Vocational education and training (VET) provides people with the skills needed to gain and sustain meaningful employment. It also plays a key role in supporting disadvantaged learners and tackling a range of barriers to workforce participation, including long-term unemployment, early school leaving, low literacy or numeracy skills, and the need for workers to retrain or up-skill. However, funding changes, cuts, and inadequate quality control of VET providers have adversely affected the sector’s ability to support people facing disadvantage and those in regional and rural areas.
VCOSS welcomes the release of the VET Funding Review Final Report which recommends actions to address these issues, including several recommendations aimed at maximising economic and social participation of high needs learners and people disengaged from the labour force.
The government’s response indicates ‘support for the general direction of the Review’ and identifies the need to promote equity and disadvantage as one of the overarching objectives of the VET system. While the government has not yet detailed how it will implement all of the recommendations to better support disadvantaged learners, VCOSS looks forward to working with the government to finalise the funding model and the implementation plan. In particular VCOSS supports the following recommendations.
Increased support for disadvantaged learners, including:
- that the funding model reflects the additional costs of delivering training to higher need learners and retains a rural and regional loading to reflect the higher costs involved in the provision of training in these locations
- that the government explores additional approaches to address the needs of higher need learners, such as targeted funding with measureable outcomes
- that Community Service Grants (CSGs) be established to improve education participation, attainment and employment outcomes among vulnerable students, including providing intensive supports to assist disadvantaged students into, through, and out of the VET system.
- that disadvantaged students are supported to overcome financial barriers to training through more timely reimbursements of concession payments and by providing students with greater opportunity to demonstrate their eligibility for the concession rate
- that the VET system includes a greater focus on addressing literacy, numeracy and work readiness of students.
Measures to better protect students, including:
- introducing a range of stronger quality and control mechanisms to better protect students, including setting quality standards and more robust reporting and review processes, implementing restriction the use of sub-contracting and greater regulation of brokers
- that the Victorian Government works with the Commonwealth to reform VET FEE-HELP to better protect students.
- assisting students to make informed decisions about training, such as implementing independent career hubs which provide: independent guidance on vocational pathways and the local labour market; referrals to specialist support services to address non-VET issues or barriers; assistance to navigate the VET system; and have the ability to link up with other services such as schools, to advise students on study options and transitions.
More flexible training options for students and stronger pathways to education and employment, including:
- removing restrictions on eligibility that means a person can only commence two courses at the same level in their lime time.
- removing barriers to eligibility for further training for vulnerable groups of learners, including people under the age of 24, people who are long-term unemployed and workers who have been retrenched
- that the Skills Commissioner provides regular advice on existing and future labour market needs, which includes regional labour market skills needs and employment opportunities.
- incorporating a greater focus on employment outcomes and ensuring the VET system is more strongly aligned with jobs and industry
- that the government, through the Schools Funding Review, examines VET in Schools (VETiS) funding to determine if the current funding level is adequate for program delivery.
Early this year VCOSS made a submission to the VET funding review and provided a response to the VET Funding Review Issues Paper. In these submissions VCOSS called for a revision of the VET funding models to better support disadvantaged learners to remain in education and training and gain meaningful skills and employment. VCOSS welcomes the government’s commitments to review the current subsidy loadings to ensure they are targeted towards the students who need them the most and to consider how the new Skills and Jobs Centres can support high needs learners. VET funding needs to reflect the additional costs of providing education to people facing disadvantage and to students in rural and regional areas.
The VCOSS submissions further highlight the need to adequately fund community service activities (or CSGs) to support students’ wellbeing and their education and employment outcomes. We recommend the CSG scheme include a broad range of elements including provision of community infrastructure; student support services; individualised learning approaches and wrap-around support; disability access and support; and partnerships with community services to support student engagement, learning and wellbeing. VCOSS also recommends the VET system adequately recognises the role of both the public and not-for-profit training providers, in providing vulnerable learners with educational opportunities, and supporting high needs students.
VCOSS members have raised concerns about the provision of quality training from some private registered training organisations, suggesting current regulatory arrangements have failed to address serious quality issues in the for-profit VET sector. There are reports of unscrupulous practices in relation to the recruitment of students by some providers, including some for-profit VET providers signing up students to VET FEE-HELP loans they have little realistic prospect of repaying and in many cases for courses they do not complete.
The VCOSS submissions recommend protecting students through a range of measures, including providing vulnerable students with access to high quality, independent advice about training and career choices combined with stronger quality control and auditing processes of training providers. This could also include developing a complaints mechanism for students to report issues including process for dealing with poor provider performance.
To enhance the employment opportunities of learners VCOSS recommends developing a stronger alignment between the VET system and employment. This should take into account regional and rural job opportunities and skill needs, as well as considering entry level or re-entry workforce opportunities. Community and health services are large and growing industries and it is important that the VET system meets the education and training needs of this industry to support a highly qualified workforce.
VCOSS’s response to the Review also recommends introducing exemptions for students to have to upskill in order to access a government subsidised training place. An exemption could be applied where there are clear benefits to a student in enrolling in a course at the same or lower qualification level, or where the exemption will strengthen the workforce. For example, in the community services sector employees may need to hold a range of qualifications to meet the diverse needs of the people accessing their services.
The VCOSS submission to the Schools Funding Review also highlighted the need to review the VETiS funding and welcome the government’s commitment to undertake this review. Experience from VCOSS members indicates that the VETiS subsidies for students is substantially lower than the typical costs being charged by VET providers, resulting in a significant gap in fees, which are being pushed onto students and their parents/carers. This ‘vocational loading on parents’ can provide a significant barrier to young people from low-income families, with some unable to meet these additional costs.
The VET Funding Review along with the broader Education State reforms provides an important opportunity for the government to assist Victorians facing disadvantage, to remain engaged in education and training and gain the skills they need to successfully transition into the labour market.
In addition to helping people facing disadvantage to gain vocational skills, the VCOSS 2016-17 State Budget Submission Putting people back in the picture calls for a range of measures to help people facing disadvantage to gain work and skills:
- Help young people to find work through Local Learning and Employment Networks (LLENs)
- Develop a Workforce Participation Plan to help people facing disadvantage to find work
- Create job pathways for people facing disadvantage through inclusive public employment targets
- Help people facing disadvantage find work through social enterprises
 S Yu and D Oliver, The capture of public wealth for the for-profit VET sector, University of Sydney, 2015.
 Media reports on this issue have been extensive. One recent example is H Cook, ‘Public housing tenants lured into training courses with free ipads’, The Age, 4 April 2015.
 VET FEE-HELP provides loans to eligible students to pay all or part of their tuition fees for accredited VET courses.
 S Yu & D Oliver, Op.Cit. pp. 4–5.