Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Review of the National Agreement for Skills and Workforce Development

Josh Frydenberg MP,
On 15 November, the Australian Treasurer requested the Productivity Commission undertake a review of the National Agreement for Skills and Workforce Development (NASWD), by March 2020. There is a 48 page Issues paper.  The NASWD is a state/federal agreement on skills and workforce development, through the vocational education and training (VET) system. Successive state and federal governments have sown a lack of interest and ability in coordinating VET education, at great cost to the Australia economy, and individual students. If that was not difficult enough, there are the competing interests of universities, and private for-profit education providers. It will be interesting to see how the Productivity Commission navigates the quagmire of rent seekers and vested interests, which has derailed previous attests at reform.


In the context of the VET system, the review will consider:
  1. achievement of the objectives, outcomes, performance indicators, targets, reform directions and roles and responsibilities set out in the NASWD and their ongoing suitability
  2. options for governments to coordinate and streamline their support for vocational education in the future
  3. options for nationally consistent government funding and pricing arrangements that maximise efficiency, transparency and the supply of trained workers for the economy and promote consistency of incentives
  4. options to promote consistency in funding and loan arrangements between the VET and higher education sectors, and on any cross sector impacts that there might be
  5. options to ensure government investment in VET encourages increased participation in training by all Australians and is commensurate with the outcomes and benefits derived by individuals, business, industry, the local and national economy and society more generally
  6. potential for future funding arrangements to achieve further targeted reforms, including extending Language, Literacy, Numeracy and Digital Literacy (LLND) programs to all Australians and other relevant recommendations from the Expert Review of Australia's Vocational Education and Training System (the Joyce review) 2
  7. options for improved performance indicators, data and information sharing arrangements to enable all governments to assess the effectiveness of VET investment and delivery."
From: Terms of reference, Skills and Workforce Development Agreement, The Hon Josh Frydenberg MP, Treasurer, 15 November

The Issues Paper asks a series of questions. Here are some comments on these:


"whether the objectives and policy directions for the VET sector set out in the NASWD are suitable for the future and why" (p. 8)

The paper sets out the objective for VET as:
"A VET system that delivers a productive and highly skilled workforce and which enables all working age Australians to develop the skills and qualifications needed to participate effectively in the labour market and contribute to Australia’s economic future; and supports the achievement
of increased rates of workforce participation. (COAG 2012b, para. 18)"
I suggest there is more emphasis needed on entry level skills for VET students at secondary school. The objectives of VET could be broadened, by removing "highly", "all working age".


"How well does the NASWD describe the roles and responsibilities of governments in skills and workforce development? Could this be improved?" (P. 11)


"Does the current division of joint and jurisdiction-specific policy approaches ..." (p. 17)


"... are there ways to improve VET service quality and responsiveness ..." (p. 19)

I suggest the NASWD is fundamentally flawed, as it omits the important role of non-government educational organizations in VET and the technological change which has happened. Most post-secondary education, both in the VET and university sector, is now delivered online, not in a classroom, and is ripe for "disruption" by new entrants. This is similar to the way government transport regulators ignored the effect of online ride share companies, until after they had entered the market and "disrupted" the taxi industry, then having to react and retrospectively regulate. Much the same is happening with online learning disrupting the education industry. The Australian state and federal government can spend years coming to an agreement which will be irrelevant by the time it is adopted.

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