On 14 May 2020, Federal Minister for the Environment Sussan Ley introduced the National Skills Commissioner Bill 2020 (Cth) (“the Bill”), on behalf of Federal Minister for Education Dan Tehan, in the House of Representatives. On 24 August 2020, the Bill passed both houses of parliament, with amendments. The Bill is currently awaiting assent. The Bill is part of the government’s response to a 2019 expert review of Australia’s VET system.
On 28 November 2018, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that the Honourable Steven Joyce would lead an independent review of Australia’s VET system in order to examine how to deliver skilled workers, in the future, for a stronger economy. In March 2019, the Strengthening Skills: Expert Review of Australia’s Vocational Educational and Training System report (“the Final Report”) was delivered to the government.
The Final Report found that the current model was important in a fast-changing work environment, in that it allowed students to earn while they were learning. However, participants to the review noted concerns about inflexible and confusing systems, as well as ongoing quality and access issues. The Final Report contained 71 recommendations around a six point plan, focusing on:
On 2 April 2019, the Government released its response to the recommendations, committing to a number of changes. The Bill, along with the National Vocational Education and Training Regulator Amendment (Governance and Other Matters) Bill 2020 (Cth), delivers on some of the key recommendations of the review.
The Bill seeks to establish the National Skills Commission (“the Commission”) as an independent statutory office, and to define its functions. The Commission is to be part of the federal Department of Education, Skills and Employment (“the Department”), and is to be headed by the National Skills Commissioner (“the Commissioner”). The aim of the Commission is to provide expert independent advice to the Department, and provide leadership on the Australian labour market and the development of the national workforce.
The goal of the Commission is to consolidate and strengthen labour market analysis on current, emerging, and future workforce needs. This analysis will provide a comprehensive and independent source of information in order to better inform government investment within the Vocational Education and Training (“VET”) system.
The Commissioner will also examine the pricing for VET courses in order to improve transparency, consistency, and accessibility for students. Currently, the prices of VET courses and subsidies vary around Australia, resulting in students paying different prices for the same course. In order to develop and maintain a set of prices for the courses, the Commissioner will examine the cost drivers for the delivery of the qualifications against the outcomes for the student.
The Bill also requires the Commissioner to produce an annual report to the Minister outlining the current and emerging workforce skills needs, to be tabled in federal Parliament. However, the Commission only has an advisory role within the Department. The Bill does not confer on the Commissioner any authority to set VET prices, nor does it impose any consultation, collaboration, or coordination requirements with existing VET bodies.
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