Skills for All observations and the Workforce Development Program

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Skills for All began on 1 July 2012 – a new model of funding Vocational Education and Training in South Australia.

Other states and territories, such as Smart and Skilled in NSW, are basing components of their new initiatives on Skills for All so even if you work outside of SA, I’d suggest the progress of Skills for All is something to watch closely.

Image by Somerset College via Flickr

BUT how future orientated and long sighted are some aspects of Skills for All and what have we learnt from implementation to date?  What’s new and exciting?

This blog provides observations on the fundamentally changed VET market, comments on funded skill sets, RPL, the Training Guarantee for SACE Students, Skills in the Workplace and the Workforce Development Program.

Training Providers and the VET Market

As at 24.11.12 there are 195 Skills for All training providers which is a significant reduction from the number of RTO’s in South Australia.  Previously DFEEST registered RTOs, before transferring to ASQA, numbered 371 and this was even higher in the past.

Requiring RTOs to become Skills for All providers and meeting criteria over the standards to access state government funding has fundamentally changed the local VET market.  Based upon a sound approach to build in quality mechanisms via contract arrangements, I’m not sure the state government, providers and clients have comprehended what this really means.

For example, some RTOs have had the stance that they will not need to become Skills for All providers as their business is fully fee for service.  With clients and the VET market generally looking for cost effective solutions that achieve the outcomes they want, you’d have to be an exceptional provider to win the business on fee for service when options now include funded Australian Apprenticeships, Skills for All, Skills in the Workplace, the Workforce Development Program and the National Workforce Development Fund.

On 17 September 2012 DFEEST released a new version of the funded training list (version 3.0).  Two and a half months after implementation, 6 qualifications including:

  • BSB30207 Certificate III in Customer Contact
  • BSB30211 Certificate III in Customer Contact
  • BSB40807 Certificate IV in Frontline Management
  • CPP40307 Certificate IV in Property Services (Real Estate)
  • SIR30207 Certificate III in Retail
  • SIS40210 Certificate IV in Fitness

were taken off the list with no new enrolments from 22 October 2012.

Analysing the logic behind this decision leads me to think that enrolments in these qualifications must have jumped up substantially since Skills for All implementation.   This may be due to Skills for All being a number of months in the making and RTOs held off new enrolments over this period as they wanted students to benefit from the new funding arrangements.  This has meant a significant conversion of enrolments in a short time and I do not think this is truly reflective of actual demand, that is demand that built up over 9-12 months all converted in 2-3 months.

Cutting funding for the Certificate IV in Frontline Management has me a little concerned because all research and reports point to a dearth of leadership skills in Australian organisations and we have a newly announced Centre for Workplace Leadership.

If you’re shopping for a place with Skills for All providers, the service levels vary.  There is a difference in how long they take to respond to enquiries, the details of information provided, follow up and pricing.  A management qualification, with the Skills for All subsidies, varies from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand depending upon provider and methodology.

Skill sets

The Funded Training List and Subsidy Release 4.0 was published on 19 November 2012 and includes National Training Package skill sets from 11 different Training Packages.

Some would describe the list as an odd mix, as they expected the skill set list to support areas for economic stimulation, growth or common workforce development gaps such as licences in building and construction, workplace health and safety, sustainability, NBN capability, and mandatory requirements for job roles that can be barriers to workforce participation.

Take the ICT Broadband Skill Set for example.  This is a narrow skill set for NBN and digital capability that is far more expansive and required by many small and medium enterprises and organisations.  I have undertaken a number of NBN projects such as the ACPET vstream project and Workforce BluePrint was profiled by NBN Co as a small business case study.  These projects have shown the skills for being NBN enabled are across 11 National Training Packages and common development needs include:

  • Market research
  • Digital images
  • Search Engine Optimisation
  • Digital/mobile games
  • Music (use) and sound (editing)
  • Intellectual Property
  • Storylines and treatments
  • Web and social media

Recognition of Prior Learning

The following statements are quoted from the Skills for All Subsidy Framework document, version number 1.1, released on 23 July 2012:

3.1  A Subsidy will be payable for RPL in a Unit of Competency completed by an Eligible Student (AVETMISS result code 51 or 52) when an Eligible Student is enrolled in a full qualification.

3.2  A Subsidy will not be payable for RPL in a Unit of Competency completed by an Eligible Student (AVETMISS result code 51 or 52) when an Eligible Student is enrolled in a Skill Set.

3.3  The use of RPL will be closely monitored.  It is expected that the attainment of any qualification funded under Skills for All will comprise substantial skill and knowledge development and not consist of large amounts of RPL activity.  Where most of the qualification is likely to be achieved through RPL, it is expected that the Training Provider will assess and support the student to enrol in a higher level qualification to ensure skill levels are increased. (p. 4-5)

I commend Skills for All taking a stance against unscrupulous RTOs using substandard RPL practices as a cash cow however, the statements above send contradictory messages.  Surely we want to see a good upfront RPL (assessment) process prior to training in a qualification or skill set?  “RPL will be closely monitored” may be interpreted as “RPL isn’t as good as training or learning through a traditional approach” and I’d love to see a statement reinforcing good practice RPL as a valued, legitimate and appropriate activity.

Training Guarantee for SACE students

The Training Guarantee for SACE students (TGSS), will pay funding to a Skills for All Training Provider for selected SACE students who are 16 years of age or older.

The student must be:

  • doing a substantial amount of VET delivered by a training provider
  • doing a qualification on the Skills for All Funded Training List that is designated as being available through TGSS.

The Skills for All Training Provider must:

  • guarantee the student a place to finish the VET qualification (which must be listed on the Funded training List as available under TGSS)
  • take the student in the year after the student completes SACE (or equivalent)
  • ensure the course is included on their Skills for All Training Provider course schedule.

Qualifications available under TGSS are identified on the Prescribed Qualifications List and the Funded Training List.  Generally, these are Certificate II and Certificate III qualifications.

It will be interesting to see how the TGSS progresses as I’m not sure how attractive it is for SACE student and their schools.  Guaranteeing a place at Certificate III level will be problematic especially where a ‘job’ is needed although I can see that for RTOs it offers a way to be funded for what has in the past often been a loose arrangement around who pays for VET other than major programs such as Doorways to Construction, which is an excellent model of delivery and contribution.

Skills in the Workplace

Skills in the Workplace will fund up to 90% of the training costs of eligible South Australian employers for industry-critical skills and specialised occupations, with employers contributing the remainder.  Employers are being invited to apply for Skills in the Workplace funding online.  Priority will be given to funding accredited training that leads to:

  • the completion of nationally endorsed qualifications from certificate IV to advanced diploma level
  • specific skill set training available to individuals with an existing full qualification of at least certificate III level

Targeted industry sectors currently include:

  • Resources
  • Infrastructure (public and private investment)
  • Community services
  • Advanced manufacturing
  • Agrifoods
  • Clean technology and green skills
  • Defence
  • Health
  • Water resources

Consideration will also be given to:

  • Workforce needs following major construction projects
  • Significant regional employers
  • Accredited training for legislative compliance

This program seems to have taken a while to be understood and get out into business and industry circles.  It requires a different approach to quoting for RTOs and information on each participating business which can be difficult to collate where there are multiple stakeholders.  It’s a generous program in terms of co-investment – download program guidelines and the risk assessment template to consider the relevance to your workforce needs.

What’s new and exciting?  The Workforce Development Program

The Workforce Development Program provides grant funding for industry-wide workforce projects.  Projects may focus on a single enterprise, an industry sector, a major project or region, industry supply chains, clusters, or companies within them.

Funding is for projects in the following priority areas:

  • planning the workforce
  • recruiting skilled staff
  • developing existing workers
  • retaining workers
  • fostering innovation and change
  • improving training delivery

Read the Workforce Development Program Guidelines and the Program Application Form.

This is an area where South Australia is demonstrating foresight and innovation.  Many funds and initiatives require an existing workforce plan and this program recognises the importance of building capability across businesses, industries and regions in workforce planning and development, collaboration with employer and industry led projects, and real solutions to common workforce needs.

To put all of this in context, Skills for All is breaking new ground.  Properly implemented the underpinning philosophy of the individual, enterprise and industry co-identifying their workforce development needs and choosing to invest in qualifications and skill sets with a provider of their choice, is demonstration of a demand driven approach.

Change of this magnitude will always elicit debate and questions.  I’m confident that Skills for All will take on board feedback and views, continuing to monitor the data and evolve into the contemporary, forward thinking VET system that South Australia needs.

To build your capability in workforce planning and workforce development, places are available in the new Workforce Architects Silver Program for 2013, the Workforce Profiling – the key ingredient to workforce planning webinar, and The Workforce Plan Tool is now licenceable.

Written by Wendy Perry, Head Workforce Planner, Workforce BluePrint and VET Strategist, WPAA.

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