The skills and education sector are battling links between qualifications and industrial awards that make it difficult to change what goes into a diploma or certificate, according to the expert handpicked by the Prime Minister to reform TAFEs, apprenticeships and training.

As the post-COVID-19 economy demands more skilled workers, Steven Joyce, whose new National Skills Commission comes into effect on July 1, told the Australian Financial Review decoupling the qualifications needed for a certificate three from the industrial award for tradespeople would make sense from an education point of view.

“It would increase the flexibility of the skills system if the two would be uncoupled. But what makes sense from a training system point of view bumps up against the industrial relations system,” he told the AFR’s education editor Robert Bolton.

In the late 1980s the skills a person needed to get a certificate-three qualification became a benchmark level for the pay rates of plumbers, electricians and other skilled trades.

But 40 years later the skills are out of alignment with what is actually needed and a whole range of new jobs.

Mr Joyce said many submissions to his review highlighted qualifications did not reflect the true level of complexity and skill needed for certain jobs.

“This leads to qualifications on the same level being very different in complexity and what is required to achieve them, creating a risk to the integrity of the Australian Qualifications Framework and its standing among those obtaining and relying on its qualifications,” he said.

Since 2008 governments have been spending less on training. In recent years there has also been less demand from employers and individuals for VET qualifications. One of the main issues for the training sector has been the inconsistency between what employers want and what they have to teach.

Skills education experts say if curriculums could be put together faster they could meet changing demand overnight.

Mr Joyce said Australia is about to face high dislocation and high unemployment which will put skills education and university under a lot of pressure.

Skills education has its origins in state-based TAFEs which are motivated by state government needs, which increasingly do not reflect the infrastructure and technology needs of the nation. That is one reason why Steven Joyce recommended a National Skills Commission to coordinate demand and investment in skill education Australia-wide.

“The National Skills Commission needs to create some sensible order so that the sector can attract investment,” he said.

Since the early 2000s private investment has been encouraged into skills education but it has operated under an outdated regulatory system.

Mr Joyce recommended an overhaul of the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) to make it a proponent for the sector as well as a regulator.

Mr Joyce said new Skills Organisations will work out what is needed in a qualification and lodge them with ASQA, then receive funding. This should result in qualification descriptions within months instead of years, as currently happens.

There are three pilot Skills Organisations which are developing qualifications for the National Skills Council, in human services, digital technology and the mineral industry.

AMMA will keep its members updated on developments in this important area.

Note: AMMA credits the Australian Financial Review and its education editor Robert Bolton for this content, edited and reproduced for the benefit of AMMA members.