Good morning and thank you for the opportunity to address this conference.
The VELG conference is always a highlight on the vocational education calendar, attracting people from all over the sector.
You are the people at the forefront of vocational education and training in this country, who recognise its intrinsic value and critical importance – both for the individual and for the broader economy.
When I addressed this conference last year, I had only been in this role for a couple of months and my focus was consulting with stakeholders to identify issues to draw up a plan to take the sector forward.
Today I’d like to take you through the reforms those consultations have led to and the reasons behind them.
I’m a passionate advocate of our vocational education and training sector and am determined to continue to raise its status as a pathway to many rewarding career opportunities.
VET equips students with the skills and expertise they need to succeed in the workplace.
That ranges from the school-leaver, to the parent returning to work, the young Indigenous apprentice, or the 50 year old professional tradesman who’s retraining for a new career.
VET offers something to everyone.
It helps many people secure their first job, and opens their eyes to possibilities and opportunities on their broader education journey.
The theme of this conference, Building Quality in VET, comes as a timely reminder that we can only achieve these outcomes for students if we have a sector dedicated to the highest standards.
Ensuring quality in our VET sector is a key priority for me.
It’s only through the provision of quality training, with proven and consistent outcomes for students, that you can build confidence in the sector.
Better outcomes will encourage more students to undertake training, and in turn provides more skilled workers into the industries that need them.
In a very real way, quality stands as a foundation for the sector.
And the Government is always looking for ways to further build and improve the quality of the sector.
Without a doubt one of the biggest threats to the sector’s reputation in recent years has been the VET FEE-HELP scheme.
Its problems are well documented and you are all well aware of the reputational damage VET FEE HELP caused to the sector.
So we took action.
A new program, VET Student Loans, was implemented from January 1 this year.
The VET Student Loans program provides value for money as a student-centred program that delivers high quality training and holds providers to account.
We learnt from past mistakes and implemented a number of features to ensure no repeat of VET FEE-HELP was possible.
Before being eligible for loans, a course must now be shown to align with industry needs.
We placed loan caps on courses to put downward pressure on fees and avoid cost blow-outs.
Students must demonstrate they are legitimately engaged in their studies.
Independent brokers are banned from signing students up to courses on behalf of training providers.
And we have introduced a VET Student Loans Ombudsman to investigate any complaints that may arise.
We also have mechanisms in place to ensure the system is transparent, and we can track progress and monitor compliance as rigorously as possible.
The first six-monthly report on the performance of VET Student Loans was released last month with promising early results.
It details the amount of loans paid to individual training providers, how many students with each provider have been supported, and what courses of study were undertaken.
To June 30, over 24,000 students had a VET Student Loan approved, with $78 million paid to approved providers.
And importantly, the unit completion rates under VET Student Loans were 10 percentage points higher (75.2 per cent) for the first six months, than they were under VET FEE-HELP.
Results from the first VET Student Loans student satisfaction survey are also encouraging.
Of the more than 17,000 students surveyed since July 2017, almost 90 per cent said they were satisfied or very satisfied with the quality of their training.
While it’s still early days, this indicates that our objective to only provide loans to quality providers has been effective.
On 24 August I announced that the second formal application round to become an approved VET Student Loan course provider would open on 30 August and close on 26 September 2017.
The new VET Student Loans program is going a long way to undoing the damage of the former scheme, and these figures show that we are steadily rebuilding confidence in the sector.
But of course, this work is part of a whole process of reform that we are undertaking to ensure the quality of the sector into the future.
We are currently working to strengthen the skills of trainers and assessors.
Quality trainers are vital to our sector’s future growth and success.
They are a key determining factor in how effectively training is delivered.
I believe that within VET we have some of the best educators in the country – experts who have worked within their field for years, are experts and are passionate about what they teach.
But of course, teaching requires its own unique skill set, so it’s important to ensure our trainers and assessors are equipped with the skills they need to help students get the most out of their training.
Naturally, graduates must have the specific skills relevant to their industry, but they also need the everyday skills employers expect all graduates to have – language, literacy and numeracy skills.
In January 2016 the Australian Skills Quality Authority raised concerns around poor assessment practices and inadequate trainer and assessor skills.
In May this year, the COAG Industry and Skills Council agreed to new requirements to boost the credentials for those providing training and assessment in the VET sector.
New core units of competency will give trainers and assessors the skills and knowledge to design and develop assessment tools and address adult language, literacy and numeracy skills.
Trainers and assessors who currently hold a Certificate IV in Training and Assessment will be required to obtain the new core units of competency by 1 April 2019.
I see this as part of the principle of continuous and lifelong learning, and an opportunity for our highly qualified trainers and assessors to enhance their skills – to build the capacity of the sector into the future.
The Government will support trainers and assessors to develop their additional skills.
I see this as a partnership for the benefit of the students, the trainers and assessors themselves, the sector as a whole, and even beyond that – to the broader economic benefits of highly skilled workers to drive business and industry.
These changes will also give employers greater confidence that when a student holds a qualification they possess with both the specialist and general skills required to succeed.
We are taking steps to enhance the overall quality and regulation of the sector.
ASQA already does a good job of regulating the sector and we will ensure this continues to be the case.
We need to support its functions and powers, to make sure they align with best practice, and are flexible enough to change as the sector continues to evolve.
We are therefore undertaking the first review of the National Vocational Education and Training Regulator Act, since it was introduced six years ago.
This will involve examining the standards for registered training organisations and the legislation that shapes the regulation of the sector.
Professor Valerie Braithwaite is in charge of the review and I expect to have her final report by the end of the year.
Professor Braithwaite is an internationally recognised expert in regulation and there is no one better qualified to lead this important review.
The review is another part of our plan to make sure our sector continues to deliver quality education well into the future.
Just as important as quality of training is the content of the training – what is actually delivered to students.
In order for a graduate to succeed they need to be equipped with appropriate skills.
Employers expect that a quality sector will deliver this, the most fundamental of objectives.
This is why we have an industry-led sector.
No one knows better what skillset an employee needs to succeed than those already in the industry.
Through the Australian Industry Skills Committee and the Industry Reference Committees, businesses and industry are able to drive the design of competency standards and qualifications delivered by training providers.
The process means the content of training packages is flexible and able to keep pace with changes to work practices.
It ensures training remains up to date and relevant to industry requirements.
To safeguard this, a Training Product Reform Joint Working Party is examining the current structure of training packages.
It will determine whether there are alternative approaches to qualification design more suited to the changing nature of work into the future.
The Working Party will deliver a report to Skills Ministers at the end of the year on the case for change to enhance the design of qualifications.
This is likely to be followed by a consultation process to seek feedback on any proposed changes.
Much like the NVETR review, this represents the Government’s ongoing work to maintain the quality of our sector.
It’s part of our commitment to delivering quality outcomes for students to help them succeed in the workplace.
And of course, there’s no better way to learn what the requirements of a job are than through practical, on-the-job training, particularly through an apprenticeship or traineeship.
Apprenticeships and traineeships offer students access to a wide range of careers.
While many people think of traditional trades when they think of apprenticeships, there are also opportunities across a vast array of jobs and careers.
They include community and personal services, machinery operation, health, and management and professional careers to name a few.
We’ve also introduced higher apprenticeships and traineeships, which focus on high-level technology skills and the tools required for the future workforce.
These apprenticeships will be at the diploma and advanced diploma level in industries that have not traditionally used the apprenticeship training model, such as business, IT and financial services.
They look at taking advantage of the increasing use of technology like automation, big data and digitalisation.
However, a challenge for the sector has been the declining number of apprentices and trainees we’ve seen since 2012.
This has been a point of concern, but I’m committed to arresting and reversing this trend.
In this year’s Federal Budget we announced that an estimated $1.5 billion will be available over the next four years to boost apprentice and trainee numbers through a new Skilling Australians Fund.
Funding will be prioritised to occupations in demand industries and sectors with potential for growth, support for rural and regional areas, as well as industries that are undergoing structural change.
This new initiative will require states to match the Commonwealth’s contribution.
Our aim is for the Skilling Australians Fund to provide support for 300,000 more apprentices and trainees.
The previous Government’s National Partnership Agreement on Skills Reform – that expired on June 30 this year – provided a total of $1.75 billion over five years.
Of that, $1.15 billion was for structural reform and approximately $637 million went to training outcomes.
Despite what you may hear, not one cent of it was specifically allocated to TAFE, which as you know is administered and funded by states.
We are not cutting TAFE funding.
Our Skilling Australians Fund will significantly boost funding for training to states and territories to achieve better outcomes.
Working hand in glove with the Fund, the Government is also investing $60 million in the Industry Specialist Mentoring for Australian Apprentices program.
It will boost retention and completion rates by providing early intervention mentoring support for apprentices at risk of not completing their training.
I believe that when it comes to the quality of the VET sector, Australia has a great story to tell.
Vocational education and training is one of the foundational pillars of Australia’s economy.
Australia’s success is a product of the skills and knowledge of our people from a broad range of sectors, from hospitality to agriculture, and from mining to manufacturing.
The skills that continue to drive our economy as the world changes, and the expertise and knowledge that sustains all the things that underpin our modern life.
VET empowers the individual to learn new skills, to drive success in their own life, and enables them to contribute to the growth of the community.
This is the goal we’re always working towards.
We are addressing the challenges and beginning to see the benefits.
And the other measures we are taking represent our ongoing commitment to ensure that as we move forward we have a sector that is absolutely dedicated to providing the best outcomes for students.
This is important work, and through our partnership with you – we will see better outcomes for students and stakeholders.
Students, employers and the community can have confidence that the training delivered is of the highest standard and helps students get to where they want to be.
It has been a positive year for our VET sector in which a lot of progress has been made and I am excited about the year ahead.
I wish you all the very best with the remainder of your conference, and look forward to working with all of you into the future.