Tasmania will build its way out of the pandemic, but now is the time to think about how to future proof the workforce.
As restrictions continue to ease and Tasmania’s cases of coronavirus continue to be few and far between, the focus has, rightly, shifted to how we will hit the accelerator on our economy and bring life back.
While in lockdown, Tasmania’s economy, like the rest of the country and the world, hit an economic pause – people lost their jobs and others had to reduce hours. Tasmania’s “most aggressive infrastructure blitz” has been held aloft as the key to our collective economic survival, but it won’t just be existing builders, plumbers, painters, but future generations who will carry the torch. Education will play a vital role in this process but providing a steady pipeline of workers to fill the skill shortages as older workers retire.
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One thing that has emerged during this pandemic is that it will largely be vocational industries that will help lead the way out of economic deficit and back on an upwards trajectory. Latest figures from the National Centre for Vocational Education Research show vocational enrolments are on the increase, and the spotlight has been thrown onto TAFE investment and the successes of the sector through National Skills Week, which wraps up today.
NCVER managing director Simon Walker said that it can be a complex picture to grasp, as some students enrol in more than one program, others in subjects that are not part of a nationally recognised program, and many in a combination of both.
“While there’s been an overall increase in enrolments in 2019, including further significant growth in international students, it was also notable that government-funded program enrolments had increased after a period of gradual decline.
“This increase included a sharp rise in government-funded enrolments in higher-level programs, with an increase of 7 per cent in enrolments at Certificate IV level and above between 2018 and 2019, compared with a decline of 12 per cent over the preceding four years,” he said.
The question remains, why is it still so complex? Is there a way to make it easier? In Tasmania, kick-starting the economy has been hinged on these vocational industries – it requires job-ready graduates to be filtered directly to the industries that need them most (see aged care, construction and advanced manufacturing).
An economic pause that was gifted to us during the pandemic offers an opportunity for a nationwide streamlining of VET courses to ensure a single entry point for prospective students.
It would also make funding clearer for the states, like Tasmania.
This would funnel them to the courses that are best suited to them, and would eliminate confusion over potential double ups, when tertiary education and TAFE offer different parts of a learning journey.
Defunding of some university courses has been the major focus of the federal government, as its strategy to funnel students to the right industries, but the same blowtorch hasn’t been applied to VET.
VET will play a vital role in the economic recovery of the country, and offering some free courses to people is not a targeted approach to creating a consistent and job-ready workforce.
Nor is a blanket approach to providing free VET courses, because that would then tip the scales to a world where VET would be favoured over academic courses, simply because they are free.
University and VET are two halves of the same higher education coin, and more collaboration between the two would benefit all.
- Caitlin Jarvis is a senior journalist at The Examiner.