Thank-you for that introduction.
Thank you to Madam Chair, the Fijian Government, Secretary-General and Commonwealth Secretariat participants for your respective notes in this excellent conference.
I am delighted to be here today to speak about Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4) and skills.
As many, if not all, here today would agree, technical and vocational skills have an important role to play in supporting prosperity through economic opportunity and greater social well-being and vocational education provides people with the skills they need to secure employment.
In turn, employers have access to employees equipped with the skills they need to grow their businesses, and an avenue to retrain and upskill employees as technology and business practices evolve.
Around the world we are seeing a growing focus on the need for high quality skills training, to support development and economic growth.
At the same time, we see disruptions which are fundamentally changing industries, and changing the needs of employers.
It is clear that digitisation, combined with globalisation and rapid labour market shifts, require governments to look at the education and training needs of their citizens in new and innovative ways.
I’m very conscious as I talk to you all today, that we come from extremely diverse national contexts.
While we share many of these common challenges, we also have attributes unique to our own countries that need to be taken into account when identifying solutions to these challenges.
Today I will share with you how the Australian Vocational Education and Training system is working to meet the challenges of sustainable development.
Now I don’t want to suggest that we have all the answers.
But I can assure you that the Australian Government has a strong commitment to continue to address these challenges, to develop and grow our training system.
I hope that some of the story I tell today offers food for thought as you consider how your own vocational training systems can respond to the skill demands of your country and people.
Getting the right policy settings in place to ’ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all’ is critically important if we are all to contribute to the ambitious achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.
Today I’ll tell you a little bit about Australia’s approach to Industry Engagement in our VET system, and how the Australia Government is addressing elements of SDG4 through technical and vocational skills, through our clear focus on access, quality and lifelong learning.
Australia is particularly recognised for the strong role industry plays in our training system. There is a focus on preparing graduates with the skills they will need to move directly into employment.
As outlined on the slide, Industry is involved at all levels of the system, from governance and standard setting to training delivery and reporting satisfaction on graduates/employees.
Australian Registered Training Organisations which are responsible for delivering training, must engage with industry to ensure their training and assessment practices are relevant to industry, and their trainers and assessors have current vocational skills at an appropriate level.
Many of whom come directly from industry and they are up-skilled to become trainers and assessors.
This is different to some other countries, where trainers start with an academic qualification and then learn industry skills.
Let me now tell you a little about the students who study vocational education and training in Australia.
In 2016, around 4.2 million Australians took part in vocational education and training.
This means the number of VET students in Australia, as a proportion of the Australian population aged 15 to 64 years, is estimated at 24.2 per cent – around 1 in 4 people.
The VET cohort by age grouping, which you can see on the slide shows the highest age group participating in VET is the 20-44-year-old group – making up more than half, or 56.7% of all VET students.
In terms of gender, Australia fares pretty well with just under half of VET students being female.
In term of other equity groups,
• 4.0% of students Identified as Indigenous Australians
• 4.3% of students identified as people with disability
• 17.3% of VET program enrolments were by students whose main language at home is not English, which is reflective of Australia’s multicultural society.
Again, I’m confident that those here today would agree, it’s important that men and women of all ages and backgrounds, can access the training and skills they need for life, and make the best contribution they can to our economies and communities.
Our system is flexible to meet the diverse needs of learners. Students have many options for training which can involve studying individual units or full qualifications, studying full time or part time.
Training can and does take place in classrooms, workplaces and increasingly, online.
It can be delivered in both schools and universities, as well as in business and industry, and the training gained there can be linked to work, or a move into higher education.
VET Student Loans
A key initiative supporting access to Australia’s VET system is the VET Student Loans program that helps eligible students, enrolled in approved courses at approved course providers, pay their tuition fees by providing an income contingent loan.
The Government will pay the student’s tuition fees directly to their approved course provider. The student then pays back their loan through the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) once their income reaches a minimum threshold, currently around AUD55,000.
Through this program, we ensure that upfront fees don’t stop Australians being able to access and engage in further training.
As some of you may know, this type of system has long been a feature of Australia’s higher education and vocational education system.
And it continues to be particularly important as Australia is working to build lifelong learning opportunities that support workforce participation and prosperity through all stages in life, including those who may choose to re-engage with education or retraining later in life.
Growth Fund Skills and Training Initiative
Like many economies around the world, and indeed around this room, the Australian economy is undergoing significant change. Vocational education is an important part of how we are responding to that change.
One example relates to the decline of the car manufacturing industry in Australia. One of the ways the Australian Government responded to this economic structural adjustment was by working with industry and State Governments to establish a Growth Fund Skills and Training Initiative.
This initiative helps automotive workers reskill and transition to new jobs, encourages diversification by automotive supply chain firms, and accelerates new private sector business activity outside of car manufacturing.
Another key attribute of the Australian VET sector is the strong pathways that exist between school, higher education, VET and employment.
Of course, one of the best ways to transition between education and employment is through an Australian Apprenticeship, which offers opportunities for anyone of working age to train, study and earn an income in a wide range of occupations.
The apprenticeship pathway combines training with employment to achieve a nationally recognised qualification, delivered by an approved Registered Training Organisation.
More than a quarter of a million people are currently undertaking Australian Apprenticeships.
And their outcomes are good.
In 2017, 81.2 per cent of graduates who undertook their training as part of an apprenticeship or traineeship were employed after training.
Skilling Australians Fund
But we know that there are skills shortages that we need to address now and for the future, and accordingly, the Australian Government has made a major commitment to establish an ongoing Skilling Australians Fund to boost the number of people who choose and succeed in the VET pathway.
From 2017–18 to 2020–21, an estimated $1.5 billion will be available through the fund. With matched funding from Australia’s State and Territory Governments, this will support up to 300,000 apprentices, trainees, and pre- and higher-level apprentices in key priority areas including engineering, tourism, hospitality and health and ageing.
A challenge that I know is shared with many countries around the Commonwealth is how to raise the status of vocational education and encourage more people to take up vocational training.
And for our discussion today this is particularly important, given the SDG 4 target to “Substantially increase the number of youth and adults who have relevant skills, including technical and vocational skills, for employment, decent jobs and entrepreneurship”
As I noted earlier, we have good participation in the Australian VET system, estimated at nearly a quarter of the working age population at 24.2% in 2016.
But research over the past ten years has consistently shown that VET is not perceived as a first choice career pathway for many Australians, and the general community are not aware of the many benefits VET can offer its participants.
So the question is, how can we encourage more of our citizens to take up Vocational Education and Training?
A priority for the Australian government is to promote the benefits of VET to the community with ongoing long-term communication and promotional activities.
The Australian Government has launched a VET Information Strategy as a Government-led, long term, sustained communications plan to elevate the status of VET as a first choice career pathway.
One good example of how it works is that we have VET alumni and apprenticeship ambassadors who have been engaged as champions for the system.
These are high profile, successful Australians who owe their careers to their VET foundations.
By sharing the stories of those who have found success after finishing a VET qualification it shows the diversity of opportunity available through a VET qualification and showcases the potential successful careers a VET pathway can lead to.
The two people on the slide are both Apprenticeship Ambassadors. Both trained as electricians and both are very active in promoting the benefits of their training and their trades.
Jessica (Jess) Wooley sums up what it means to be a successful VET graduate. She was chosen from 700 applicants for her apprenticeship in Certificate III in Electrotechnology (Electrician) with SA Power Networks, and that she has since gone on to justify her selection, winning numerous awards during her apprenticeship.
Jared Stone has experienced the varied directions in VET that can unfold once you step on its career path. He won the Australian Apprentice of the Year Award and last year, completed his Advanced Diploma of Electrical Engineering (Electrical Systems).
Lastly, I’ll also mention a much anticipated annual event on the Australian VET calendar: The Australian Training Awards.
Commencing in 1994, the Australian Training Awards are the peak, national awards for the vocational education and training (VET) sector, recognising individuals, businesses and registered training organisations for their contribution to skilling Australia.
Through showcasing best practice and the Awards' ‘Real Stories Real Achievements’ video series, they promote continuous improvement and innovation in the design and delivery of VET.
This encourages both national and international awareness and respect for Australia's VET sector and skilled-based careers.
In conclusion, Australia’s VET sector is built on the principle of providing quality and relevant training to suit the needs of individuals, businesses and the economy. This has been achieved through industry engagement, a dedication to listening to stakeholders, the implementation of strong quality controls and a commitment to a properly funded sector.
We are committed to the 2030 Agenda, and the role that Vocational Training can play in sustainable development, tackling head on the challenges in preparing our citizens for the jobs of the future.
I thank-you for your attention, for the wonderful discussions we have shared over the last few days, and those still to come.