Skills and Education


Recommendation Summary

  • Complete the consolidation of resources focused on labour market and skills needs analysis and allocate sufficient resources to deliver an updated workforce development strategy in 2019-20, and every second year thereafter
  • Rationalise and improve federal government career and labour market websites, upgrade the school-facing career education strategy to a career development strategy for lifelong career advice and information, and make it easier for industry knowledge to become available to career planners, students and job seekers.
  • Maximise the return on investment in apprenticeships by establishing a program to assist each industry to identify the most appropriate pre-apprenticeship and school based pathways in order to deliver the best outcomes for students and job seekers.
  • Implement an additional kick-start apprenticeship incentive from 1 May 2019 to 31 December 2019.
  • Establish a National Apprenticeship Board.
  • Allocate $10 million to the Real Skills for Real Careers marketing strategy, turning it into a well-funded campaign.
  • Increase the caps on VET Student Loans where evidence demonstrates inadequacy in covering the cost of delivering quality courses that are meeting industry needs.
  • Higher education reform should be restarted based on: evidence of graduate outcomes; as part of a review of tertiary education in general; and, the extent to which the education system is meeting the needs of the labour market.

One of the areas where increased investment by Government can be justified is in the development of skills provided it is effectively designed and targeted. Over the last decade we have seen substantial increases in federal government investment in early learning, schools and higher education, but a reduction in investment in vocational education and training. As a long term goal, the role of the Commonwealth Government versus the States and Territories in all levels of education and training requires a strategic overhaul as there is increasing duplication and cost shifting across the system. In the meantime, there are a number of actions that can be taken by the Federal Government to improve skills development.

1. Improve Workforce Development Planning

The improvement in labour market analysis and forecasting in the Department of Jobs and Small Business is acknowledged. However, there is a long way to go before decisions regarding skills and training needs, as well as skilled migration occupation lists and employment policy and programmes are consolidated. It is essential that this rationalisation continues and then leveraged to ensure strong analysis of current and future skill needs is released to industry and career planners in a timely way.

The now-disbanded Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency previously issued a biannual workforce development strategy from 2008 to 2012. It also worked with state and territory workforce planning experts. Whether this function is performed by a separate agency, or within a department operating with the support of an independent advisory board, it is essential that a process to develop a strategic plan for workforce development is put in place. This function is all the more important since skills shortage as well as a better informed careers market have emerged as key priorities for the business community. A regular workforce development strategy will make the connection needed between labour supply and demand, and identify gaps in the skills development effort.

Policy Recommendation: 

  • Complete the consolidation of resources focused on labour market and skills needs analysis and allocate sufficient resources to deliver an updated workforce development strategy in 2019-20, and every second year thereafter.

2. Better Career Information and Advice

Governments, fee paying students and employers will benefit if courses being delivered are, to the best extent possible, meeting the needs of the labour market. Meeting this objective requires a wellinformed market and strong industry-voice within the education and training system.

At the federal level, urgent action is needed to have a whole-of-government approach to career information, including a rationalisation of the public facing career websites. Outcomes would be improved by concurrent action on the consolidation of labour market analysis (see 4.3.2). Action is also needed to make it easier for industry knowledge to become available to career planners, students and job seekers.

Across governments, the federal government should take the lead in converting the career education strategy into a broader career development strategy covering lifelong access to information and advice, and develop an agreed set of actions with the State and Territory government, industry and career stakeholders to implement the strategy.

The VET information site, training.gov.au and the higher education equivalent qilt.edu.au should be targeted for further improvement to ensure students, parents and career advisers have the latest information about graduate employment and salary outcomes and student satisfaction. Most importantly, the sites need to be better publicised to ensure that students and job seekers are fully aware of outcomes being achieved. CCIQ has consistently called for qilt.edu.au to have a change of brand and domain name as it is not intuitive as a location for information about higher education course outcomes.

Policy Recommendation:

  • Rationalise and improve federal government career and labour market websites, upgrade the school facing career education strategy to a career development strategy for lifelong career advice and information, and make it easier for industry knowledge to become available to career planners, students and job seekers.

3. Apprenticeship kick-start and National Apprenticeship Reform

CCIQ welcomes the Government’s affirmation made in November 2018 that all monies collected under the Skilling Australians Fund (SAF) Migration Training Levy will be invested in the Vocational Education and Training sector. Although it is disappointing two states did not sign up to the SAF, it is time to focus on obtaining the best outcomes from the focused apprenticeship investment.

The unallocated funds in SAF arising from the non-participation of Victoria and Queensland and theunderspend in 2017-18 should be applied to:

  • An additional kick-start commencement incentive to employers of $2,500 for trade apprentices and $1,500 for trainees to operate from budget night (or at latest 1 May 2019) for eight months to 31 December 2019.
  • Promotion of the kick-start incentive throughout the period  Extra support for mentoring over the six month period to focus on completions of trade apprenticeships.
  • Programs aimed at improving pre-apprenticeships and apprenticeship pathways from school (see below)

Key features of this proposal are:

  • It focuses on traineeships as well as trade apprenticeships.
  • It is supported by evidence. It was clear from the removal of incentives for traineeships in 2012, the impact this loss had on the number of commencements. For the trade, the evidence from the last kick-start additional incentive in 2008 also strongly supports its chance of success.
  • That the incentive should be applicable to all trainees and apprentices including those excluded by the damaging 2011-12 changes such as Cert II, part time and existing employees traineeships, but with appropriate boundaries that address concerns. For example, employers of trainees who are transitioning from casual work while at school to a full time traineeship post-school should be eligible, as should trainees employed on return to work after caring responsibilities who may only be able to work part time. In addition, Cert II incentives could potentially only be available to small businesses.

The return on investment in apprenticeships through the SAF and other federal and state program will be improved by focusing on two key areas of reform. These are:

Pre-apprenticeships – These are a key feature of the SAF and it is important to ensure various different approaches do not emerge based on small industry groups or individuals operating at state level. Industry is keen to play its part in that coordination, but a more efficient and effective approach needs to be initiated. To achieve this, a review of pre-apprenticeship pathways on an industry by industry basis is needed to encourage the coordination and establish clearer guides to what will be acceptable. This will also capture what pre-apprenticeships could be delivered in schools, and ensure that problems created by competency based progression do not limit the opportunities for young people to take up apprenticeships beyond school.

VET for School Students - With a similar goal in mind, the Government also needs to also establish a national process that:

  • Identifies at each industry level the most relevant and useful vocational training to be delivered to school students (both in terms of qualifications and quality of delivery)
  • Examines the barriers to school-based apprenticeships while working with industry, school sectors and states to improve opportunities.
  • As a complement to VET delivery, explore the possibility of an applied learning elective subject(s) in Year 11 and/or 12 that allows students to apply academic learning in practical contexts and incorporates pre- apprenticeships or VET pathways that will better articulate to further education and apprenticeships beyond school.
  • Differentiates vocational learning from VET with the aim of ensuring that VET qualifications are only delivered when the ingredients for quality delivery exist; otherwise develop a more common view of the opportunities for vocational learning that will achieve school goals of engagement as well as employability outcomes.

The Government needs to establish National Apprenticeship (Trades) Board to determine, at a national level, which VET qualifications are suitable for apprenticeships and traineeships. This would support a single national approach to determining which qualifications are apprenticeships and traineeships and the duration of that program. With agreement of the States, this would be a delegated authority to take over the role undertaken in each of the eight jurisdictions.

4. Establish a national apprenticeship advisory board

CCIQ has been an advocate for a national apprenticeship leadership body since before the SAF was announced and has consistently argued that the SAF negotiations would have been improved and completed in a more timely way if an advisory board had been established on commencements of the SAF negotiations. It is not too late to act.

The apprenticeship advisory board will seek to inform the implementation of projects submitted under the SAF National Partnership Agreements, as well as provide input and oversight on national reform projects (as suggested above) and improvements to the apprenticeship system including promotional effort. The Board would also be well positioned to examine any issues in the apprenticeship system that are creating barriers for take up by either the employer or the job seeker.

With agreement through COAG, the advisory board could become a national trades board enabling the efficient delivery of national recognition of qualifications for trades and apprenticeship and traineeship pathways. It is an inefficiency in the system that industry has to deal with eight jurisdictions to advocate for a qualification to be recognised as an apprenticeship, and the differences across the jurisdiction create unnecessary confusion.

Policy Recommendation: 

  • Maximise the return on investment in apprenticeships by establishing a program to assist each industry to identify the most appropriate pre-apprenticeship and school based pathways in order to deliver the best outcomes for students and job seekers.
  • Implement an additional kick-start apprenticeship incentive from 1 May 2019 to 31 December 2019. 
  • Establish a National Apprenticeship Board.

5. Marketing of VET

The Government needs to better promote apprenticeships and VET to job seekers and employers. The $5.4 million over four years announced in 2018 MYEFO to promote apprenticeships to be coordinated by World Skills is a useful start, but more is needed. Although there is national effort already in this area with websites, champions and other channels for promotion, there is a need for a national communications strategy and a coordinated and well-funded campaign to promote apprenticeships and traineeships and the VET sector overall. VET is a rewarding and positive pathway for school leavers and develops the skills needed for the future. Another important component is improving information about VET courses and job comparisons as well as accurate information about the benefits of an apprenticeship, especially to careers advisers in schools. Career Advisers are often not full time in that task, and are not sufficiently resourced or equipped to provide up to date information on the benefits of an apprenticeship.

The Government has an opportunity to correct this through the current marketing strategy named Real Skills for Real Careers. Although it is not backed by any resources, it is a step in the right direction and needs to be well funded to create impact in the market.

Policy Recommendation: 

  • Allocate at least $10 million to the Real Skills for Real Careers marketing strategy to make it a more effective, well-funded campaign.

6. Improve Funding Equity between VET and Higher Education

VET Student Loans (the replacement for the discredited VET FEE HELP program) provides to students studying higher level VET, in principle, the equivalent support to higher education HECS HELP program. In reality, the two programs are significantly different, with VET Student Loans limited by which qualifications it covers and a three tier cap on the amount that students can borrow. There is also a 25% loan premium paid by students except where states and territories have agreed to assume some of the debt responsibility.

After an extensive consultation process about the Course List and caps instrument within which the industry participated in good faith over twelve months ago, the government failed to address the shortcomings in the caps and the program that are resulting in a significant reduction in the number of higher level VET qualifications being undertaken.

Policy Recommendation: 

  • Increase the caps on VET Student Loans where evidence demonstrates inadequacy in covering the cost of delivering quality courses that are meeting industry needs.

7. Higher Education

In the last few years, the Australian Government has had two unsuccessful attempts at higher education reform. Although Australia’s higher education sector has many strengths, further reform is needed to maximise the public investment and ensure better outcomes for students and industry. Employment and salary outcomes for students are very mixed, with some disciplines achieving great outcomes, while other graduates struggle to obtain more meaningful employment following study.

To inform our input into this important national discussion, the CCIQ has identified nine key principles that should guide policy and funding decisions relating to higher education. In summary these principles are:

  1. Sound policy requires a holistic approach to tertiary education
  2. Higher education students need to be better informed
  3. There should be equitable access, stronger pathways and greater choice in higher education
  4. Higher education should be industry-informed
  5. Higher education funding and reform should be evidence-based
  6. Higher education should be delivered through high quality teaching and strong regulation
  7. Higher education funding requires greater transparency
  8. Student contributions to higher education should continue
  9. Higher education funding should be fiscally responsible and outcomes driven

There were many aspects of the Government’s 2017 reform proposals that were aligned with these principles and were supported including:

  • A lowering of the HECS HELP income level in line with evidence  Introducing a performance component into the funding to link funding to student outcomes
  • Stronger commitment to equity funding for lower socio economic and disadvantaged students
  • Support for Work Integrated Learning to be a stronger feature of higher education delivery

The extension of sub-bachelor funding only to universities and not private providers was not supported. Changes in sub-bachelor funding should only occur if it includes all accredited higher education providers and is done as part of a holistic discussion about tertiary education to ensure the impact on VET is taken into account. This is particularly important given the regulatory and cost restrictions around VET Student Loans and the reduced funding by the States/Territories of higher level VET qualifications.

Given the significant increase in funding for higher education, the efficiency dividend cuts and acrossthe-board shift in student contribution increases proposed in the final budget package were understandable but a blunt instrument for fiscal savings. Commonwealth contributions to second undergraduate degrees is one area worthy of further examination as it does not deny equitable access to the initial degree, and the evidence is weak that two undergraduate degrees provides much better job outcomes. Post-graduate funding was also in the proposed reform, and remains worthy of review. Increasingly, young graduates with no work experience are pursuing master’s degrees even though in many disciplines maximum benefit of further study at a higher level will be best achieved in the context of work experience.

Finally, higher education reform needs to occur as part of a review of tertiary education in general. Funding and policies of higher education have an impact on VET. There is much inconsistency between the policy approaches to each sector. The review also needs to take into account the extent to which tertiary education is meeting the needs of the labour market. In this context, concurrent progress on a workforce development strategy (see 4.3.2) would deliver a better informed review process.

Policy Recommendation: 

  • Higher education reform should be restarted based on: evidence of graduate outcomes; as part of a review of tertiary education in general; and, the extent to which the education system is meeting the needs of the labour market.