The federal Morrison government has announced a new JobTrainer fund, intended to provide 340,700 additional free or low-fee training places across Australia in high-demand skills areas for jobseekers and young people, including school leavers. In order for state and territory governments to gain access to this funding, they must first agree to match the federal government’s contribution and negotiate how this funding will be allocated. For Victoria, this would amount to the state contributing $135 million.
The federal government says the funding should be used towards accredited qualifications and short courses (namely micro-credentials and skill sets) in areas of identified, genuine skills needs. The National Skills Commission and state and territory governments will agree on a list of qualifications and micro-credentials, with a focus on training in areas of anticipated employment growth.
As part and parcel of the JobTrainer fund, states and territories are required to sign up to a new Heads of Agreement for Skills Reform, which will lock in the federal government’s immediate and longer term reforms to “improve” the VET sector. This reform agreement and the focus on micro-credentials are very concerning to those of us who care about the vocational education sector.
TAFE in Victoria has been through a tumultuous time over the past decade with the introduction of contestable funding – enabling for-profit providers to access and exploit public funding – and more than $3 billion dollars being cut from TAFE by the federal Coalition government. Despite considerable investment from the Andrews government and the introduction of Free TAFE courses, TAFE in Victoria remains in a fragile financial position. This is further threatened by micro-credentials – certificate-style short courses that focus on one specific skill.
Micro-credentials have a place in up-skilling – enhancing full qualifications with additional skills that could assist in securing work. However, by focusing on micro-credentials instead of longer courses, governments are dismantling the qualifications system by which vocational education produces students with the broad skills and knowledge they will need to thrive in a modern workplace. Victorians not only need to work but also to earn a decent income. This relies on them gaining proper qualifications and experience, not merely limited skill sets for minimum-wage jobs, which won’t prepare them for complex careers in a competitive marketplace.
A strong, well-funded TAFE system can provide apprenticeships, traineeships, cadetships and part-time study that enables students to earn while they learn, and to gain the full qualifications and experience that lead to greater job security and better pay.
The need to skill, reskill and upskill Australia’s workforce is central to our economic recovery post-COVID, yet these long-term goals are being sacrificed by Morrison’s limited and short-sighted reforms.