Australia is attempting to take a major step in its approach to vocational training. ACTU Assistant Secretary, Bill Manfield.

1. Introduction

1.1 Australia, along with many other developed economies is facing a period of adjustment in order to achieve outcomes for the community which will maintain and improve living standards and provide sufficient employment with a growing competitive economy.


1.2 At the present time we are experiencing economic growth of around 6.0%, our inflation rate is around 2.5% and unemployment is around 9.0% of the workforce. Despite significant improvements in our export performance in a range of areas we continue to have unacceptably high balance of payments deficits.


1.3 In response to the problems which have emerged there has been fundamental change to a range of factors affecting the performance of the Australian economy.


1.4 The purpose of the changes which have been introduced has been to move the direction of Australia’s development away from an inward-looking domestic orientation to an outward international approach. The changes recognise the globalisation of economic activity where increasingly a nation’s international competitiveness to trade in goods and services will determine its economic success and the ability to maintain and improve living standards.


1.5 As part of the changes which have been taking place the Australian economy is becoming less reliant on its traditional exports of unprocessed raw materials such as grains, wool, minerals and energy, and is increasingly becoming more balanced with higher levels of exports of manufactured goods and services. This trend is being encouraged by government policies, it is broadly supported in the community and is likely to continue into the future.


1.6 The changes which have been made to the way in which the economy operates include :


i) Microeconomic reform in a range of areas including –


a] deregulation of the financial system

b] increased competition in a range of government activities such as telecommunications, transport and postal services

c] reduced government regulation in a range of areas

d] a phased reduction in import tariffs


ii) Changes to the industrial relations system such as –


a] moves away from industry bargaining towards enterprise level negotiations

b] reduction in the number of unions to achieve fewer unions in individual workplaces

c] reduction in industrial disputes

d] more flexible work practices and more productive approaches to the organisation of work


iii) Modernisation of the education, vocational training and skill development systems including action to build a nationally consistent system.


1.7 These changes are contributing to a more productive and competitive economy in Australia, one which is more outward looking and able to participate in the opportunities available in the high growth economies in our region as well as expanding our more traditional markets of Japan, Europe, North America, China and, more recently, Korea.

2. Reforms In Education And Training

2.1 One of the reforms which has commenced in Australia is related to our education, training and skill development systems. The intention of the reform is to achieve broadly based education and vocational training opportunities which are of sufficient quality to both meet the needs of individuals and complement our economic development into the next century.


2.2 Whilst there has been a number of positive features of our past approaches there have also been deficiencies which need to be remedied.


2.3 The essential deficiencies of Australia’s education and vocational training arrangements of past years have been :


i) There was a low level of participation of young people in the final years of secondary schooling.


ii) Young people leaving school at Year 12 were essentially being prepared to enter university rather than enter the workforce


iii) Vocational training opportunities were confined to a narrow range of occupations and work levels mainly related to the more traditional craft work areas


iv) Vocational training was based on a time served system rather than being related to the achievement of nominated competency standards which reflected abilities and skills required in the workplace


v) The responsibility for standards and the provision of education and training in Australia has historically been placed with State and Territory governments (eight in all) – the national government’s role was to assist with funding without a direct operational role. This system has led to a degree of inconsistency and waste of resources between the States and Territories.

3. Participation Rates

3.1 There has been general recognition in Australia that participation rates to Year 12 standard have been inadequate to prepare young people in both educational and vocational terms for life beyond secondary school. The trends in participation have been that in 1970 32% of young people remained at school until they had completed Year 12, by 1980 it had increased to 41% and by 1992 it was 80%. The targets set in recent government reports dealing with this matter are that by the year 2001 90% of all young people will complete Year 12. Based on current trends it is likely that the target will be exceeded in practice.


3.2 The improvement in Australia’s Year 12 participation rate is being influenced by factors such as firstly, an increasing recognition of the need for higher levels of education to prepare young people to participate in the more demanding workplaces of the future and secondly, difficult conditions in the labour market particularly for early school leavers whereby those leaving school prior to completing Year 12 were unlikely to obtain employment in other than those employment areas which were not favoured by more highly qualified young people.

4. Key Competencies

4.1 The increase in retention rates has highlighted the need to adopt a new approach to studies at Year 11 and 12 levels.


4.2 In the past it had been largely accepted that the purpose of completing Year 12 was to achieve the qualifications necessary to enter university. The change in retention rates has meant that increasingly Years 11 and 12 need to be seen as a preparation for entering the workforce as well as university and this means there is a need for a new approach to the development of personal and workplace oriented skills in the final years of secondary education.


4.3 Greater competence in key areas of learning is now needed generally, for instance for direct entry into employment or as a foundation for continuing further education and training throughout a working lifetime.


4.4 All people are required to meet the demands of changing technology, the needs of delivering a high quality of product or service in the market, changing social and environmental expectations and, in particular, changing forms of work organisation. Increasingly there must be participation in problem solving, innovation and interpersonal relations. This exerts much higher demands on any person entering industry today by comparison with even the recent past.


4.5 A number of surveys, such as one conducted by the Business Council of Australia throughout Australia in 1991/92, indicated a growing disparity between the skills required by employers in the developing industries and those acquired by students in a post compulsory education system still largely geared to the needs of those going on to higher education. Responding to these new developments the ACTU joined with business groups in calling for key work related competencies to be included in the curriculum for the post compulsory school years.


4.6 In December 1990 the Australian Education Council representing Federal and State Education Ministers decided to establish an expert committee to examine a range of compulsory and post compulsory education and training, national curriculum principles and the development of key workplace related competencies. The Committee was chaired by a leading businessman, Mr. Brian Finn, and its report was presented in 1991.


4.7 The Finn Committee reached clear findings in regard to the changing nature of the Australian economy, and the needs of young people and their future workplaces. In particular the committee concluded :


i] “Both individual and industry needs are leading towards a convergence of general and vocational education. There is an increasing realisation internationally that the most successful forms of work organisation are those which encourage people to be multi-skilled, creative and adaptable. At the same time schools are broadening their programs and curriculums to offer greater access to vocational education for the increasing proportion of young people staying on past the end of compulsory schooling.”


ii] “……….. there should be continuing growth in education and training in all educational sectors and in the workplace. The growth in knowledge and skills is required across a wide span of disciplines and occupations, not just those which have been associated traditionally with higher levels of education. As part of this process there is a need to re-emphasise the importance of vocational education and to recognise its increasing convergence with general education”.


iii] “In particular, the Committee believes that there is an onus on the partners in each industry and on governments to ensure that there is an appropriate and effective industry training advisory body or other relevant structure in each industry sector, capable of representing the sector in the establishment of competency standards and the development of training programs”.


4.8 In addressing the need for better skills in the area of key competencies the Finn Committee concluded that there are certain essential things which all young people should learn in their preparation for employment. These related to a number of “key competencies” which after further examination by another committee (The Mayer Committee) were defined as” –


i] Collecting, Analysing and Organising Information.

ii] Communicating Ideas and Information.

iii] Planning and Organising Activities.

iv] Working with Others and in Teams.

v] Using Mathematic Ideas and Techniques.

vi] Solving problems.

vii] Using Technology.


4.9 The Finn Committee also examined the vocational education and training opportunities for young people entering the workforce from secondary school. In general it found that :


i] Traditional apprenticeships have application to around 10% of all school leavers


ii] Apprenticeships were applicable to a narrow range of occupations and were much more likely to be occupied by males rather than females


iii] Emerging large employers of young people such as retail, did not undertake any recognised structured training


iv] At the level of international comparison Australia fell well short of what other developed economies were achieving in terms of structured training


4.10 In response to an assessment of our future training needs the committee recommended the following set of targets :


i] As a minimum, at least a Level 1 vocational traineeship or participation in Year 12 for all 18-year-olds by 1995;


ii] At least a Level 2 vocational traineeship or progress toward a higher level vocational or academic qualification for almost all 20-year-olds by 2001; and


iii] At least a Level 3 vocational certificate or progress towards a vocational qualification above Level 3 or a diploma or degree for at least 60 per cent of 22-year-olds by 2001.


4.11 This set of targets can be distilled into a single summary target that, by the year 2001, 95 per cent of 19-year-olds should have completed Year 12 or an initial post-school qualification or be participating in education or training”.


4.12 The ACTU, affiliated unions and the business community have strongly supported the need for the introduction of key competencies in post-compulsory education.


4.13 At this time State, Territory and Federal Governments are still considering their decisions in relation to the introduction of key competencies into the post-compulsory school years however it appears likely that action will be taken in several States to commence their introduction in calendar years 1994 and 1995.

5. The Australian Vocational Certificate

5.1 To date the opportunities in Australia for structured training following the completion of full time schooling have been inadequate by comparison to many other developed economies.


5.2 The lack of training opportunities particularly affects adversely those school leavers who enter jobs which are lower skilled and it also has a gender bias with training opportunities at present being largely available in traditionally male dominated employment areas. Between 40-45% of all school leavers do little or no further education and training. Only around 10% of all school leavers have opportunity for apprenticeships and these lead to qualifications at level three of the eight level Australian Standards Framework. Workers at lower skill levels often have little or no vocational training opportunities.


5.3 Vocational training which has been available has had its origins in State developed training schemes. Prior to Mutual Recognition legislation State-based training courses were often not recognised in other States.


5.4 The Finn Committee concluded that there was a need to significantly improve the skills base of the Australian workforce. Following the Finn report the task of providing a detailed assessment of issues related to :


i] The expansion of vocational education and training opportunities across industries and skill levels 1-3


ii] The targets for achievement which should be set for the future


5.5 This task was given to a further tripartite committee. The committee reported in early 1992. The report proposes substantial change in Australia’s system of vocational education and training. Its timetable calls for a new national vocational education and training framework known as the Australian Vocational Certificate Training System (AVCTS) to be commenced in all industry areas from 1 January, 1995. The AVCTS is intended to replace both existing apprenticeships and traineeships.


5.6 The report focused on one of the major issues raised in the Finn Report the need to address the growing convergence of vocational and general education during the upper years of secondary school in order to develop a higher quality, more appropriate regime of vocational education and training through an integrated entry level training system.


5.7 The AVC report proposes a single Australian vocational certificate which would be recognised throughout the country at the Australian Standards Framework (ASF) skill levels 1,2 and 3 standards (Level 3 being the trades equivalent). This certificate would replace the existing training arrangements for apprenticeships and traineeships.


5.8 The AVC system is intended to improve the skills, knowledge and employment prospects of young Australians making the transition from school to work. It has a strong industry focus, is based on competency training arrangements rather than time served and aims to increase participation in vocational education and training by significantly improving the quality of provision and its relevance to both industry and the individual.


5.9 The AVC system will initially include :


i] Three levels with each level articulating to the next


ii] A broad range of pathways combining education, training and work placements in industry including the mainstream pathways identified in the ESFC report, i.e. school-based, a vocational year, part work/part study and employment-based (encompassing existing apprenticeship and traineeship arrangements)


iii] Flexible training delivery arrangements involving schools, TAFE, private providers, employers, skill centres, group training companies and community organisations


iv] Courses and credentials which will lead or provide credit transfer toward other training programs and which are transferable within, and are recognised nationally by, industry


5.10 The combined effect of the AVC and other education options will be to expand the education, training and employment options of all young people.


5.11 In November this year Ministers of Education (Australian Education Council) and Ministers of Vocational Education, Employment and Training (MOVEET) endorsed from January 1st, 1995 a strategy for the introduction of the AVC system.


5.12 Ministers agreed that the AVC system would be tested over a period of two years through a series of pilot projects which would address all aspects of the system. The outcomes of these pilot projects were to be evaluated before final decisions would be taken by Ministers.


5.13 Ambitious, but achievable, targets have been set by the Carmichael report for the AVC system. Many countries are already achieving similar targets, and Australia must close the gap.


i] By 2001, 90% of 19 year olds are expected to have finished Year 12, or have finished an initial post-school qualification, or be doing formally recognised education and training. At present around 80% of 19 year olds have achieved these standards


ii] By 2001, 90% of 20 year olds are expected to have an AVC level 2, or be proceeding to a higher level. At present around 55% of 20 year olds meet this standard


iii] By 2001, 60% of 22 year olds are expected to have an AVC level 3, or higher, or be proceeding to a higher qualification. At present around 40% of 22 year olds meet this standard


5.14 The introduction of the Australian Vocational Certificate is the most substantial reform ever to be attempted in Australia’s development of vocational training. When implemented it will provide for a significant expansion of structured training within a nationally consistent system. A range of pathways to achievement of recognition of skills will be available including work based learning and Recognition of Prior Learning.


5.15 The AVC will overcome many if not all of Australia’s deficiencies in that it will :


i] Broaden the occupational groups and the skill levels receiving vocational training

ii] Introduce a nationally consistent system

iii] Overcome the gender bias inherent in the current arrangements

iv] Provide for national competency standards established by the industry parties and delivered through Competency Based Training


5.16 With these advantages in mind trade unions in Australia will be supporting the adoption of the AVC on a broad basis from the commencement date of January 1, 1995.

6. Competency Based Training

6.1 The AVC forms part of a broader reform process which is transforming the vocational education and training system in Australia


6.2 One element of this transformation in the vocational area is the shift in approaches to learning and teaching based on competency.


6.3 Competency Based Training (CBT) is an approach to learning which


i] Places primary emphasis on what the learner can actually do

ii] Is focussed on outcomes rather than on learning processes or time spent engaged in these processes

iii] Is concerned with the attainment, and demonstration through application, of knowledge and skills to a specified level of competency


6.4 The competency-based approach recognises that people learn at different rates and in different ways. It also accommodates the fact that some skills and knowledge take longer to acquire than others. In this respect it is a flexible approach to learning, capable of meeting the needs of individual learners.


6.5 CBT has been strongly supported by the ACTU and its affiliates. The principal benefits of CBT can be described as:


i] Providing the means for greater national consistency in education and training outcomes and providing the basis for a national system of qualifications relevant to industry;


ii] Improving efficiencies through recognition of existing competencies, greater flexibilities in learning times, and greater emphasis on credit transfer (thereby reducing duplication of training effort)


iii] Creating greater gender equity through higher recognition of women’s skills and a broadening of structured training arrangements to industries in which women predominate;


6.6 For young people CBT offers a system of learning which leads to improved relevance of training outcomes, a direct connection with industry and work requirements and the potential to move through the training process more quickly.


6.7 Competency Based Training is made up of a series of interlinked processes, the first of which are modern national industry competency standards established by the industry parties, i.e. employers and employees through their unions. The standards form the linchpin of the system. They act as the benchmark against which structured education and training, informal learning and work experience are all measured.


6.8 To ensure competency standards are developed and operate in a way which provides for maximum national consistency and quality a National Training Board was established. The National Training Board is a tripartite body which considers and endorses the competency standards of industries in accordance with a national policy framework.


6.9 The introduction of a competency approach to definition of skill needs and curriculum development has met with some opposition in Australia, principally from some in the Higher Education area. There is a perception that CBT does not encourage excellence and that it promotes mediocrity. These views are not well based in fact and the standards of skills and knowledge of those completing CBT courses will, I believe, be seen to be superior to those completing by the time served traditional examination method.


6.10 CBT is not based on regarding as competent individuals who have barely adequate knowledge of a subject. Instead in cases of which I am aware it requires a standard well above what would have been a pass-mark in the older time-served system.


6.11 The change from a time served to a CBT system is proving to be a time and resource consuming exercise. Greater attention needs to be paid in future to the requirement for a more straightforward and less complex approach to prescribing competency standards.

7. Training And Work Organisation

7.1 Young people coming onto the Labor Market in the ’90’s do not have the same ambitions as those who entered in the ’50’s and ’60’s. Better educated and with stronger ambitions to obtain tertiary qualifications and professional employment they are not accepting the low skill, low pay manufacturing and service sector jobs of the past. Where these jobs are the only ones available the lack of challenge and inadequate training and career opportunity leads to high absenteeism and labor turnover.


7.2 World wide evidence indicates that modern technologies require greater skill and autonomy on the part of the employee in almost all industry and this, associated with the ever increasing demands of the market for higher quality, greater variety and rapid response, make it both necessary and possible for people to have more productive and challenging jobs than anybody could ever imagine in the past.


7.3 Better jobs won’t happen automatically. There is still a great deal of conservative thinking which often does not understand the changes that are happening. Some Australian management is focused on short term returns and with a narrow view of productivity improvement based on reduced unit labour costs. This leads to an emphasis in job re-organisation, on working harder and faster, contracting out, deskilling with automation and casualisation of labour. However the best opportunities for an improved Australian economy based on productiveness, high skills and high wages lie with an emphasis on broad skills, autonomous teams/work groups, quality and innovation.


7.4 It is within this environment that the union movement supports principles that will ensure employees increasingly are able to take advantage of the opportunities for better and more interesting jobs. This means creating frameworks which encourage better jobs at both industry and enterprise level. At an industry level this means :


i] Skills based agreements which link job classifications to skills and training. This helps create pressure to use higher/broader skills


ii] Training based on national standards which specifies broader skills and prevents the use of narrow task specific training


iii] Negotiated agreements on the availability of training opportunities, consultation, introduction of new technology and the like


7.5 The redesign of work will be a central focus of the union movement’s activity in the coming years to ensure that employees are able to take advantage of the opportunities for higher skills and greater responsibilities that will be provided by the improved work organisation, technology, new market demands and a more highly educated and knowledgeable labour force.


7.6 Without a broader approach to training reform and related work organisation change investments in new technology and in training will be less effective. A highly qualified work force, even when it is matched with up-to-date equipment, will not reach its potential unless the tasks that workers carry out down to and including the goods and services they are producing and providing are transformed to take account of the new work environment.


7.7 In terms of initiatives which were commenced in 1988 the ACTU and unions have sought to achieve outcomes including :


i] Establishing skill-related career paths which provide an incentive for workers to continue to participate in skill formation


ii] Eliminating impediments to multi-skilling at appropriate levels and broadening the range of tasks which a worker may be required to perform


iii] Creating appropriate relativities between different categories of workers within the award and at enterprise level


iv] Ensuring that working patterns and arrangements enhance flexibility and the efficiency of the industry


7.8 If young people in Australia are to have greater opportunities for satisfying work and careers in the future there is a considerable amount of work to be done both to correct past inadequacies and to meet ongoing demands for improvement. By and large Australian employers and unions have yet to apply significant resources in terms of implementing reforms to workplaces and giving workers access to structured training. Young people want a better future and we have to respond more adequately to their needs.

8. Conclusion

8.1 Australia’s vocational training system has been inadequate in the past in a number of important respects. Ambitious proposals for reform have come forth in recent years and, when implemented, these will achieve a much better outcome.


8.2 and bureaucracy. If these elements are seen to be part of the new system we will lose the support of employers and employees alike for what is a range of desirable and overdue reforms.


8.3 In the process of change there is also a need for an effective dialogue between representatives of employers, unions and the education sector. Too often to date this has not even been started before media reports were run expressing criticisms of elements of the reforms. We need better communications between all interested parties during the process of change.


8.4 Australia is attempting to take a major step in its approach to vocational training I hope that if another Australian delegation returns to Germany in the year 2000 they can report not on mere ambitions but on substantial achievement.


Thank you


Bill Mansfield, Assistant Secretary, ACTU. November 1993