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Skills and Training and Workforce Growth - TasTAFE


Cassy O'Connor MP

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Tuesday, 7 September 2021

Tags: TasTAFE, State Budget

Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, will the teachers and staff who are currently employed through our public education and training institute TasTAFE remain as State Service employees under the Tasmanian Industrial Relations system, or will they be employed under the Fair Work Act?

Ms COURTNEY - That work is currently under way. We have a set of principles we have outlined in the implementation plan around not being privatised, remaining not for profit, no existing TasTAFE staff members being worse off and no forced redundancies. The department is working through that across different agencies to determine that.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you. It sounds like the Government is moving towards having whatever the new provider's name is the staff put on under the Commonwealth Fair Work Act. I heard no commitment from you then that they would be State Service employees. What specific problem does the Tasmanian Government seek to address by considering moving TasTAFE teachers and staff from the public service to the private industrial relations system?

Ms COURTNEY - As I said in my opening statement, TasTAFE is not being privatised and it will remain not for profit. We are responding to what we are hearing from industry about making sure that young people and people wanting to retrain can find the pathways into TasTAFE. The way we can have mechanisms so that the way we train, the times we train can be responsive to what the students need as well as industries.

Ms O'CONNOR - Can I pull you up there, minister, that is quite interesting. The question is, what problem are you seeking to address in relation to the employment arrangements for TasTAFE staff, by moving them out of the State Service and into the Commonwealth industrial system?

Ms COURTNEY - As I said, Ms O'Connor, in my prior answer, there has been no decision on that so I won't pre-empt a decision that hasn't been made yet.

Ms O'CONNOR - When is that likely to be made? TasTAFE employees would very much like to know.

Ms COURTNEY - Our target is for legislation to be introduced later this year.

 

Ms O'BYRNE - Later this year? So, it's September and you don't know the industrial framework and we are debating it in a couple of months?

CHAIR - Ms O'Byrne, the minister is answering the question.

Ms COURTNEY - A substantial amount of work has been undertaken and we will have the opportunity to debate that legislation when it comes to parliament.

Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, how exactly would the Government's proposed business model for TasTAFE - which we know came to government from a very narrow field of influence - differ from its current operation as a statutory authority, and what specific problems does the Government expect this change to resolve?

So, how would TasTAFE - that is, a business of some sort - be different in its operation from the way it is now, and what is the problem that has not yet been articulated as to why you need to put TAFE through so much upheaval?

Ms COURTNEY - First, Ms O'Connor, the purpose of this is not to put TasTAFE in upheaval. It is to put TasTAFE on a future footing.

Clearly, we have the broader recommendations from PESRAC, but a lot of our implementation plan goes to the significant investment we're putting into TasTAFE to ensure that as we move forward, TasTAFE has the physical infrastructure, and importantly the additional staff that we have committed, as well as those innovative methods we're doing in partnership with Libraries Tasmania, to ensure that TasTAFE can be responsive going forward.

We know that the nature of industry is evolving. We know that there are increasingly greater demands from industry on the workforce, not just in supply, but in terms of what the training is.

So, we need to empower TasTAFE to be responsive to those, and much of that was outlined in PESRAC. Again, what we are doing is working through with industry. I talked about the roundtable earlier, and how we can ensure that TasTAFE can adapt for the future.

We know training is evolving nationwide. I really believe in the importance of TasTAFE, and I want to ensure that it is strong and nimble, and ready to provide that public provision of training in Tasmania.

Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, are you able to disaggregate how much of the TasTAFE facility upgrades and transition fund is allocated to facilities and equipment, and how much will be allocated to the business model transition?

Ms COURTNEY - The line item is not broken down, but nominally around $10 million.

Ms O'CONNOR - One final question. How does the minister or TasTAFE understand moving teachers and staff from the public service to private employment under the Fair Work Act will affect the retention of current employees and recruitment of 100 new teachers? Do you expect there to be an effect, and has this been considered?

Ms COURTNEY - First, I'd like to pay tribute to the amazing teachers and trainers we have across TasTAFE. They are incredibly dedicated and I have heard many amazing stories of staff going above and beyond to help people with their learning.

I very much hope that, throughout this entire process, we are going to see retention of staff. We have made the commitment that staff will not be worse off. We have also made the commitment that there will be no forced redundancies, so this is about working with our workforce.

It is also about providing opportunities for the workforce with regard to industry. I spoke earlier about the need for industry to come to the table as well for TasTAFE to be successful. Part of that is about industry working alongside TasTAFE to make sure we are supporting our teachers and trainers with industry knowledge, with equipment, to ensure that there is a strong feedback group. I have heard that from both industry as well as from speaking to employee representatives. Throughout this process, there is going to be a good opportunity to strengthen those relationships which, for a teacher/trainer from TasTAFE, will provide greater opportunity.

The significant investment we have in the facilities, particularly the regional areas, demonstrates the fact that we believe in TasTAFE. If you look at things that we are doing at Alanvale, the first steps around the centre of excellence, around drug and alcohol and youth and mental health, how we are investing in those facilities - the way we do that will be very much informed by the industries those training facilities will serve.

Dr WOODRUFF - Minister, why does funding for a regional TAFE virtual campus and TasTAFE and Libraries Tasmania initiatives end in 2023?

Ms COURTNEY - Sorry, which one?

Dr WOODRUFF - Regional TAFE virtual campus and Libraries Tasmania initiatives? I'm wondering how they'll be maintained?

Ms COURTNEY - I'll tell you more about the virtual campus initiative as we roll that out. I have further detail on the capital component and how that marries with the courses that will be provided. I don't have it to hand at the moment but I had quite a lot to say about it a couple of months ago. It was one of our first 100 day commitments. What we're doing is -

Dr WOODRUFF - Sorry, what's this in relation to?

Ms COURTNEY - This is the virtual campus. Planning is under way to create this hybrid model of learning. It is designed to blend remotely facilitated training with practical on campus experience and provide digital content for learning activities. The virtual campus will be a staged project with the first programs to be piloted at the second half of 2022 and a target of 75 products available by the end of 2025.

There will be $4 million invested into the rural and remote sites which can service TasTAFE training through the partnership. Work is currently under way to identify the priority locations where that capital money will be spent so we can make sure that those library facilities have the appropriate technology to support this.

Dr WOODRUFF - That was in relation to the virtual campus. I also asked about Libraries Tasmania. How will they be maintained without ongoing funding, if what you're saying is the investment money will finish once that work's been done. What about maintaining the programs?

Ms COURTNEY - We'll work with TasTAFE on these programs. There's a forward-fronted capital component because we have the development of the content of the courses, which will require that initial investment. You'll see that across this year and then the following year and then we'll work with TasTAFE about the appropriate funding for those further years.

Dr WOODRUFF - What about Libraries Tasmania?

Ms COURTNEY - The original $4 million is for investment in the physical sites.

Dr WOODRUFF - Or virtual campus and Libraries Tasmania?

Ms COURTNEY - If you have a computer you'll be able to access the virtual campus. The thing that we're trying to tackle is the fact that a lot of people, particularly in regional areas but not always, don't have access to either the internet or the physical facilities to undertake this learning. Being able to co locate with Libraries Tasmania provides benefits.

We're making sure that rather than duplicating government investment, particularly in regional places, we're seeing how we can ensure that we are co-investing government funding from different departments in a sensible way. That is the genesis of that. One we are looking to particularly understand better is the Bass Strait islands.

That work between TasTAFE and Libraries Tasmania is under way. One component is course identification and course development. Another is working with Libraries Tasmania on the physical infrastructure. I can't go into the detail of exactly what that will look like because that work is currently under way.

Dr WOODRUFF - Minister, how many staff redundancies have been provided for in the 2021 Budget in response to PESRAC's recommendations, and the transition plan for TAFE?

Ms COURTNEY - I've made it very clear that there's going to be no forced redundancies with regard to TasTAFE. This is about investing further into the organisation. This is about bolstering the staffing we have and investing in the facilities.

Dr WOODRUFF - What will the effect of the proposed new business model be on student course fees?

Ms COURTNEY - I want to make it really clear. This is making it better and easier for students and young people and Tasmanians to access training and, importantly, ensuring that industry is working with TasTAFE so there are pathways to jobs for the people participating in training. I can assure you that this is about strengthening TasTAFE and strengthening the outcomes for people who participate in training.

Training is such an important part of the broader education system, and I want to see TasTAFE being able to be responsive. I want the people who engage in training to have training that is relevant and physically accessible for them, but also provides pathways to meaningful employment. That's where industry engagement is so important - to make sure those pathways are really clear for people to be able to get a job post training.

Dr WOODRUFF - I'm sorry, I don't understand your response to that question. You said you wanted to make it easier. Does easier mean there won't be any increase in student fees?

Ms COURTNEY - That is not part of the proposal that we're looking at in terms of student fees. That is not part of the policy or the plan we have. This is about making it better and easier for people to engage in training and have the pathways to jobs.

Dr WOODRUFF - Minister, the new TasTAFE model, what do you anticipate the effect will be on student enrolment numbers, as there has been some modelling of what the expected change will produce?

Ms COURTNEY - In terms of student enrolment and across VET more broadly, we have seen declines in VET across the country, that is something happening outside Tasmania. As I outlined in my opening statement, one of the questions I answered before lunch, I was seeing really good take up rates here in Tasmania. We are seeing high levels of satisfaction. But we know we have a national tide of lower levels in training.

What we want to do through this is make sure that TasTAFE remains relevant. With the increased focus on having even more staff to deliver this, I would like to see more and more Tasmanians participating in training through TasTAFE. I don't have a specific number in mind, but I would like to make sure that Tasmanians have greater access and have greater opportunity to be able to participate in training.

Dr WOODRUFF - Do you have any modelling, projections or targets for apprentice numbers under the new model?

Ms COURTNEY - We have apprenticeships and training also delivered in the state outside of TasTAFE. I might see whether the department has any forecasts on where they think that might be going from a statewide perspective.

But it ends up being driven by a range of factors, including the buoyancy of the economy, and it is driven also in part by what support mechanism various levels of government have in the market at times, that tends to be a significant driver of numbers as well.

Perhaps I'll ask Ange to comment more broadly. Whether she is able to add further to that?

Ms CONWAY - Through you, minister, just confirming that apprenticeships and traineeships really do correlate with economic activity. When the economy's strong, you'll see high levels of activity in apprenticeships and traineeships. Also, at the moment, there's been a lot of additional support in the system from all levels of government. So, we're seeing a really big rebound in our commencements for apprenticeships and traineeships, particularly in the trade areas in Tasmania, at the moment.

Dr WOODRUFF - Minister, in regard to the new business model for TasTAFE, can you please explain the effect on course options and the number and diversity of courses that you expect will be available?

Ms COURTNEY - Thank you for the question, Dr Woodruff. I don't have a specific number in mind. This is about responding to the needs of industry and students. I expect the work TasTAFE does through its CEO and board will identify where the need is. As we have seen already at Alanvale in the healthcare training and the nursing programs, there is a keenness to work with industry on where those needs are. I cannot predict what courses will be on offer in the future. This investment bolsters TasTAFE, making it stronger for the future and ensuring it can be responsive to future needs.

Dr WOODRUFF - I would have thought that part of the thinking around TasTAFE's shift to a new model would have looked at the contraction or expansion of certain courses. There has not been a conversation about specific areas where a new focus would be strengthened or another might be contracted?

Ms COURTNEY - As a total?

Dr WOODRUFF - Yes.

Ms COURTNEY - I would expect more course delivery. This is about providing more courses. In the implementation plan we talk about more short courses to deal with emerging demand. Some conversations are between TasTAFE and the university to make sure that we have pathways. In different areas we have either complimentary training or pathways through TasTAFE to university.

There is active engagement between the TasTAFE CEO and the UTAS VC on the right mechanism for that. That will depend on how TasTAFE and the university are operationally placed. My focus is on the students to make sure there are the pathways for them. We are making sure there are more options and more pathways for people to not only reskill but also upskill within an industry they are currently in.

Dr WOODRUFF - Minister, talking about new courses for TasTAFE, it's obviously an evolving world. I wondered whether TasTAFE has given any consideration to the future-thinking courses that we might need to build an industry around, and whether you could talk about future industries that TasTAFE will be equipping people for - and if you could talk specifically about landscape restoration.

Landscape restoration training and skills is something that is happening now at universities and TAFE equivalents in other countries around the world - much more quickly in Europe, but they're setting the scene for where we're going to be in Australia and Tasmania very soon. It's quite clear that landscape restoration is more than about planting trees. It is about restoring degraded landscapes so that they can provide more services and provide what we need. Resources are finite on the planet, so we need to preserve what we have, and grow back more.

Has any consideration been given by TasTAFE to look at partnering with the university for having a trade of landscape restoration?

Ms COURTNEY - Before I go to the CEO to talk about course development and planning for the future more generally, I can say more broadly that what we are trying to achieve through the transition is providing TasTAFE with the capacity to be responsive and look to the future.

We've seen that in the investment that we've just talked about, in terms of the WET, as well as the emerging Centre of Excellence at Alanvale where those jobs are, where that demand is. We ultimately want to make sure we're providing training that provides a pathway for Tasmanians into a job. Industry is so crucial in providing us with that information, and being able to, and through TasTAFE's board, have a look at those strategic directions where training should be invested, and where we need to be investing in our staff as well.

Perhaps, Grant, I can pass to you.

Mr DREHER - We are actually looking at what TasTAFE needs to deliver into the future, and I think it will be very different in a post-COVID 19 world to what it has been.

Sustainability and the environment is one of the areas we're looking at. We haven't gone down to whether it’s a trade, or whether it's delivered in partnership with the university, or whether it's done on our own, but along with technology and infrastructure and care industries - plus the one you mentioned - these are probably the most pressing needs that we see in Tasmania at the moment.

We're probably looking at how we respond. I wouldn't want to lock us into a particular delivery model of apprenticeships being the right way to do it. It might be the right way, but we are exploring other opportunities to partner with UTAS in specific programs around the state. That would set good models of partnership for the future, and that is something we wanted to do.

As the minister has said, we are currently working on what it is we will be delivering as new products and services into the future, and using workforce date that's available both state and federally to inform decisions around that.

Dr WOODRUFF - Minister, through you or to you, where are future climate change projections in that thinking - the sort of conditions that Tasmania will be increasingly confronting, such as extreme events, and the greater need for rugged landscapes to be resilient to the many changes that are happening, and restoring our degraded landscapes so they can provide as many services as possible for us. Is climate change sitting in that suite of things that has been talked about?

Ms COURTNEY - More broadly, climate change is clearly front of mind in the new agency that the Premier has announced. So this is about how we can be partnering industry, with climate change, with targets that we have around renewables, and ensuring we have a cohesive approach to how we do tackle it.

Clearly, part of that will be around the industries that we are going to see evolve or thrive as we go forward. That's exactly what we do across a range of different parts of government, and particularly through that new part of government, that mechanism of being able to align the areas around emissions reduction with the fact that we do have strong growth trajectories across a number of different industries. Some industries have been doing a sensational job, and that will actually evolve the way the workforce engages with those industries.

Clearly that's a priority more broadly of government, but perhaps the CEO might have something further to add.

Mr DREHER - Thank you, minister. Climate change and global warming is not an industry area in itself. TasTAFE delivers industry training packages that are written by industry. We don't write our own programs. The good news is that a lot of national training packages are starting to include more units of competency around sustainability and sustainable practices. I would imagine that this will continue as training packages are being reviewed.

Whether it becomes an industry in itself, and has its own courses, would depend on people with more authority than myself. We would then respond and try to deliver those if they were relevant to Tasmania and Tasmania's needs. There seems to be evidence there would be.