WorkReady: 8 areas the new Minister can quickly make a positive impact

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With Gail Gago stepping down from her role as Minister, and a Cabinet reshuffle about to be announced, this blog will identify 8 areas that the next Minister for Employment, Higher Education and Skills can quickly make a positive impact on WorkReady.

The Funded Training List (FTL) is the foundation that WorkReady is built upon and my hope is that we have a more robust system.  You wouldn’t build a new building on an old, broken foundation – I believe the FTL is broken and a stronger evidence based foundation would support a fresh skills strategy for the future.

North South Motorway

In terms of a quick stock take the last announcement from Minister Gail Gago was for $8 million WorkReady projects,

Up to 1,500 people are expected to get jobs supported by 2,600 new training places – as a result of an additional $7.9 million over the next two financial years.

$285 million is already committed for training in 2015-16 for private training organisations with Minister Gago stating,

“We are also committing $6.4 million over two years to support 2,250 new training places and other support services at private providers, offered through Jobs First STL Projects and Jobs First Employment Projects.

Focus areas include aged care, disability, early childhood care and construction, but training in other areas will be supported where there is a direct link to a job.

A subsequent call for Jobs First Employment Projects will occur early next year.”

The new Minister has the opportunity to rethink the priorities for WorkReady and move away from a list based approach to an evidence based approach.

In other words, ditch the Funded Training List and extend the Jobs First approach including up skilling of the existing workforce as well as job seekers making it even more flexible and employer demand driven.

Aligned to the state’s Economic Priorities, key industry sectors (employing significant numbers, with growth potential, or experiencing decline/transformation), critical job roles (similar to the occupation lists that the Northern Territory and Western Australia governments have in place), and critical capabilities could provide a framework for funding projects.

Supporting priority industry sectors to develop workforce plans to 2020 and designing regional workforce action plans with local employers, like the Tasmanian government does, would provide a rich evidence base for job creation and workforce development strategies.

Now to the first of the suggestions regarding WorkReady and Australian Apprenticeships.

  1. Apprenticeships as a number 1 priority

Reviewing the Funded Training List 10.1/Subsidised Training List 1.1, and looking at the Training Contracts and Places columns, there is something that just doesn’t make sense.

If you are the state with the highest unemployment rate in Australia, and job creation is an important priority, why wouldn’t your skills policy fund training contracts for whatever qualification an employer wishes to employ an Australian Apprentice in?

In fact, if your skills budget was limited, wouldn’t the combination of employment plus training, through an Australian Apprenticeship, be your number 1 priority?

Funding for Australian Apprenticeships should be supported through WorkReady for any qualification as this means a job outcome first.  Also, as an employer of Australian Apprentices, including School Based Apprentices (SBA), I’d like to choose the training provider that we work with.

  1. Economic Priorities should be WorkReady priorities

The South Australian 2015 Economic Statement and Priorities should be the headline policy for WorkReady.  If this was the case then the following areas would be priorities for employment, skills and Vocational Education and Training (VET) policy:

  • Mining and Resources
  • Agriculture, Food and Wine
  • Aged Care, Disability and Health
  • Education, Higher Education and VET
  • Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM)
  • Tourism and Hospitality
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Medical Devices
  • Defence
  • ICT
  • Manufacturing
  • Precinct/Hub and Regional Workforces
  • Public Sector
  • Events and Creative Industries
  • Exporting and International Business
  • Small Business and Startups
  • Building and Construction

On the WorkReady website there is some information about skills needed in South Australia, including STEM and the following list:

  • health care and social assistance
  • mining
  • agriculture, forestry and fishing
  • accommodation and food services
  • public administration and safety
  • education and training
  • transport, postal and warehousing
  • other services (including automotive repair and maintenance, and hairdressing & beauty services)
  • professional, scientific and technical services and
  • retail trade.

Logically you would think that these industry sectors would be given more places via the Funded Training List but this doesn’t necessarily follow.

  1. Eligibility needs to be reviewed

Taking the eligibility test, where I have a Master of Education and I am running a successful business this was my result,

Your result (i.e. my personal result)

You may be eligible for government subsidised training in:

  • one foundation skills course (if you are assessed to need it)
  • one course from Certificate III to Advanced Diploma level
  • up to five bridging units at every qualification level (if assessed to need them)
  • unlimited priority courses.

I believe it is ridiculous that I can take unlimited priority courses paid for by the people of South Australia.

4.     Major projects should be reflected in skills priorities

Workforce initiatives should pre-empt skills needs for major projects.  People should be trained and job ready before their skills are needed.  To do this a workforce plan would be designed for each major project.

For example, construction is an important industry and projects like Northern Connector should be underpinned by an evidence based workforce action plan with support from WorkReady.

Major projects continue to support employment opportunities across a range of sectors. There are currently 326 major projects underway or planned in South Australia with a total value of around $95 billion. The main sectors impacted by major projects include:

  • minerals and energy
  • urban development
  • defence
  • infrastructure and water management
  • health, education and other services
  • premium food and wine and
  • manufacturing and industrial development.

There are a number of specific jobs listed as employment opportunities of the future on the WorkReady website under a Major Projects heading but how do they line up with the Funded Training List?

  1. Entrepreneurship not self-employment in policy

Whilst there is some information on the WorkReady website about self-employment, the language and thinking needs to shift to entrepreneurship.

I believe that entrepreneurship should feature in education, employment, higher education and skills policy with starting up a business as an outcome that is encouraged.

Putting entrepreneurship together with the Economic Priorities, and this Ministerial portfolio, could see a great combination of new ideas, solutions and business opportunities.

  1. Funding for training – employers and business

The information on funding for training for employers and businesses seems way out of date, nor does it link to the Economic Priorities, or have an evidence based workforce plan as the basis for support.

  1. Professional development events for training providers

Over recent years, the South Australian State Government hasn’t prioritised capability and professional development for the VET sector with the WorkReady website currently stating,

There are no professional development events for training providers currently scheduled.

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If South Australia has a goal to have a World-class VET system, then a VET Workforce Action Plan will be the key to unlocking the talent in the sector.

  1. Precinct and regional workforce projects

Alongside a hub development like Tonsley, a Precinct Workforce Action Plan, would identify critical job roles and capabilities feeding into the intelligence on what could be funded as a growth skills priority.

Balancing metropolitan and regional workforce needs will be an important consideration.  With the establishment of Industry Leaders Groups a few years ago, and the design of workforce projects through local networks, the success of this approach supported by Regional Manager probably hasn’t had enough recognition.

In fact, this model was highlighted at the World Technical Vocational Education Training (TVET) Conference in Sarawak with many countries interested in how this collaboration is facilitated.

Here are links to a number of projects announced in December 2015, however this information isn’t prominent on the WorkReady website:

To build upon this successful approach, Regional Workforce Action Plans for hot spots (e.g. Upper Spencer Gulf and Outback, Leigh Creek, Whyalla etc.), identifying priority industry sectors, critical job roles and capabilities, would provide longevity and sustainability for the communities, employers and the local workforce.

To whomever is appointed as the Minister for Employment, Higher Education and Skills, I look forward to seeing your approach and talking about how South Australia can transform into a 21st Century Workforce with a World-class VET system.

Have your say on the 8 areas, do you agree or disagree and perhaps you have your own suggestions too?  Follow this link to express your views.

January 2016

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