Vocational education and training has never been more important for Tasmania.
Construction booms and skill shortages in key vocational training areas has highlighted the need for modern and streamlined pathways to get more young people into apprenticeship training.
Public education provider TasTAFE plays an integral role in addressing these challenges but the provider has not been without its own challenges over the past 12 months and further into the past.
TasTAFE chief executive Jenny Dodd reflected on the past year and shares what is in store for TasTAFE for 2020 and into the future.
Ms Dodd said TasTAFE had recently released its corporate plan, which clearly sets out its increased focus on student outcomes to set its students up for a "lifetime of learning."
Investment in students and skills will help align TasTAFE as an educator that gives its students the best start for their education and gives them a springboard to launch into meaningful employment.
Ms Dodd said TasTAFE was unique in that it provides nationally recognised skills for a modern work environment but its student focus will enable the education provider to also match up those courses with broader skill sets to allow students to keep pace with industries that are often quickly evolving ones.
"In terms of what we do to prepare students....our student focus is about understanding the importance that students get the contemporary education they need for modern training," Ms Dodd said.
TasTAFE already recognised itself as a quality education provider but it is one that is constantly evolving, to meet the needs of not only its students but its industry partners, which are also an integral part of what they do, Ms Dodd said.
ASQA and registration
Part of that preparation and process of looking inward at what TasTAFE as an organisation does, came from the preparation for the Australian Standards and Quality Authority audit process, that occurred in 2019.
TasTAFE underwent the audit process, which is part of an audit to ensure each training provider is meeting national standards, in an education sector that is highly regulated.
The ASQA audit process is different to the internal audit conducted in 2018 by Education Minister Jeremy Rockliff following a damning Integrity Commission report the previous year.
Ms Dodd said the ASQA audit was part of a normal process but it took a lot of effort on the part of the staff at TasTAFE to prepare for the process.
She said it was testament to the work of the staff that ASQA renewed TasTAFE's registration for seven years.
"We are through that [the audit] with seven years registration...so we have confidence in our place in the market and can say with confidence that we are here for the long haul," she said.
Initially, TasTAFE received a condition from ASQA on its registration process, regarding the lack of electrotechnology teachers in the state.
Electrotechnology students had their courses delayed for three months after the sudden departure of a teacher meant there were not enough teachers to take the course.
However, that sanction was removed after TasTAFE employed three new teachers.
Teacher recruitment issues
In the past year, TasTAFE has struggled with chronic teacher shortages, with delays in courses and students left relatively to their own devices becoming more frequent.
However, Ms Dodd said the challenges facing TasTAFE with regard to teaching stock was not unique to Tasmania and exacerbated by a buoyant industry.
"It is hard to recruit teachers to TasTAFE when construction and other industries are doing well," she said.
There were three instances of teacher shortages causing delays to courses or cancellations in 2019.
In March, students studying electrotechnology were told they would have their course delayed until May due to the sudden departure of a teacher.
Launceston Drysdale students were also left relatively unsupervised in April after a teacher had to leave unexpectedly.
Finally, in August, there was a shortage of markers that delayed the return of exam work for Certificate II nursing students in the south.
However, it's understood that the marking issues were isolated to the nursing courses and did not affect other courses further afield.
A former nursing teacher revealed that markers were six months behind due to workload and shortages.
A right to information request showed between May 2017 and August 2019, 10 teachers had resigned from TasTAFE employment.
Nine of those teachers who resigned in that time frame were long-term employees of the vocational education provider.
However, the right to information request also shows that TasTAFE has employed 91 teachers in the same time frame, however it does not detail if they are full-time equivalent or what roles they are employed in.
Ms Dodd said TasTAFE would continue to work to strengthen its industry partnerships in 2020, something they had worked hard on in 2019.
"We want to make sure we are continuing to have those conversations, to make sure we are meeting the demands of industry, which is always changing," Ms Dodd said.
However, she said one challenge was recruitment, which typically for TasTAFE does come from industry partnerships.
"We are always looking for innovative solutions to this problem, which is why we implemented the teacher under instruction model," she said.
Teachers under instruction was implemented by TasTAFE in 2019, to help recruit industry professionals.
Teachers under instruction are people who have been employed by TasTAFE who have come from industry and have not completed the compulsory marking assessment.
These teachers can teach classes and do everything but mark assignments, which is done by other staff until the assessment certificate has been achieved.
Ms Dodd said the teacher under instruction model had been a success, with the first person employed under that model now progressed to a fully fledged TasTAFE teacher.
"It will be used for key areas that we identify as difficult to recruit," Ms Dodd said.
Future is at Alanvale
TasTAFE revealed in October that it had plans to close and sell the Launceston city campus and consolidate its teaching offerings in the North at its existing Alanvale campus.
Ms Dodd said the city campus was not fit-for-purpose and did not align well with TasTAFE's goals to become a more modern organisation with a student-centric future.
Education Minister Jeremy Rockliff announced the state government would fund a $4 million infrastructure upgrade for the development of the Alanvale campus.
A timeline for the campus move or the development upgrade is yet to be determined.
However, Ms Dodd said the future for TasTAFE looked bright. She said along with the investment at Alanvale, there was funding for improvements at campuses across the state.
As well as infrastructure, TasTAFE will look to upgrade some of its systems and will launch a new literacy and numeracy tool for students.
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