This year, the Government completed an evaluation assessing whether Skills First is on-track. The Skills First reforms, introduced on 1 January 2017, seek to strengthen Victoria’s government-subsidised VET system by:
- improving quality – removing poor performing providers and implementing a robust provider selection process
- meeting skills needs – aligning training activity to industry through an Industry Engagement Framework, a targeted Funded Course List, and programmatic funding to meet regional needs and support innovative approaches to training
- building TAFE sustainability – funding to rescue and stabilise TAFEs, placing them at the centre of the training system.
The Evaluation took place over 2018, looking at training data from the 2017 calendar year. Consultations were held across the VET sector. Student, provider, employer and broader community views informed the Evaluation.
The Evaluation found that Skills First has been successful in meeting its short-term objectives. There are early indicators of strengthened industry engagement, increased enrolments in training associated with government priorities such as the NDIS and the response to the Family Violence Royal Commission, and improved market share for TAFE institutes.
The Government introduced a number of significant initiatives since Skills First that, due to timing, were not considered by the evaluation. These include Free TAFE, the TAFE Multi-Enterprise Agreement and a focus on strengthening relationships with industry to support the delivery of priority workforces and major infrastructure projects.
Also, since the evaluation was completed, the Commonwealth Government has reviewed and taken initial steps to reform the national VET system. On 9 August 2019, the Council of Australian Governments agreed to develop a shared vision for a VET system which delivers high quality training meeting student and employer needs. Skills Ministers will agree future reform priorities by the end of 2019.
The Evaluation considered Skills First’s effectiveness in managing key elements of the VET system.
The Evaluation found that Skills First raised the quality of training providers in Victoria’s government-subsidised training market by removing poor quality providers, stopping exploitative provider practices and attracting higher quality providers through a new provider selection process.
Going forward, the Evaluation suggested increasing the focus on the quality of teaching and assessment. Stakeholders consulted during the evaluation indicated a need to improve professional development as well as the currency and quality of curriculum and teaching materials.
Meeting skills needs
Skills First has achieved positive signs of improved employer engagement and satisfaction, noting that employer satisfaction and engagement varies by employer size and location.
The Evaluation identified an opportunity to further strengthen the alignment between skills and jobs by bringing together broad macro-economic data with local level information to ensure better alignment between the training system and local industry needs. Of particular concern is ensuring workers affected by economic and technological change can access training to reskill and change jobs.
Economic and technological change also mean some employers and industries need to move quickly to up-skill their workforces. The Evaluation suggested that training needs to be closely aligned to industry and student needs so that courses are flexible, responsive, and appropriate for all stakeholders.
Meeting students’ needs
To support students, Skills First expanded the Reconnect program which funds eligible TAFE institutes and Learn Local providers to support vulnerable young people, or the long-term unemployed, to engage in learning and transition to the workforce. Skills First also increased the pre-accredited training subsidies delivered by eligible Learn Local providers. Existing initiatives, such as fee concessions for eligible students and additional provider funding were maintained.
The Evaluation found that the proportion of students achieving improved job outcomes after training has increased slightly; whereas disadvantaged students’ job outcomes have remained stable.
This finding highlights VET providers’ role in supporting disadvantaged students alongside supports offered by other services such as health and community organisations. The Evaluation recommended a holistic approach in the delivery of support programs (at both the Victorian and Commonwealth levels) to improve disadvantaged students’ training outcomes.
Building TAFE sustainability
Skills First has stabilised and improved TAFE institutes position as a result of targeted investment to lift capacity and capability. While TAFE governance arrangements remain based on the model of independent TAFE institutes competing with each other, institutes are beginning to operate as a network to achieve common objectives.
The Evaluation suggested that continued refinement of TAFE funding and governance arrangements is needed to meet the expectations of a modern TAFE network.
The Evaluation noted that the VET sector is affected by the higher education and adult community and further education sectors. In particular, the Evaluation highlighted Commonwealth funding decisions, such as the introduction of VET FEE-HELP and the uncapping of higher education places, have reduced cohesion in the post-secondary system over the past decade.
Opportunities to enhance Skills First
The Evaluation identified opportunities for the Victorian Department of Education and Training to improve its administration of the system to:
- bolster current performance monitoring systems
- simplify and strengthen funding and performance arrangements for TAFE institutes
- incorporate local labour market data to better inform course alignment with jobs
- focus on improving access and equity in the VET system
- build on current activities to improve the quality of teaching, assessment and curricula.
Improvements since Skills First was introduced
Since 1 January 2017, the Victorian Government introduced additional initiatives to ensure the responsiveness and agility of the VET system.
Free TAFE has brought students, employers and the community back to TAFE.
The introduction of Free TAFE on 1 January 2019 has resulted in more students accessing training. In the six months to the end of June, more than 25,000 students have commenced training in Free TAFE courses (30 priority TAFE courses and 20 pre-apprenticeship courses), a 92 per cent increase in commencements in these courses compared with the same period in 2018.
Building Better TAFEs
The Government has made the largest single commitment in Victoria’s TAFE asset portfolio in recent times through the $220 million Building Better TAFEs Fund.
Investing in the right facilities to target training and skills shortages is a core intention of the Fund. In the 2019/20 State Budget, the Government provided $57 million from the Fund to build, modernise or refurbish TAFE campuses and facilities.
Advancing ‘Earn and Learn’ apprenticeship and traineeship initiatives
The Government reintroduced Trade Papers, introduced independent assessment, and updated learning materials. In addition, the 2019-20 Budget provided $5.6 million for Victoria’s ‘Big Build’ and ‘Social Services’ higher apprenticeships to support the delivery of advanced diplomas and associate degrees in an apprenticeship arrangement.
Next steps following the evaluation
The Victorian Government is continuing to connect with students, employers, TAFE institutes, universities, community and private providers, - as well as the broader community – to improve Victoria’s VET system.
This action includes:
- advocating, at the national level, for a better connected post-secondary education system and the removal of current Commonwealth funding inconsistencies that advantage higher education over VET
- continuing to improve the alignment between training and jobs, including ensuring the training system supports the delivery of the Government’s economic, infrastructure and social priorities
- supporting the development of a highly valued network of adaptable, sustainable TAFE institutes through close partnerships with our TAFE institutes
- strengthening apprenticeships and traineeships through improved learning materials, independent assessment processes and higher apprenticeships
- providing targeted supports to students throughout their training and transition to the workforce.