Should businesses care about the changes to vocational education and training?
Businesses which rely on Queensland’s vocational education and training (VET) system to skill their current and future employees will no doubt be wondering what all the changes in this space will mean for them.
The ultimate question on their minds will be whether the changes will help or hinder in finding the right people they need, with the right skills, at the right time.
Major changes in the VET system include:
- The introduction of the VET Student Loans to replace the failed VET FEE-HELP scheme;
- A $1.5 billion Skilling Australians Fund to deliver an additional 300,000 apprentices and trainees over the next four years (replacing the National Partnerships Agreement); and
- Careers Australia, alongside a number of other major VET providers, being placed into voluntary administration.
In regards to the new student funding scheme, VET Student Loans, there is no doubt that the previous system needed a clean-up.
But the devil is always in the detail and as the new scheme has unfolded with loan caps, limited course lists and significant restrictions and rules, this is set to acutely impact on businesses who require employees with higher qualification levels.
The changes perhaps underestimate the delivery cost of quality, job-facing training and may result in the under-skilling of our future workforce.
The abolishment of the National Partnerships Agreement, to be replaced by the $1.5 billion Skilling Australian Fund, may also cause concern due to its narrow focus on “priority areas”.
With the Federal Government giving itself the responsibility of defining industries and occupations in need and shortage, there is the risk of disengaging the bulk of the economy and ending up with an unfair or inapt system stemming from the government essentially “picking winners”.
VET providers, such as Careers Australia, going into voluntary administration is certainly a bad outcome for current students, who may not be able to finish their course and fall out of the system completely, and for the thousands of employees who are now left without a job.
But the silver lining in the recent collapses is that stricter rules around government funding for the VET providers who are doing the right thing will ensure quality and credibility is placed back into the system.
If the government is willing to accept greater industry input into the new VET Student Loans scheme and the Skilling Australian Fund, it could result in a successful system that respects taxpayers’ money and provide a boost to industries which desperately need it.
As part of CCIQ’s 2017 State Budget Submission, CCIQ is calling for strategies that can harmonise with these recent changes to the VET system to ensure businesses can still access a skilled workforce to meet their business needs.
Businesses have specifically indicated that incentives will be the major motivator for taking on an apprentice or trainee, which the government can implement through a number of ways including bonuses, payroll tax exemptions and incentives around WorkCover premiums.
Strategies outlined in CCIQ’s State Budget Submission include:
- De-risk businesses when they take on apprentices and/or trainees through providing more attractive incentives, reducing the amount of red tape and providing more support programs for apprentices and trainees.
- Focus on facilitating access to education and training not only for youth transitioning from school, but also for those already in the workforce who want or need to upskill to remain active in the job market.
- Provide a funding boost to successful State Government programs that are addressing unemployment as well as escalating youth unemployment, particularly in the regions, such as the Back-to-Work program and Skilling Queenslanders for work.
- Re-introduce a similar program to the Queensland Apprenticeship Pledge which incentivised businesses that had not previously employed an apprentice to become involved.
It is important to remember that different professions require different qualifications, and many of the jobs offered in Queensland require the hands-on training delivered by VET providers to fill our skills needs.
While this includes electricians, plumbers, construction workers and bakers, other occupations lie within our growing services sector, plus fast-growth industries such as healthcare, biotech and cyber security, agriculture and information technology.
Changing the perception of vocational education is undeniably critical in giving the VET sector the recognition and support it deserves, from all levels of government and the people, when preparing for Queensland’s future workforce.