WorkReady – Ready, Set, Shakeup for VET in South Australia

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A new targeted approach to funding Vocational Education and Training (VET) in South Australia has been announced called WorkReady.

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Training leading to jobs in areas of economic and industry priority will be the focus of this approach which some say should have been obvious from the start of Skills for All.  It seems with Skills for All the main aim was to increase the number of people with post school qualifications.

WorkReady will be phased in from 1 July 2015… It has been designed to improve training completion rates and strengthen connections to employment opportunities.

WorkReady has been designed to ensure that students, jobseekers, employers, the training sector and the government have the flexibility to respond to changing social, geographic and economic circumstances.

For training providers who are reliant on government funding, they will need to review their business approach, products, programs and alignment to priorities.  Where a training provider might gain 75% of their income from state government funding, insight, intelligence and information on the market and competitors will be critically important.  If a provider has 50% plus funding from government then perhaps the impact may not be as drastic but a strategic RTO review may be very helpful.

Think of the industry sectors like this.  If you work with a sector that is growing or if you work with a sector that is going through significant transformation, like manufacturing, then WorkReady aligns.  Providing evidence for prioritisation will be difficult for industry sectors that are in maintenance mode, where demand for jobs is cyclical, or where the industry is in decline.

Take note specifically of the following section in the policy outline,

Alignment to strategic industry sectors

To make sure South Australia is a place where people and businesses thrive, public investment will be aligned with strategic industry sectors, and employers will be involved in developing tailored solutions.

This will ensure that training and employment initiatives respond to employment opportunities and the need for specific skills wherever they occur across the state.

Co-investment is an expectation with employers, service providers or students paying towards the cost of the course.

Workforce BluePrint has long been advocating for a framework of investment that considers:

  • State economic development priorities
  • Industry and regional priorities
  • Motivational priorities for example get a first job, gain an Australian Apprenticeship, update skills to support export and innovation

Not only addressing the skill requirements for current jobs, WorkReady needs to have a way to deal with emerging skills and future job requirements.  These skills may not yet be included in National Training Packages and so this could be seen as a limitation.

The allocation of places has not yet proven to be a successful approach in states like New South Wales.  Details of how this allocation will work in detail, if allocated places that don’t get taken up can be recycled, and how the timing (twice a year) will drive market and provider behavior are yet to be seen.

With a belief in ‘true demand’ from employers and industry, a flexible, as needs approach to working up applications for recruitment and up skilling initiatives would be my preference.  This should also be extended from qualifications to combinations of units of competency, induction and licence outcomes.

All of this highlights the need for industry and regional workforce plans that identify demand, critical job roles and critical capabilities.  But the name WorkReady sounds like this is all about pre-employment programs so it’s a strategy to address unemployment.

A new subsidised training list should begin with critical job roles, then critical capabilities, and follow through to matching with skills and qualifications.  Alternatively, I would prefer that the list is ditched all together and replaced only with the framework of priorities described above with the added detail of critical job roles and capabilities.

A central plank of WorkReady is to link prospective students and jobseekers with real job opportunities through an upfront assessment of individual learning and support needs.

The identification of potential employees should rest with the employer and this statement seems to tip over into the responsibility of an employer or employment service provider.

There are three streams and it will be interesting to see how each works operationally and the impact on the VET market.

  1. Engagement and strong foundations

This activity stream provides people with foundation learning that supports pathways to higher level courses that lead to entry level jobs.

Activities include language, literacy and numeracy courses, employment support programs and some lower level qualifications such as pre-vocational courses.

  1. Skilling for jobs

Activity in this stream provides people with the skills needed for entry-level employment, including:

  • traineeships and apprenticeships
  • industry-recognised entry level qualifications
  • employment programs that help jobseekers who face barriers to employment, including Aboriginal people and transitioning workers, at the local and regional level.

Industry advice will guide activity in this stream and employers will be closely involved in tailoring projects that prepare people for specific types of jobs.

  1. Skilling for the future

This stream is designed to provide existing workers with the qualifications and skills necessary to progress in their industry or to transition to a new job in areas of economic priority.

This includes higher level courses and priority courses, as well as skill sets to broaden and deepen their skills.

Employer and industry engagement will be vital for confidence in WorkReady and informing the subsidised list.  The South Australian state government is going to use two approaches to allocating funding:

Competitive purchasing – subsidised qualifications

Where the market for a particular course is well serviced, courses will be listed on the Subsidised Training List, along with the number of places to be funded, based on an assessment of labour market need and levels of current participation.

Eligible people will be able to choose any course from the list and any provider from the approved provider list who offers the course.

Courses on the Subsidised Training List will attract a subsidy.

These subsidies will guide the level of co-investment expected from the employer, the employment service provider and/or student.

The new Subsidised Training List will be phased in over time to ensure a smooth transition.

Jobs-first approach

The government will work closely with selected providers to develop tailored training for specific groups, industries or regions where there is an opportunity to:

  • work closely with employers and regional or industry bodies to provide quality work placements and transitions to employment (in addition to accredited training)
  • involve employers in the selection of participants, delivery methodology and the validation of outcomes.

Training providers will compete to deliver the specified courses. This will be done through a submission process that demonstrates a track record of quality outcomes that link training to jobs.

The Jobs-first approach, which I would call Workforce demand first, should be the main game for WorkReady and perhaps over time the whole initiative will move to this model.  With a more flexible way of funding this will move away from the January and July intakes which I think will be a problem for providers and students.

With the differential subsidy paid to TAFESA being phased out and with a purchase agreement that may or may not be met, a missing piece that seems obvious to me, is action research into the actual cost of courses and benchmarking across providers.  Productivity improvements and innovative professional development for training providers will need to be stepped up enormously.

Written by Wendy Perry, VET Strategist WPAA, Head Workforce Planner, Workforce BluePrint, April 2015.

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