Government to reform VET system to promote skills development

The government has announced a skills reform plan that it claims will ensure Australia’s national vocational education and training (VET) system is better equipped to deliver skills to workers in a “rapidly changing economy”.

Announcing the plan on Friday, Prime Minister Julia Gillard said the reform would ensure Australia has the skills base necessary to drive growth in a high participation, more productive economy.

The government has prepared a document setting-out its reform plan, which it says will deliver greater access to affordable, high-quality training for workers and businesses.

“Skills are central to ensuring we have the workforce needed to deliver the innovative, high quality, high value products and services that will power our economy into the 21st Century,” said the report authors.

“This is why we want to work closely with state and territory governments to provide a national training system that is flexible and responsive to the needs of business and individuals.

“As a result, businesses will have better access to a highly skilled workforce that will allow them to adapt and innovate in a changing economy, and Australians of working age will have more affordable access to the qualifications they need to gain employment, particularly in growth areas of the economy.”

The government has committed $1.75 billion over five years to achieve key reforms, which will be negotiated with the states and territories through the Council of Australian Governments (COAG).
This is in addition to a National Agreement, which will see the government provide $7.2 billion in skills funding to states and territories over the next five years.

“Under the National Agreement, governments will have to implement a National Training Entitlement, improve participation and qualification completions and assure the quality of training delivery and outcomes,” said Gillard, announcing the reform on Friday.

“States and territories will have to set strict criteria to ensure only quality providers with an established record can access public funding.

States and territories will be required to provide strategies that will continue to support and strengthen the public providers of vocational education and training (TAFE) over the next five years.”

The revised National Agreement will assess progress against the COAG targets to: halve the proportion of Australians nationally aged 20-64 without qualifications at certificate level III and above between 2009 and 2020; and double the number of higher level qualification completions (diploma and advanced diploma) nationally between 2009 and 2020.

“These reforms promise to deliver far-reaching changes that will make a difference to the lives of millions of Australian working families,” said Gillard.

The government’s reform follows a report released in February by the Australian Industry Group, detailing the limitations low levels of literacy and numeracy among staff has on workplace performance and company growth potential.

The report was a further study into a 2006 survey, ‘Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey’, which revealed that almost four million people or 40% of the Australian workforce did not have adequate literacy, numeracy or problem solving skills.

The study released in February, ‘When Words Fail, The National Workforce Literacy Project’, further explored these issues, to determine the industry perspective on workplace literacy and numeracy.

The Ai Group study found 75% of employers survey reported their business was affected by low levels of literacy and numeracy. This figure was not confined to low-skilled segments of the workforce.

Only 8% of employers told Ai Group that they had adequate capacity to address the issue.