TasTAFE is crucial to Tasmania's jobs puzzle, but what challenges does it face?

TasTAFE's Alanvale campus.
TasTAFE's Alanvale campus.

Tasmania has not been spared the impact of a growing apprentice shortage.

Advocates and education experts have said a strong TAFE and vocational education sector is key to addressing the crisis.

In Tasmania, the public provider of VET is TasTAFE, which is supplemented by about 150 private registered training organisations.

The public provider has had its own challenges, after a tumultuous 12 months, but what are the challenges and where do we go from here?

Former TasTAFE chief executive Stephen Conway.

Former TasTAFE chief executive Stephen Conway.

INTEGRITY COMMISSION

TasTAFE has been at the centre of a nepotism scandal in the past year after allegations about former chief executive Stephen Conway emerged in 2017.

Mr Conway was forced to resign after the Integrity Commission published a report in May, that was tabled in Parliament.

The commission’s report investigated a complaint of an alleged conflict of interest against senior executive officers of TasTAFE.

In June, The Examiner revealed about 250 staff members at TasTAFE ranked stress as the number one factor that led to negative outcomes.

The survey documents were obtained by The Examiner as the allegations of nepotism and long-term cultural problems were revealed.

A TasTAFE painting student.

A TasTAFE painting student.

STUDENT NUMBERS

In its 2016-17 annual report, TasTAFE reported it had a total of 33,452 enrolments across the state.

There were 9650 enrolments in the North and 7845 in the North-West, with the bulk of enrolments in the south.

Of those enrolments, there were 16,037 men and 10, 291 women enrolled in courses across TasTAFE’s spectrum of qualifications.

However, since that report, the number of people enrolled in vocational education in Tasmania has declined.

Quarterly data from the National Centre for Vocational Education Research from June 2017 showed Tasmania’s trade apprenticeships were down.

Trades are down 4.6 per cent but non trades had risen 12.7 per cent.

NCVER reports there are 7575 people in  Tasmania in vocational education.

That is down 2.9 per cent from September 2016. From 2013-2017 there has been a 16 per cent reduction in vocational training commencements from 5745 to 4805.

Of those 4805 who started vocational education training in 2017, 2345 of those withdrew or cancelled their training. About 3135 completed it.

Chef and cookery students at TasTAFE's Launceston Drysdale campus.

Chef and cookery students at TasTAFE's Launceston Drysdale campus.

PERCEPTION V REALITY

One key theme to emerge from The Examiner’s Pick up the Tools campaign is the issue of public perception.

A number of industry and education experts, as well as recent TasTAFE graduates have pointed to community perception and understanding of VET and TasTAFE pathways as part of the reason for declining enrolments.

Tim Mead, from North-West construction company Mead Con, said while he believed TasTAFE did a good job with what they had, more support was needed.

“I think TasTAFE does a great job, but people don’t seem to rate trades much...we need to change the conversations we are having in the community,” he said.

Mr Mead is the chief executive at Mead Con, but is also chairman of the education and training committee of Master Builders Australia.

Tasmanian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Michael Bailey says there is a lack of understanding in the community about what a TasTAFE qualification could offer.

He said he believed the lack could be attributed to a lack of understanding among young people about what a trade could offer.

“There is a real need to reassess the understanding of VET pathways for young people,” he said.

A national report by the Skilling Australia Foundation and McCrindle Research was released in May 2017 and examined myths and perceptions of the VET sector nationally.

TASTAFE’S FUTURE

The Skilling Australians Foundation and McCrindle Research report highlights VET as a “timely solution” to the national issue of jobs shortages.

“In a rapidly changing employment environment, the speed, value and skills that VET provides are the solution to today’s growing needs,” the report said.

“Vocational education and training provides a low barrier entry point for individuals to retrain and ensure they remain future-proofed as they respond to the demands of an ever-changing workforce.”

An external audit of TasTAFE was ordered by Education Minister Jeremy Rockliff in the wake of the nepotism scandal.

A quarterly audit update from Wise Lord and Ferguson was released in September with 25 recommendations being implemented.

It’s believed the full audit report is expected to be received in June.