SA moves in right direction

Victoria’s mistakes with vocational education and training can be a lesson for other states, especially for older workers.
When one looks at what is happening in vocational education in Victoria, it’s hard not to picture a dog’s breakfast.
In South Australia, the scene is more hopeful as the state government has linked outcomes from the SA Skills for All initiative with achieving employment targets in specific industries. TAFE SA will still play a major part in delivering training and education.
This is a major step forward. Compared with the national average, South Australia has an older and more rapidly ageing population. It has a lower workforce participation rate (historically 2 to 3 per cent below the national average) and a lower proportion of the population with post-school qualifications.
It also has an under-developed training culture where employers have traditionally not made the most of vocational education for their staff.
Latest Census data shows the average South Australian is aged 39 and earns just $534 a week.
Nationally those figures are 37 years and $577 a week. That’s $2000 that didn’t go in to the pay packet of South Australians in that year. The higher level of education one has, on average, the greater the return in salary.
It is to the credit of the SA government and the Department of Further Education, Employment, Science and Technology’s that the Skills for All initiative has recognised the ageing of the workforce. The inclusion of a guide to workforce planning and development, so that employers can assess the demographic profile of their staff and arrange training on a needs basis, is an education sector first.
There is a grave need in SA for the skills initiative to focus on career guidance and unemployment and underemployment in the priority employment areas north of Adelaide and most especially in the Iron Triangle towns of Whyalla, Port Pirie and Port Augusta.
While the fee-free Certificate I and II qualifications probably won’t get students a job initially, they hopefully will drive them on to learn more and undertake a Certificate IV and a diploma. These are the hiring qualifications of the future.
Training and education is not only important to state productivity but acts as a magnet for workers to stay within South Australia.
According to the ABS, people in the 20-39 year-old age group have accounted for 44 per cent of all South Australian departures over the past 40 years. This is a major loss to the state labour force and to the growth of its population, as these people are of child-bearing age.
We know that the Australian manufacturing industry is going to be hit hard by early retirement with about 260,000 workers leaving the industry before they reach 65, with an average retirement age of 56.4.
There is also concern that a fourth navy destroyer won’t be built in Adelaide, potentially throwing hundreds of people out of work. Healthcare, social assistance workers,­ including aged care workers, and construction workers are also more likely to move out of the labour force before reaching the pension age (ABS 2010).
My only reservation with the SA Skills for All initiative is ensuring that the explosion of private RTOs – many come from recruitment backgrounds and have no prior experience in training – satisfy the quality audits as determined by the state government and the AQTF.
There needs to be ongoing and close monitoring of what qualifications are being accessed and caps or incentives only considered after close consultation with relevant industries.
Already in Victoria there has been an astounding leap of people who want to become fitness instructors, masseuses or aromatherapists. According to DEEWR, there were
8000 fitness instructors operating in Australia in 1999. In the past five years, that number has grown by 36.7 per cent, compared with 13.1 per cent for all other occupations.
In South Australia, the local economy is crying out for agricultural and forestry scientists, architects, chemists, database specialists and electrical engineers. It has a plethora of fitness instructors.
Consider what the Reserve Bank governor Glenn Stevens told the Prime Minister’s Economic Forum in Brisbane recently. While the high exchange rate was not necessarily a bad thing, it did mean that businesses and governments must look at how workplaces can become more efficient.
“Better productivity is the imperative to survive,” Stevens said. Education provides the know-how to achieve better productivity, especially in manufacturing.
The call for increased quality in a market system will work as long as the state governments monitor RTO’s performance with an eagle eye.  
Malcolm King is director at Republic Media in Adelaide. He was an associate director in the DEEWR Mature Age Programs in Canberra. 

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