Skills for All Funded Training List 6.0 – right or wrong questions?

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South Australia’s Department of Further Education Employment Science and Technology (DFEEST) has released the Skills for All Funded Training List 6.0 Consultation Paper for review and comment.  I appreciate DFEEST has publicly asked for feedback and I am taking the opportunity to share my opinions, particularly on the persistent issues of matching workforce demand with funded training priorities.

Questions

Are they asking the right questions? 

Let’s review the current paper where the first sentence states,

“Skills for All aims to increase skill levels, ensuring the State has the necessary skilled labour to support growth in existing, new and emerging industries.”  That being the case, Skills for All needs to spell this demand out – what industries, what critical job roles, what skills (over and above qualifications).

The Hon Jay Weatherill’s MP – Economic Statement sets out 4 priorities in very explicit terms.  What I would expect is a table or document that outlines the 1. State strategic priorities, 2. DFEEST objectives, 3. Industry/regional objectives, 4. Workforce gaps/issues, 5. Priorities, 6. Workforce development strategies including qualifications and skills sets that then links to the Skills for All Funded Training List – so at the moment it seems the wrong way around? I would like to see Skills for All adopt a methodology that directly supports the State’s strategic priorities

The paper says,

“Based upon recent survey results that show more than 91% of students agreed (including 40.6% who strongly agreed) with the statement ‘Overall I was satisfied with my training’, it is clear Skills for All is already delivering real improvements… sounds like quality indicators to me?  I would like to know over what timeframe and where was this sourced from, for example did it include public and private providers?

“The Government is committed to a managed demand driven system…” but I can’t see any workforce demand analysis?

The paper uses the language of caps; this implies that they may in the future be lifted, so would it be more appropriate to use the language of ceasing enrolments?

The principles introduced in the paper are interesting and useful but I don’t recall seeing them identified before, so where do they come from?

“… there is a significant concentration of enrolments in a small number of qualification areas that represent 20% of current enrolments.”  This should in no way be a surprise as you just need to look at national figures to understand the 80/20 rule.

“A fundamental principle of the Skills for All Policy Framework is the requirement that skill development is aligned to industry demand.”  I agree with this but would like to see the evidence DFEEST is using to underpin this statement. If RTO’s and service providers are to position themselves to meet the states future needs, you need to make this public!

I fear that the Skills for All Funded List could be mostly influenced by learner choice and RTO objectives with what is popular, easy, and affordable – not what the actual business and industry demand is.

Under the heading of Consolidating the Skills for All Funded List there are a number of questions.

“In considering the breadth of the Skills for All Funded Training List and the current concentration of training activity and your industry’s needs, what are the critical courses and skills for your industry?”

I can see that an attempt is being made to ask about ‘critical’ skills.  I believe this question should be, “what are the critical job roles now and into the future” then “what skills are needed for these critical job roles now and into the future” as putting “courses” first turns this question into a supply [not demand] driven response.

The next principle relates to maintaining alignment to demand with a statement that,

“…some courses have not attracted training providers and consequently no publicly funded student have enrolled.”

I am concerned about this statement because it is implied that as there have been no training providers, there is no demand. That assumption could be very misguided. It may be saying this training is too hard or not profitable. I would like to see an industry demand analysis of the courses with no Skills for All Training Provider and no enrolments before they may be removed from the Skills for All Funded Training List.  This could in fact be an example of market failure, where there is demand but no provider willing to deliver.

The question of:

“Are these courses critical for your industry on this list?” misses the fundamental question of what are your industry’s critical job roles?  What are the skills required for these critical job roles? (a recurring theme!)  For example, a self-employed photographer specialising in newborn and children’s photography needs technical photography and graphic design skills, small business, administration, management and sales skills plus the ability to work with children – skills from at least 3 Training Packages and multiple qualifications worth of skills.

Skills for All has effectively killed the fee for service market.  So to now ask questions about how to revive it seems quizzical and I don’t think it’s fair to call it substitution, as there still is the need to shop around as prices of qualifications vary so much.

In the area of RPL, I wouldn’t like to see RPL discouraged and I think the suggestion of putting limits on the proportion of RPL is against good practice.  Instead I’d like to see a better understanding of the true costs (inputs) and rewards (outputs) of RPL that ensure RPL is facilitated really well.

A couple of answers in short:

Do we have the right mix of priority courses? The only way I can answer this is “I do not know.” This is because I have not seen an evidence based approach to understanding workforce demand into the future – critical job roles and skills.

What factors should be considered in the process for adding and removing priority status from a course?  Again, it needs to be workforce demand based with sound workforce planning and prioritisation.

In terms of “green skills” and being a company in our sixth financial year of 100% offsetting our carbon emissions it has been difficult to find good quality programs that address carbon accounting.  This is another way of looking at demand, that is across industry sectors and based upon strategic business priorities and yes it’s important.  So for me the qualifications in Carbon Management seem sensible and I think they should be promoted (this is the first I’ve really heard or seen of them).

The question of entry level pathways could be answered very simplistically with a list of accredited courses and Training Package qualifications at a Certificate I and II level.  But most job roles now require a Certificate III qualification as entry level and in practice, job roles are 1, 2 and 3 qualifications worth of skills at multiple Australian Qualification Framework levels.  I would prefer to see skills breadth supported at an entry level.  What I mean by that is transferable skills across multiple job roles to give new entrants a range of options of career pathways.  This effectively translates into skills (not skill sets) from multiple qualifications and Training Packages.  If you are not sure about how this could work I’m happy to provide examples of real job skills profiles that demonstrates core/common, functional and job specific skills well and truly beyond a Certificate I.

Whilst it’s not exactly a red tape issue, it’s relevant.  I’m not confident that DFEEST and/or RTOs agree on the costs to undertake specific qualifications.  This lack of real evidence has resulted in a Skills for All Funded Training List and Subsidy Calculator that pays too much for some qualifications and far too little for others.  I would like to see a true calculation of qualification inputs and outputs, the Skills for All subsidy and learner/employer contribution if relevant all calculated with scenarios where Skills for All funding is 100%, reduced by 50% and 30%.

The principles outlined in the paper seem to be new to me and I would have liked to have seen a collaborative, transparent approach to developing the principles from the outset of Skills for All implementation.

I love the final question.

Do you have any comments or suggestions you would like to share?  Yes, yes I do, please see above and I trust this blog post will be considered as a “submission”.  I will email this post to skillsforall@sa.gov.au as you should do if you have comments to make.

I would like to formally thank DFEEST and Chief Executive, Raymond Garrand for his ongoing commitment to getting Skills for All right – balancing budgetary demand and policy decisions.  This was demonstrated with his willingness to talk with our clients via a webinar on Skills for All – update and progress – thank you Raymond.

Copies of the questions are available at www.skills.sa.gov.au/for-training-providers/funding/skills-for-all-funded-training

Written by Wendy Perry, Managing Director, WPAA and Head Workforce Planner, Workforce BluePrint.

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