While there is very little difference between what the Coalition and Labor are offering in school funding – save for Labor’s plan to provide universal early childhood care – their commitments to the VET sector differ sharply.
In today’s Media Centre for Education and Research in Australia (MCERA) briefing, former TAFE teacher Dr John Pardy from Monash University spelled out both parties’ visions for VET.
The Coalition’s plan is based on the recommendations of the Joyce Review. Entitled Strengthening Skills: Expert Review of Australia’s Vocational Education and Training System, the Review addressed long-held concerns that the VET sector lacked national coordination, its funding models were confusing and opaque, and the quality of the sector’s training providers was inconsistent. Research also found that employers were losing confidence in the VET system and student numbers were decreasing. The Review was framed as a “significant upgrade to the architecture of the VET sector” to meet Australia’s workforce challenges of the 21st century.
Two of the Review’s recommendations form the basis of the Government’s election pledge to VET: creating a National Careers Institute and establishing a National Skills Commission. The Careers Institute will provide students with authoritative and consistent information regarding post-secondary pathways, including employment outlooks, average salaries and qualification requirements. This will ensure students’ study choices more accurately reflect their desired careers, a problem referenced in the Review.
The National Skills Commission will be responsible for allocating Commonwealth funding to states and territories, another key problem addressed in the Joyce Review. It is also tasked with monitoring the labour market to identify shortages and recommend subsidies for courses aimed at redressing those shortages. The Coalition has also flagged $525 million to train 80,000 new apprenticeships in the next four years. Employers will receive $8000 for taking on an apprentice and apprentices will receive $2000.
In contrast, Labor is promising a “once-in-a-generation” inquiry into post-secondary education – “a root and branch review and reform of the sector”. It seeks to re-establish TAFE as the primary deliverer of VET and has promised that TAFE will receive the lion’s share of government training money – two-thirds. Labor will spend $200 million building and “modernising” TAFE campuses throughout Australia and waive the upfront fees of 100,000 students. It will also require one in every 10 defence and infrastructure jobs be filled by an apprentice. Finally, if elected it will introduce thousands of pre-apprenticeship courses for young people interested in a trade and adult apprenticeship programs targeting people wanting to retrain in another industry.