Industry Clusters – Time for Alternate Arrangements

It may have taken a month or two to get your head around the Industry Clusters (Stage 1) – Strengthening Australia's National Vocational Education and Training System (2021-2025) grant opportunity and how it might work.  And Vocational Education and Training (VET) in Australia is a sector that seems that it is constantly under review – at least for the 25 years that I have been involved and many colleagues have been working in VET for much longer.


You can understand that Australia needs a strong education and training sector, especially coming out of the pandemic, but you must ask is this new, will it be fit for purpose and is it world-class?


Industry and employer engagement is at the heart of any strong vocational education system, where it must be more agile, faster, and productive.  From the guidelines,


Industry Clusters will operate within the national training system under the policies and standards set by Skills Ministers and will be accountable for the delivery of high-quality training products that address the skills needs of both employers and learners. Training products developed by Industry Clusters will be independently assured before final endorsement by Ministers through an independent assurance function and will be a key measure for Industry Cluster performance. The new training product assurance body will also build the capability of Industry Clusters to drive continuous improvement in training product development. (Department of Education, Skills and Employment, 2021)


So, this isn’t anything new or different as previous iterations of organisations contracted by the Australian Government have had a similar remit.


Having more of a forward focus is an improvement, feeding into the workforce demand picture beyond accredited training is key.  Workforce planning, as well as implementation, promotion and monitoring with providers and the National Careers Institute seem to be new functions, as industry leadership and stewardship has been demonstrated under former models.


I am sure we all agree that it is good to see a focus on “…gather [ing] workforce intelligence and use this intelligence to identify skills and training needs and to prioritise activities”, however there are numerous industry peak bodies and professional associations, government and regional development agencies, that have developed current and future workforce strategies.  A stocktake of all these initiatives should be a starting point and then consideration of where there might be gaps.


On the outcomes and aims the grant guidelines state,


Industry Clusters will ensure training outcomes are meeting the needs of employers, whether they are small, medium, large, national, urban, regional or rural, and will do so now and into the future. In collaboration with training providers, they will also ensure learners are being equipped with the skills they will need, either through training, upskilling or re-skilling, to succeed across a broad range of career pathways. Industry Clusters will provide national leadership across the VET system and drive innovative solutions, from skills forecasting to training product development and supporting delivery and collaboration across the training sector.


There must be some organisations and stakeholders looking at these statements and asking how will you achieve these goals? Some committed to real outcomes and some to ticking the boxes.


Aside from the resources required to facilitate these activities, there is such a cavernous ravine on where numerous training products, qualifications and competencies are now compared to the current workforce requirements let alone future needs.  Old fashioned, out of date, irrelevant, boring, inflated, lacking innovation or new discovery technologies with a tedious approach to development, is in my opinion where the products are at.  For the outcomes to be achieved in the guidelines, this would mean facilitating strategic workforce planning for 5, 10, 15 years, taking a global perspective on skills comparing international practices to be world-class, accredited and non-accredited training being funded, and a different way to cluster industry sectors.


Whilst the guidelines suggest the following,


“The program intends to establish and fund nine Industry Clusters (although the number and groupings of Industry Clusters will be determined through this grant funding process including the opportunity for applicants to propose alternate arrangements). The number of Industry Clusters is intended to support scale, efficiency and collaboration across the training system, and ensure sufficient funding is available for each cluster.”


I’m suggesting a different, alternate perspective that is based upon how the economy has changed over the past 2-3 years.


The Proposed Industry Clusters Groupings from the Australian Government in the guidelines are:


  1. Agribusiness and Food Production
  2. Arts and Personal Services
  3. Building, Construction and Property
  4. Early Educators, Health and Human Services
  5. Finance, Technology and Business
  6. Government, Education and Public
  7. Manufacturing, Print and Textiles
  8. Mining, Resources and Energy
  9. Wholesale, Retail, Transport and Logistics

Let’s see if you think an alternative approach might make sense and in May 2020 I wrote a blog titled, What Could Jobs and Employment in the Short Term Future Economy Look Like?


In this blog, 4 different segments were outlined as:


  1. Essential
  2. Enabling
  3. Experience
  4. Entrepreneurs

“Essential workers” who are keeping Australia and many other countries going, including sectors such as:


  • Health and Medical – Aged care, childcare, corrections, disability, health professionals, GPs, mental health, paramedics, pharmacy
  • Agriculture, food production and meal preparation, groceries, hardware, petrol, supermarkets
  • Banks, clothing, commercial cleaners, education (online), energy, government services, trades, water
  • Defence forces, drivers, infrastructure, logistics, manufacturing (medical supplies), mining & resources, stores, supply chain, transport, warehouse & delivery
  • Public safety, security and law enforcement

This second cohort relates to the enabling sectors and which jobs include:


  • Building, construction and infrastructure projects
  • Call centres
  • Entertainment, games, apps, employment services
  • Marketing and social media
  • Tech
  • Telecommunications

Experience based jobs are across bars, clubs, entertainment, hotels, pubs, restaurants, sport and recreation, theme parks, tourism and travel, wineries and cellar doors.


Entrepreneurship relates to capabilities over all sectors and the key focus for Australia right here, right now is scaling up.


It looks like the way industry sectors and clusters are being formed is more of the same, not taking the opportunity to learn from the pandemic as to how jobs really work.  It does seem that other countries and regions, are making the most of recent experiences to take a massive step up but maybe not Australia.


And things have moved on so consider shaping clusters down supply chain lines, future growth areas, and scaling up for more uncertainty times ahead – arranged in a matrixed way rather than siloed columns, for example:


  1. Essential
  2. Enabling
  3. Experience
  4. Entrepreneurship and scaling up
  5. Emerging growth areas

Jobs and industry sectors have a lot more skills in common than most people realise and now is the time to explore alternate arrangements – how would you structure the Industry Clusters?  What do you think of the aims and outcomes in these guidelines?


Feel free to get in touch via, thanks.

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