How COVID Will Accelerate Change in the VET System

Claudia Reiners
October 7, 2020

How COVID Will Accelerate Change in the VET System

4bf428ed6af9ff680b7ac8b24b046f3d?s=50&d=mm&r=g Claudia Reiners
Head of Strategy

The vocational education and training (VET) sector is not currently equipped to tackle the unpredictable challenges of a post-COVID future.

The bold moves recommended in the Mitchell Institute “Skills for Recovery” report identifies some opportunities to accelerate progress, allowing providers to benefit from the restored trust in the system.

As Australia emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic, some positive changes have started to come about from the perspective of industry and education providers. The pandemic has effectively accelerated many of the changes that were already being instilled – here’s how we can expect the VET sector to bounce back even stronger.

Challenges within the VET system

Many providers are already responding to measures identified in the national VET Roadmap, on the new JobTrainer initiative and the ‘Skills for Recovery’ funding package to meet changing demands. This includes offering work-based learning opportunities and micro-credentials so students can pursue relevant, lifelong education. However, several challenges persist within the VET system, with some of the ones identified by the Mitchell Institute including:

  • Inefficiencies and inconsistencies

    The VET system is blighted by inefficiencies and inconsistencies, meaning it is not functioning as a unified, national system. Prime Minister Scott Morrison notes that VET reform is therefore critical for the nation’s economic recovery, as a cohesive system is needed to appropriately skill the country’s workers. He described the system as clunky, lacking information and oversight, and being “unresponsive to skills demands”, adding that “the funding system (is) marred by inconsistencies and incoherence, with little accountability back to any results.”

  • Low-quality courses

    The Mitchell Institute also points towards the possibility that some education providers may see the pandemic as an opportunity to undercut their competition with low-quality, cheap VET courses. A comprehensive national quality framework is suggested to quell any unscrupulous providers.

  • Lack of proper industry participation

    What sets VET apart from tertiary education is its focus on industry and work readiness. Unfortunately, the VET system has not found the right role for industry stakeholders to play yet. While some want industry to have a direct role in planning course content and assessment, others believe too much industry involvement will result in narrow training functions. The Mitchell Institute suggests that “while the ‘right fit’ for industry might always remain contested, there is scope for policymakers to do more to help industry find its role”.

These efforts to correct these issues have been fast-forwarded by the COVID-19 pandemic, with the vitality of the VET sector now being inextricably linked to Australia’s economic recovery.

The exciting opportunities that exist for the vocational education and training system

According to the Mitchell Institute report, “the COVID-19 crisis has intensified labour market churn and created many new career-changers in the hardest-hit parts of the economy”. The VET sector is now in the position to offer revised, innovative VET qualifications to help individuals future-proof themselves and upskill appropriately.

Some positive changes VET providers can expect to be a part of include:

  • Greater alignment with and responsiveness among industry bodies

    The Mitchell Institute highlights the need to be responsive to evolving skills needs. This change would mean that student choice would drive supply, which requires timely information on current and future skills needs. According to the Institute, “providers also play an important role in contributing to the ‘responsiveness’ of the sector… we also need policy settings that empower providers to work with industry”.

  • The implementation of proficiency grading

    The current competency-based system for grading may discourage rigorous assessment as there can be substantial financial incentives for providers to award qualifications. Instead, providers have the opportunity to lead a push towards proficiency grading, which help students signal their skill level and incentivise them to pursue higher qualifications.

  • The move towards meeting skills at a local level

    Providers should embrace the opportunity to work with industry to meet skills needs at a local level, especially when it comes to large-scale projects or expansions relating to construction, mining or education and health services. The concept of “meeting skills needs” also needs to be broadened, factoring in the needs of individuals throughout their careers. This could include various pathways in the VET and higher education sectors, or even through micro-credentials.

These efforts to correct these issues have been fast-forwarded by the COVID-19 pandemic, with the vitality of the VET sector now being inextricably linked to Australia’s economic recovery.

The Mitchell Institute encourages government and providers to “capitalise on the momentum from the (COVID-19) crisis, and the appetite for reform, to reshape VET in Australia”.

Our training system must provide the skills needed to power our economy, with countless Australians relying on this to get back on their feet after the crisis.

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Claudia Reiners
Head of Strategy
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