Good afternoon, and thank you for your welcome.
Firstly, I want to recognise the efforts CEDA is making to examine, improve and promote vocational education and training in Australia.
Your substantial reports and analysis on VET are a valuable contribution to the lively conversations taking place around our country about the priorities, direction and opportunities for this sector.
Because, after all, VET matters.
It’s a fundamental part of our economy. And it’s a pathway for scores of people to pursue career goals and passions.
In 2015, there were around 4 million students undertaking vocational training.
The numbers of Indigenous students and those with a disability are also increasing .
VET cannot be, as CEDA has previously referred to it, the “forgotten middle child in education ”.
Since becoming Assistant Minister for Vocational Education and Skills, I have been committed to raising the status of VET as a valued pathway to a job and career.
It’s crucial that those millions of students are getting value for money, a quality education, and that they’re learning skills our economy really needs now and into the future.
Former CEDA Chief Executive, Stephen Martin, put it well when he described the seismic shifts in our economic landscape as “a tsunami of change ” that we are facing.
Technology and other advancements are changing how we work, and the jobs we do.
Today’s young people will enter a different world of work to the one we previously knew.
Of course, change is nothing new.
Consider this quote from the landmark 1974 Kangan Report – a report that was a milestone in the evolution of TAFE:
“Technological, social and structural changes in industry shift the pattern of the demand for manpower, causing new employment opportunities to emerge and some existing opportunities to shrink” .
It noted that developments in technology had led to the emergence of new jobs not previously thought of.
While change has been the one constant, what is different now is the sheer pace of change, and the incredible opportunities that this presents.
The Prime Minister spoke last week at the 2017 Economic and Social Outlook Conference here in Melbourne, about the rapid change taking place in Australia, driven by global trends, and what this has meant for industry and individuals in Australia.
His underlying message was one of optimism in the face of change – supported by our growing economy and growth in employment, and that Australia’s future prosperity will be driven by global trade and harnessing our incredibly diverse economy.
This includes looking to new sectors of the economy to support new sources of jobs, and to drive productivity to underpin continued economic growth.
As the economy undergoes structural adjustment, it is the VET sector that provides the tools to upskill and reskill workers so they can capitalise on new employment opportunities.
This is why we are making investments to ensure VET is poised to help advance Australia’s economic development.
The new, ongoing Skilling Australians Fund announced in this year’s Budget is one such measure.
From 2017-18 to 2020-21, an estimated $1.5 billion will be made available by the Federal Government through the Fund.
Spending from the Fund will prioritise apprenticeships and traineeships in occupations in demand, areas with future growth potential, and in rural and regional Australia.
The ongoing design of the new Fund avoids the uncertainty over skills funding that surrounded previous National Partnership Agreements.
It will set clear targets that drive better outcomes for students, employers and the tax-payer.
Under the new arrangements, there will be an emphasis on strong accountability, transparency and the delivery of clear outcomes for skills training and the broader economy.
The states will bid for project funding with proposals that align with priorities agreed through the new partnership and criteria set by the Commonwealth.
The Federal Government will only make payments once states have achieved agreed targets, and have committed to match Commonwealth funding.
Targeted funding, delivered in this manner, with clear expectations for outcomes, will re-engineer the partnership between Commonwealth, state and territory governments to drive real change.
By focusing on projects designed to boost the number of people who choose an apprenticeship or trainee pathway, the Fund will support Australians to get the skills they need for the jobs in demand.
My aim is to create the pool of skilled Australian workers our industries need for future growth.
We will create an extra 300,000 apprentices over the next four years in a three-phase plan.
First, stop the decline that began in 2012 that followed cuts to federal employer incentives to take on an apprentice.
In fact apprentice and trainee numbers fell off a cliff in 2012-13 falling 110,000, or 22 per cent.
That’s the biggest ever annual decline recorded in Australia.
Second, return apprentice and trainee numbers to the 2012 levels of around 515,000, and thirdly;
Continue building on that to meet the future demand for skilled workers here in Australia.
It is one thing to create more apprenticeship places, but we also have to make sure they receive the support they need to successfully finish their training.
In order to better support apprentices in industries that are undergoing structural change, the government has announced the $60 million Industry Specialist Mentoring for Australian Apprentices program.
This program will support existing skills and training initiatives.
It will increase the retention rates of Australian Apprentices – particularly for those apprentices in their first two years of training, a ‘danger zone’ when we know they can be vulnerable.
This support provided through this scheme will assist some 45,000 Australian apprentices.
The funding investment of $60 million over two years is substantial but, I’m sure you’ll agree, is well worth it.
The Turnbull Government has also acted quickly to support students in the broader VET sector, by removing the disastrous VET FEE-HELP scheme and replacing it with the new VET Student Loans Program.
The full program came into effect from the start of this month, and is focused on courses that address industry needs to create better opportunities for employment.
It’s affordable, sustainable and student-focused.
It puts an end to unscrupulous providers taking advantage of vulnerable students and taxpayers.
We have a new list of fully approved providers, and we have introduced student progression measures and a VET Student Loans Ombudsman.
These reforms will lead to students enjoying strong employment outcomes from the industry-linked, value-for-money courses on offer.
And it will help restore confidence in our vocational education and training sector.
We are also reviewing the legislation underpinning the regulation of the vocational education and training sector.
This review is intended to ensure our regulator, the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA), can act efficiently and effectively, and move swiftly to protect students, employers and the public against training providers that do not meet the highest quality standards.
I believe ASQA does a good job regulating the sector.
But I want to ensure it has the legislative capacity, functions and powers consistent with best practice.
Professor Valerie Braithwaite from the School of Regulation and Global Governance at the Australian National University is conducting the review.
Professor Braithwaite served on the National Skills Standards Council from 2011 to 2014, conducted a review of regulation in higher education for the Australian Government, and is a globally recognised expert on regulation – exactly the person to lead such an important review.
I know she is keen to hear from a wide range of stakeholders – from students and parents, to providers and employers.
I am inviting all interested members of the community to make a submission through the Department of Education and Training’s website to inform Professor Braithwaite’s report .
I expect to receive the report by the end of the year, and I would encourage you to contribute your views to this review, which will future-proof our sector.
Of course, strengthening quality is only part of the equation. We also have to ensure the training delivered is aligned with the needs of industry, and responsive to future changes.
The Australian Industry and Skills Committee (AISC) was established in 2015, and is supported a network of industry reference committees made up of people with experience, skills and knowledge of their particular industry sector.
Their advice ensures training packages meet the needs of employers.
Recently we have taken steps to commission the Future Priority Skills resource to help further focus IRCs, which will be available later in the year.
The resource will assist IRCs in scenario planning for their industry in considering the timing of impacts, the future skills needs of workers and workplaces and future ways of learning.
All of these measured are geared towards lifting the quality and relevance of training, and to create more apprenticeship places.
When we get these settings right we can help more people get jobs that they want, and the jobs we – as a society – need them to do.
And we can help people navigate change, build happier and more productive lives, and make a real contribution.
More than ever, our economy will need a workforce which is modern, skilled and adaptable.