We need develop fresh and nationally consistent approaches to vocational training in Australia. Bill Mansfield, Assistant Secretary, ACTU.

For well over a century in Australia Trade Unions have had an active role in the development of vocational skills. Along with employers and governments we have recognised the importance to the individual, the enterprise and the nation of the development of a broad vocational skills base. In terms of our future competitiveness and the opportunities for individuals to reach their full potential the quality, relevance and efficiency of our vocational training arrangements will become increasingly important.


Like many other areas, vocational training in Australia has been placed under close scrutiny over the past few years. The conclusions which have been reached acknowledge that the old systems have not delivered outcomes which were likely to meet the future needs of the workforce or those of industry. Some of the outstanding problems were :



  • The absence of a strong national industry input into prescribing the required competencies of the successful participants in vocational training




  • The narrow range of competencies which many people were given in the old work system of numerous job classifications and Tayloristic work organisation




  • The absence of structured vocational training for many occupations in industries such as tourism, hospitality, retail, clerical and finance




  • The focus on developing skills at the trades equivalent level and above with a consequential disregard of lower skilled workers




  • The lack of participation by women in structured training




  • The inconsistencies between States in the development of vocational training



Broadly speaking it was generally agreed between industry parties and all governments that we needed to develop fresh and nationally consistent approaches to vocational training in Australia. This led to the development of a process known as the National Training Reform Agenda [NTRA]. The NTRA has been actively promoted and supported for around five years.


Let me make it clear where the ACTU and trade unions stand in relation to our participation and support for the NTRA. We actively support the direction of change and are seeking workable outcomes which meet the needs of individuals and enterprises/industry and which improve our competitiveness at every level. We are not involved in the NTRA in order to get wage increases or to lay the groundwork for a general wage claim. Naturally however we believe that if industry is more successful and productive there will be a better environment for securing more jobs with better pay, but not on the simple argument that workers have acquired higher skills. [A copy of a recent employer/union draft agreement on this matter is attached].


While there is a process referred to as the NTRA being undertaken I acknowledge that it has, in the past, been beset by masses of paper, the creation of “training-speak”, a ponderous and complex process of change, and outcomes which often did not adequately meet the needs of industry and enterprises. In a large measure this has been caused by the absence of effective national industry leadership in the process of training reform and its capture in terms of policy development by the officials of the nine separate Commonwealth, State and Territory governments.


With the establishment of ANTA with its industry Board of Directors in early 1993 and the formation of the national employer/ACTU/union Joint Industry Training and Education Council earlier this year we are turning the reform cart around with industry starting to lead and the bureaucracy doing what it is best at, i.e. proving policy advice and options and implementing decisions.


The outcome which is being sought from the NTRA is to broaden and deepen the base of vocational skills in Australia to enable individuals and enterprises to perform better in a future which is bound to have greater international competition and pressure than the past.


One issue of importance in this process of change is the availability of vocational training in schools and the connection of schools to industry. With a significantly higher retention rate to Year 12 being achieved over the last decade [1984 around 35%, 1994 around 78%] the destination of Year 12 participants has also changed. Whilst in earlier years most Year 12 school leavers aspired to go on to tertiary studies now more than half are seeking to enter the workforce. It is not adequate to regard Years 11 and 12 as simply a broad general education with preparation to enter university – there must also be attention to the needs of those who wish to enter the workforce and commence their working lives.


One other factor which is influencing change in regard to the links between schools, industry and vocational training is the relatively small proportion and lack of growth of the 15-19 year olds who are engaged in work based structured vocational training. In 1983 only 13% of all 15-19 year olds were engaged in vocational training in Australia and by 1993 this had grown to only 14% – in the same period participation in higher education had grown by 60% and overall school retention rates were up by a substantial margin.


The response to the changes which have taken place is that we have a number of initiatives proposed such as :


i] The introduction of a broadly based Australian Vocational Training System [AVTS] designed to offer vocational training to nearly all school leavers who do not go on to tertiary studies


ii] The introduction of vocational pathways in secondary schools and colleges linked with industry experience which can help prepare an individual for working life and also lead to a recognised vocational qualification


iii] The introduction of a range of key work related competencies for all young people to acquire as part of schooling and vocational training. These competencies to be in areas such as Language and Communication, Scientific and Technological Understanding and Working in Teams


The ACTU has strongly supported the introduction of nationally consistent, broadly based structured vocational training through the reforms proposed in the AVTS. A recent report to Federal, State and Territory Ministers recommends its introduction commence from January 1st next year and that all existing apprenticeships and traineeships be converted to an AVTS format by the end of 1996. These recommendations will go to a meeting of Schools and Vocational Training Ministers on November 3.


The introduction of vocational pathways to the upper years of secondary schools is also an initiative which has the support of the ACTU. The report referred to above recommends that wherever practicable all secondary schools throughout Australia be in a position to offer vocational pathways by the commencement of the 1998 school year.


Normally the vocational studies offered in schools are accompanied by a period of time in workplaces to gain structured practical experience to complement the school based learning. These are known as vocational placements and the ACTU has also supported the need to obtain positions in workplaces for secondary school students.


From our perspective some of the issues which need to be resolved in introducing the changes to upper secondary studies are as follows :


i] An individual who undertakes a vocational pathway in Years 11 and 12 should not cut off opportunities to undertake tertiary studies


ii] Building on the first point, we need to avoid a situation developing where school based vocational pathways are regarded as the inferior learning option. The general education associated with vocational pathways must continue to be of high quality and the vocational training must lead to recognised qualifications


iii] In the past vocational training has been employment related – that is it has been largely delivered through a contract of training in an apprenticeship or traineeship. We need to consider the extent to which school based pathways will affect this?


iv] How many vocational placements are capable of being obtained each year to allow students to undertake structured work experience


v] What remuneration should a vocational placement student be entitled to and what other conditions should apply?


To comment briefly on the last three points :


Employment related vocational training has been the norm to date in Australia. Some other countries have moved to school and college based systems with vocational placements not involving employment relationships. In our view the evidence establishes that employment related vocational training with on and off-the-job training to industry developed competency standards offers the best chance of achieving quality outcomes. However there have been deficiencies in our training arrangements in that they :


i] have a narrow occupational and skills base,


ii] do not involve women to a satisfactory extent, and


iii] provide opportunities to only a minority of young people


Taking these factors into account and other changes such as the higher participation rates it is likely that schools based vocational pathways will expand. We would not wish this to occur at the expense of employment related pathways.


The issue of the number of vocational placements which might be available to schools for students undertaking vocational studies is yet to be properly addressed. The first task is to find an employer willing to allow the student to obtain work experience. Next the experience must be structured to ensure that worthwhile competencies are acquired and not be simply narrow, repetitive low skill work. These requirements consume resources from schools and initial reports indicate that it is unlikely that many schools will be able to satisfy the needs of all young people wanting vocational placements. It needs to be remembered that there are over 100,000 students in Years 11 and 12 in a year and that this is lot of places to be filled if worthwhile durations of around 200-240 hours per annum are to be obtained. Two points of detail in this regard are :


i] The Commonwealth government has established the Australian Student Traineeship Foundation to promote vocational pathways in schools based on the Training for Retail and Commerce [TRAC] model which applies in NSW and the ACT. A target of 5,000 places has been set for the program with a budget of over $30 million


ii] In the AVTS report referred to earlier States have indicated that to undertake vocational placements across the secondary school system will involve extra resources in each school, particularly co-ordination and supervision, and there is a need for around an extra $100 million per annum to cover that cost


Finally the issue of remuneration. Students going into workplaces are in many cases going to be undertaking productive work for a significant part of the time. What remuneration should be paid? At present there is an unofficial “limit” of 240 hours unpaid vocational placement time each year for each student. Questions are being asked as to whether that limit be altered to 300, 400 or any number of hours each year? The ACTU has supported up to 240 hours being unpaid. We would be concerned if it went higher as it would raise the serious question of the extent to which unpaid productive work/training could be undertaken. At present when apprentices and trainees undertake productive work they are paid for it – it students undertake substantial amounts of productive work in excess of 240 hours there will be a re-assessment of ACTU support for unpaid vocational placements.


Other issues related to vocational placements include supervision by the school of the quality of training, proper selection of workplaces, protection from undesirable harassment and adequate compensation for injuries related to the work placement.


Overall the ACTU supports the inclusion of vocational pathways in secondary schools and colleges. We wish to see structured work experience undertaken to complement school based learning. To achieve this outcome we need to avoid unnecessary bureaucracy and complex arrangements for placing students whilst at the same time ensuring that the students’ interests are properly safeguarded.


Thank you.


Address by Bill Mansfield, Assistant Secretary, ACTU. 25 October, 1994