Screens & Feeders

VET reforms signal end of industry skills councils

At the recent National Vocational Education and Training (VET) conference in Brisbane, the Federal Minister for Industry Ian Macfarlane said the reforms were being introduced to ensure the skills and training system was “industry focused and industry led” and to reduce red tape.

“The training system must be more effective at matching skilled workers with the jobs that industry needs,” Macfarlane announced.

As part of this, following the current contract period with the 12 industry skills councils (ISCs), the Government will be opening up the development and maintenance of the VET training packages to a tendering model.

“While it is true that industry is already consulted about some of the content of training packages, there is more that can be done,” Macfarlane commented. “The important questions that have shaped the new approach include a more thorough consideration of exactly who is industry, how their views are represented, and how we can deliver the diversity of training they need.”

Macfarlane stated that the current ISCs would be welcome to apply under the new, “more contestable” model along with other groups, but said that further details on how the new structure would work would not be released until the Government had been able to consult with the sector.

SkillsDMC – formerly known as the Resources and Infrastructure Industry Skills Council – is the combined ISC for the quarrying, civil construction, drilling, and coal and metalliferous mining industries. Formed in the early 2000s, the council played a major part in developing the quarry industry’s current, endorsed RII Resources and Infrastructure Training Package.

While the training packages do not prescribe how individuals should be trained, they do prescribe how they should be assessed. The units of competency specify the knowledge and skills required and the performance criteria that have to be satisfied for an individual to be considered competent.

The most common application of the RII package in quarries has been through an initial assessment which identifies if an individual is competent in their knowledge and skills or may require some extra learning development, whether through in-house or external training, coaching and mentoring.

Mixed reactions from industry
Australian Industry Group chief executive Innes Willox praised the Government reforms, saying, “The competitive tendering [process]…will help put employers in the driving seat for the development of training packages, a cornerstone of the national VET system.

“ISCs have been a prominent feature of the VET landscape for some time. It is important that the new arrangements provide a strong mechanism to ensure appropriate and rigorous governance arrangements that underpin industry’s central role in a demand-driven system.”

While the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) also welcomed the changes, it warned that the new model would need to be implemented with caution and noted that the ISCs would still hold value in future.

“Training packages have been the cornerstone of the VET sector for close to 20 years and the ISCs have, in most part, served well as the developers of those training packages,” ACCI director of employment, education and training Jenny Lambert said.

“The transition arrangements for training package development will need to be carefully managed to ensure that currency of occupational skills standards are maintained and industry confidence in the training package development process does not suffer. There is a considerable amount of technical knowledge in the ISC network that should be tapped into for future training package work.”

The Electrical Trades Union (ETU), however, labelled the Government’s abolition of the ISCs as a “short-sighted” decision that would condemn Australian industry to a “looming skills crisis”.

ETU national secretary Allen Hicks said, “Where currently we have a model that brings together voices from throughout an industry, combined with specialist staff who intimately understand the sector, we will be left with narrow, self-interested training that doesn’t provide the skills we need for the future.

“Before we had this system, there were more than 16,000 accredited courses, each developed by individual training providers to varying degrees of quality and currency, which is why the current national training system was introduced two decades ago.

“Without properly funded ISCs we risk returning to the chaos of the past, where workers are trained for the needs of one employer, rather than a whole industry.”

More reading
Vocational training in the past three decades: 1984 to 2014

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