Skills First

​​​​Skills First is a set of reforms for the training and TAFE sector. The reforms ensure that Victoria's training and TAFE system delivers high quality training that leads learners to real jobs. 

Skills First is made up of:

  • high-quality training that students and industry can trust, aligned to industry and workforce needs
  • a real voice for industry in training
  • funding for high needs learners who need additional support to engage with and succeed in education and training
  • access to targeted, relevant training for students in regional areas.

Growth sectors

Skills First is ensuring Victoria can provide the skilled workers needed for the six sectors primed for major job growth.

  • Medical technology and pharmaceuticals
  • New energy technology
  • Food and fibre
  • Transport
  • Defence and construction technology
  • International education and professional services.


Funding has been designed to deliver responsive and relevant training, but there will be closer management of the system. This is complemented by targeted funding streams, including:

  • a supplementary funding stream for TAFEs
  • the Reconnect program
  • the workforce training innovation fund
  • the regional and specialist training fund.

Contacts and compliance

Skills First funding contracts with training providers are better aligned to workforce needs. They include:

  • penalties that can be applied to providers who fail to properly assess every student's suitability for their course
  • the ability to publish results of student and employer satisfaction surveys
  • new requirements to improve the quality of online and workplace-based training
  • requirements that training providers using brokers must disclose brokering arrangements on their websites.

Restoring TAFEs

TAFEs are the engine room for Victorian jobs, delivering around 70 per cent of all apprenticeships. They also retrain Victorians with skills to help them transition to new jobs. Under Skills First, they are recognised and supported.

The capacity of TAFEs to meet the needs of their communities is being restored with funding each year to recognise their distinct role as the public provider supporting learners of all ages and abilities, no matter where they live.

Supporting quality providers

Private providers are focusing their business plans on delivering great training rather than worrying about poor quality, low cost competitors and their bottom line. Quality providers can compete to meet the needs of students, industry and the economy.

Funding subsidies reflect the real cost of qualifications and ensure high quality training is meeting the needs of industry and employers. Contracts are ensuring that public funds are well spent.​

Skills First for industry

Skills First gives a real voice for industry in training. It will be managed through a refined funded course list that focuses on current and future workforce industry skills needs in demand.  

Extensive regional and industry consultations facilitated by the Victorian Skills Commissioner found that a significant number of Government-funded courses in 2016, did not meet industry or community needs.  

To address this issue, the new funded course list was introduced. The new funded course list:  

  • better aligns with industry needs and workforce demands
  • has a strong jobs outcome, such as apprenticeships
  • meets other social needs, such as foundation skill courses.

Industry at the forefront

The workforce training innovation fund fosters partnerships between industry, TAFEs and other training providers to work together to drive innovative collaboration through new qualifications, approaches to the delivery of training and curricula.  

Securing regional jobs

Regional industries benefit from locally trained workers. In many areas, there are not enough students to run viable training. The Regional and Specialist Training fund responds to industry-led demand for specific skills in regional and specialist areas that are not being met by the current training market.  

A clear voice for industry

Victorian Skills Commissioner (VSC), Neil Coulson, was appointed by the Victorian Government to work with industry, employers, union and government to ensure Victorians get the skills industry needs. Supported by the Commissioner, the Government has established an industry engagement framework. The framework is a critical input into Skills First and comprises of:  

Industry Advisory Groups (IAGs)

Ten IAGs have been established covering industries ranging from construction and health, to resources and manufacturing.  

They consist of representatives of industry, unions and employers.  

IAGs provide advice to the VSC on matters including skill demand pressures and future industry skills needs.  

Regional Skills Taskforces

Taskforces ensure that regional skill and location based demands are addressed. Regional Skills Taskforces have been established to capture intelligence and advice about the unique labour needs of Victoria’s regions. 

Industry Skills Taskforces

Industry Skills Taskforces are for a time-limited period and ensure that Government has the necessary information to respond to emerging issues within the training and TAFE system and economy.  

Industry case studies

Fact sheets 2017

Skills First for private providers

Through Skills First, quality training providers can successfully compete to meet the needs of students, industry and the economy.  

Skills First ensures quality providers can successfully compete to meet the needs of students, industry and the economy.  

A focus on industry and government priorities

The funded course list focuses on current and future workforce industry skills. Previously, any course that was nationally accredited was available for subsidised training under the Victorian Training Guarantee. Extensive industry consultation found that a significant number of courses did not meet industry or community needs so the funded course list has been reduced.  

Courses included on the funded course list will:  

  • better align with industry needs and workforce demands
  • have a strong jobs outcome, such as apprenticeships
  • meet other social needs, such as foundation skill courses.

The funded courses list is regularly reviewed, and courses added as required by industry needs.  

Subsidy rates explained

Skills First has introduced higher subsidies for areas of priority, including:  

  • apprenticeship and apprenticeship pathways
  • high-value traineeships
  • courses related to the rollout of the National Disability Insurance Scheme
  • the response to the Royal Commission into Family Violence.

Industry sectors such as these have been factored into:  

  • subsidy setting and,
  • increasing subsidy rates for apprenticeships

Subsidies were not reduced for any courses for 2017. The new subsidies will apply both to students who are continuing their studies from previous years and to those who commence.  

Eligibility and fees

Under Skills First, subsidised training continues to be available to eligible students and there have been no changes to the existing eligibility criteria.  

Training providers are able to set fees at a level that they believe the quality, cost and reputation of their training warrants, without restriction.  

Fact sheets 2017


Skills First for regions

People in regional areas should have access to high quality, relevant training that will lead them to employment and meets the needs of local industries and employers.  

Skills First focuses on protecting the needs of students to ensure the training they receive is high quality and work-relevant, and maximises their employment prospects.  

The government understands that rural and regional industries benefit from locally trained workers. They are less expensive to recruit and more likely to stay in the area, increasing staff retention. But in some regional areas there are not enough students to run viable training.  

To allow rural and regional communities to access training that meets their local needs, Skills First has introduced targeted funding for training providers.  

Training in niche occupations, particularly in regional and emerging markets will be funded through the regional and specialist training fund., ensuring the training and TAFE system is responding to industry and the Victorian economy's current and future needs.  

The Government has also launched a regional skills fund. The fund is a targeted, place-based regional skills grants program driven by industry in partnership with the tertiary sector, working to build local capacity, resilience and support jobs creation.  

Fact sheets 2017


Skills First for students

Skills First supports students: Whether you’re an apprentice, a worker seeking retraining, a learner needing extra support or a regional student looking for a course in your local area.  

Since January 2017, Skills First has given students of all ages, high-quality training in skills employers are looking for. We want your training to lead to a job, not just a certificate.  

Under Skills First there is:  

  • more support for apprentices and trainees
  • more options for older workers to retrain and upskill as our economy changes
  • a commitment to high quality training
  • better support for disadvantaged students.

Check your eligibility and find a course

Before we designed Skills First we surveyed thousands of students like you. We are determined to make it easier for students to find the information they need to help them find the right courses that lead to real jobs.  

The best place to start when you want to commence training is to find out if you are eligible for a government-subsidised training place. You will also want to research and choose the training provider that is going to meet your training needs.  

Not all training providers provide government-subsidised training places, some charge full fee for service rates. Some courses are only offered as full fee for service.  

Search for the most up-to-date list of Victorian training providers and courses or get more information about occupations, fees or eligibility.  

Skills and Jobs Centres

Skills and Jobs Centres are located at our TAFE campuses and are a one-stop-shop for students. Our Skills and Jobs Centres are the first port-of-call for students looking to start training, or workers needing to re-skill or retrain.  

Drop into our Skills and Jobs Centres and access:  

  • apprenticeship and traineeship advice
  • job search skills and resumé preparation assistance
  • help with career and training plans.

Supporting disadvantaged students

At times, people need some extra support and assistance to get back on the road to success. Young people in particular may need a helping hand to ensure positive outcomes.  

The $200 million TAFE rescue fund for community services funding to help deliver a broad range of support services to disadvantaged students.  

A further $20 million has been provided for The Reconnect program funds TAFEs and Learn Locals to provide wrap-around services, such as extra literacy, health and accommodation support.   

Under Skills First, Learn Locals will be eligible to receive funding to build on their important role in providing training to their local communities, through the extension of the Reconnect program.   

Continuing students

All students who started government-subsidised training prior to 2017 will be able to continue their subsidised course until they complete it, even if it is not on the new funded course list.   

Since 1 January 2017, students who wish to start a course that is not on the funded course list still can, but no Victorian Government subsidy will be available. Training providers can advise the fees they will charge for full-fee courses and you can find this information on the Victorian Skills Gateway.  

Provide feedback on your experience

If you would like to provide feedback about your training, training provider or to make a complaint, contact the Training and TAFE line:  


Skills First for TAFE and community training providers

Through Skills First,  TAFEs will act as the engine room for jobs: partnering with industry to deliver apprenticeships and traineeships, and retraining workers with new skills for the jobs of today - and tomorrow.  

Trades in the future will involve more technology-based skills and workers will need training to be competitive in the job market. New trades and professions will emerge and require quality training programs and upskilling courses.  

Strong TAFEs can provide Victorians with access to quality training across the state.  

The distinct role of TAFE

TAFEs have a distinct role as public providers to:  

  • lead the training system in excellence and innovation
  • provide essential life skills and support services
  • help disadvantaged students and communities.

TAFEs have unrivalled course offering and are located across Victoria. They deliver benefits to students and industry in a way other training providers can't, in terms of access and breadth.  

Skills First requires TAFEs and dual sector universities to work collaboratively to meet the increased expectations of Government, industry and students.  

There is funding each year to recognise their distinct role as public providers setting quality benchmarks, fostering the skills students need to be job-ready, and driving productivity improvements across Victoria.    

TAFEs maintain over $2 billion of state-owned assets, have experienced teachers and have established relationships with industry and their local communities.  

TAFEs will be:  

  • A benchmark for quality and a trusted adviser to Government: delivering the training needed to drive key Victorian priorities.
  • Centres of Excellence: competing on a global stage by partnering with industry to ensure productivity, innovation and the skills students need to get a job. A number of TAFEs already host Centres of Excellence, which provide leadership, best practices, research, support and training. The Government will continue to support industry-specific Centres of Excellence.
  • Providing more than just training: addressing the training and support needs of students to ensure they are work-ready graduates, providing a campus experience with support and other essential services, and helping disadvantaged and high needs students who might otherwise slip through the cracks.
  • Pivotal in regional communities: continuing their links with local businesses, and knowing what skills employers seek. Last year, almost half of all regional students went to TAFE for their training. Students benefit from being able to study close to home, while TAFEs help boost local economies by providing a steady flow of trained graduates.
  • Leaders in international education: working collaboratively, Government will enhance TAFEs’ global reach and support an expansion in international education. Global demand for training is expected to grow significantly, especially the delivery of training off shore. An increased profile in international education will assist in improving their revenue base for TAFEs.

Focusing on these areas will see TAFEs:  

  • Lead the training and TAFE system in excellence.
  • Partner with more enterprises to lift productivity through higher workforce skills.
  • Increase participation of people facing barriers to education.
  • Deliver on key Government initiatives.

Strengthening regional communities

One of the TAFE sector’s greatest strengths is its links with regional communities. Rural and regional industries benefit from locally trained workers, who are less expensive to recruit and more likely to stay in the area, increasing staff retention. Locals often regard their TAFE as a significant community asset that can play a role much broader than simply that of a training provider. TAFE facilities are often used by local communities, often free or at low cost.  

Training in niche occupations, particularly in regional and emerging markets, will be funded through the Regional and Specialist Training Fund, ensuring the training and TAFE system is responding to the Victorian economy’s current and future needs.  

An innovative TAFE network

TAFEs can deliver the skills needed to drive state priorities. This will ensure Victoria can provide the skilled workers needed for the six sectors primed for major job growth: medical technology and pharmaceuticals, new energy technology, food and fibre, transport, defence and construction technology, international education and professional services.  

The Workforce Training Innovation Fund will foster partnerships between industry, TAFEs and other training providers to work together to drive innovative collaboration through new qualifications, approaches to the delivery of training and curriculum development.  

Setting up for success

A new TAFE Performance and Accountability Framework and public compacts will ensure that Government support of TAFEs’ distinct role will lead to better student and employer outcomes and a more efficient network.  

Community training providers

Supporting Learn Locals

Learn Locals are community-based organisations. They include not-for-profits and neighbourhood houses that deliver community based-training. They provide skills and training with a focus on individual needs and tailored programs for students, including older people, people with special needs and those from diverse cultural backgrounds.  

Under Skills First, Learn Locals are eligible to receive funding to build on their important role in providing training to their local communities, through the extension of the Reconnect program.  

Learn Local Quality Partnerships

The Victorian Government is committed to working in partnership with the Adult, Community and Further Education Board. We recognise how crucial Learn Locals are to communities across the breadth of Victoria, often providing opportunities to some of the most disadvantaged. We have already introduced restricted contracts of 200 training places, particularly to meet the needs of smaller Learn Locals.  

For more information about Learn Locals, visit the Learn Local website  

Fact sheets 2017


Summary: Skills First Evaluation


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.  

Key findings

The Evaluation considered Skills First’s effectiveness in managing key elements of the VET system.  

Improving quality

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.  

System cohesion

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.

2017 case studies

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