians who are out of work. Rebuilding with TAFE will help our unemployed to re-train, upskill or get an apprenticeship and gain meaningful employment.
“The National Cabinet itself has determined that skills is one of the six key priorities for the government, yet the Federal Government won’t properly fund the public provider of vocational education. That doesn’t make any sense.”
TAFE is responsible for $92.5 billion per year in annual economic benefit to Australia, 16 times more than the annual cost to maintain the provider, but these longstanding and ongoing benefits would be permanently lost if governments fail to rebuild with TAFE.
A 2020 national survey found that 94 per cent of Australians want to see more federal funding for TAFE and research has consistently found that Australians see TAFE as a vital part of Australia’s education sector that can provide career, social and economic opportunities for people from a wide range of backgrounds.
Proper funding for TAFE will increase available courses, increase the number of campuses, and ensure high quality vocational education that will improve the lives of millions of Australians.
“Australians trust and support TAFE and know the system can help re-build our economy, but we need our governments and politicians to show that same support by investing in TAFE to rebuild Australia socially and economically.
“TAFE touches so many aspects of our society and economy from the arts and fashion, to construction, health and early childhood education, to opportunities for young people in rural and regional areas, and we cannot afford to lose it.
“As we head to the next federal election, all political parties must commit to rebuilding with TAFE and we’ll be campaigning to make sure they understand how important this issue is to our communities.”
A Fifty Acres-Pollinate Survey among a nationally representative sample of 1001 Australians aged 18+ has found that almost all Australians feel it’s important that federal funding to TAFE is increased in order to help recovery from the recession.
94% of those surveyed said it was important that federal government increase funding to TAFE for the post-recession rebuild and recovery, with 45% saying it was “very important”. Just 2% said it was not important.
Quotes attributable to Meredith Peace, Federal Deputy President of the Australian Education Union:
“This survey vindicates our call for the Federal Government to abandon the market model of vocational education and immediately increase TAFE funding.”
“The people of Australia trust and respect TAFE and it is time for the Scott Morrison government to show the same trust and respect by providing TAFE the funding it needs.”
“TAFE is perfectly positioned to be a critical institution in the post-COVID-19 rebuild and recovery of Australia – the public recognises this, so why doesn’t Scott Morrison?”
“We’ve just had a federal budget that was silent on TAFE and provided absolutely no new funding. Why is the Morrison government so ideologically opposed to doing what almost all Australian’s see as common sense – boost funding to TAFE for the sake of Australia’s recovery?”
How important is it that the federal government increase funding to TAFE for the post-recession rebuild and recovery? (%)
MEDIA CONTACT: MEREDITH PEACE, 0425 743 961
About Fifty Acres-Pollinate Poll
The Fifty Acres-Pollinate Poll is a resource for serious journalism and not-for-profit advocacy in Australia - leading media outlets and NFPs are invited to submit questions and gratis that will form part of the fortnightly polls. The partnership between Canberra’s leading engagement agency Fifty Acres and strategic research consultancy, Pollinate, is a new entrant in the Australian polling landscape in 2020 and takes a very different approach to ascertain how Australians think and feel about a range of issues.
The poll is an online survey conducted amongst 1,000 Australians aged 18+. The poll sample is nationally representative with quotas based on 2016 ABS statistics on key demographics including age, gender & region.