A government business enterprise could help TasTAFE unshackle itself from the hands of the government, but fears remain over how the changes will be funded and what impact it will have on staff.
Launceston-based vocational education expert Sue Kilpatrick said the state government's decision to transform TasTAFE to a government business enterprise would help to create more Independence for TasTAFE as an operating business.
However, she said with discussions for changes to the national skills agreement funding starting, it was unclear if TasTAFE would continue to receive the same amount of funding for the changes.
WHAT HAS BEEN PROPOSED FOR TASTAFE BY THE PREMIER?
This week Premier Peter Gutwein released the final report from the Premier's Economic and Social Recovery Advisory Council, which outlined the key reforms to TasTAFE and many other industries.
The TasTAFE news has been met with mixed reactions, with many in the industry and wider stakeholders welcoming it, but the education union has warned the steps will lead to privatisation of the public provider.
The PESRAC report put vocational education and skills training at the front end of Tasmania's response to COVID-19.
IN OTHER NEWS:
The report noted that in its consultation, it was clear that employers wanted TasTAFE to succeed.
"Despite good intentions and some recent progress in student satisfaction and employability, we were told that TasTAFE is unable to adapt to the shifting demands of employers and individuals at the pace required to support recovery," the report reads.
The PESRAC report noted there were several options to help supercharge and transform TasTAFE.
The PESRAC report noted four different options that would help TasTAFE become more independent.
The options included:
- maintaining existing governance structures and amending the teaching award;
- greater competition in the training market and relying more on private RTOs;
- for the state government to fund more industry-specific RTOs owned and operated by industry; and
- to establish TasTAFE as a government business enterprise.
However, the council said it believed the GBE approach would be best placed and funded to achieve the outcomes required quickly and efficiently.
"Under this alternative governance model, the government would articulate public priorities for TasTAFE, as it does with other government businesses," the report reads.
"TasTAFE should have genuine flexibility to deliver on its charter, and emerging client demands, in the most operationally effective way."
WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR STUDENTS OR INDUSTRY?
Ms Kilpatrick said the changes recommended in the PESRAC report looked encouraging on paper.
"It [the report] recognises the value of skills training and what's right for Tasmania, but as with anything the question would be who will pay for it," she said.
While the emphasis on skills training and TasTAFE was noted, Ms Kilpatrick said some areas of the report didn't go far enough such as overall skill training alignment.
RELATED STORY:TasTAFE teacher shortage stems from boom
"I would have liked to have seen more direction in terms of what flexibility they'd like to see," she said.
Tasmania has unique job and industry skill set, such as the emerging hydrogen industry, and Ms Kilpatrick said TasTAFE needed to be able to respond to that.
She said at the moment, it was confined by its close ties to the government and its operating structure, and moving to a GBE would help to create autonomy.
Ms Kilpatrick said Tasmania's vocational education system had never recovered from sweeping reforms made to it in the 90s, when there was a shift in focus from education to industry.
Nationally there was also changes at that time to incentivise private registered training operators, which underfunded the public provider and created strong competition in the market.
Ms Kilpatrick said while competition is not inherently a bad thing, it did create a glut of private RTOs all offering similar courses, rather than the variety of courses that Tasmania needed at the time, which had continued.
HOW DO TEACHERS FEEL ABOUT THE CHANGES?
Meanwhile, Australian Education Union state president Brian Wightman has lashed the government's changes, saying staff and the union were left in the dark.
Mr Wightman said the changes were difficult to comprehend, particularly in light of upcoming EBA negotations, which are due by the end of the month.
He said staff members had reported feeling blindsided by the announcement, which they found out via media.
On Friday, Mr Wightman delivered a letter to TasTAFE chief executive Grant Dreher demanding an immediate return to the bargaining table.
The existing TasTAFE agreement for staff expires at the end of June, and negotiations were due to start at the end of March. Mr Wightman said many of the changes requested in the PESRAC report were raised during previous EBA negotiations in 2019 and rejected.
A fact sheet prepared by the union says teachers feel they are flexible, with teachers ordinary work hours falling between 7am to 7pm, with many taking the option to work outside these hours.
"TasTAFE teachers begin work as early as 5am and some do evening and night shifts to meet the needs of students and employers, including travelling to worksites within Tasmania and interstate for on-the-job training," the fact sheet says.
Mr Wightman said since the news broke of the TasTAFE reforms, the union had received significant feedback from members, with many expressing hurt and anger at how they were described.
He said it was hard to fathom why the government had chosen this route, with no consultation to the people affected, particularly in light of the upcoming EBA negotiations.
WHAT DOES THE GOVERNMENT SAY?
TasTAFE is currently funded under state and national agreements. The federal government provides funding under the national skills agreement.
The Tasmanian Government currently has committed to providing 80 per cent of its training budget to TasTAFE.
When asked if the government would confirm that level of funding would stay, Education Minister Jeremy Rockliff remained coy.
"The government is looking to increase its investment in TasTAFE as part of this process. We want to see more students being trained in areas of high demand and more skilled teachers to meet this need," he said.
However, he did not directly confirm if funding agreements for TasTAFE would change.
Mr Rockliff said during the week that the clear feedback from the PESRAC report was that "employers needed a TasTAFE for the future", which is what drove the government to act.
He said he applauded the achievements TasTAFE had made in the past few years, including achieving maximum registration from the Australian Skills Quality Authority and its gains in student outcomes.
However, the changes would help propel TasTAFE to a new future.
"We want to have a training provider that reponds quickly to our workforce needs," he said.
"A GBE will provide more flexible mechanism to respond to industry demand....TasTAFE will always be in public hands."
He said the government wanted to attract more skilled teachers to the sector and drive growth, as evidenced in the recent investment in campuses across Tasmania.