Peter Strong: Skills and training reform should be in the hands of small business owners

Peter Strong budget

Former COSBOA chief Peter Strong. Source: supplied.

Many, perhaps most, industry associations with small business people as members are concerned about vocational education and training (VET). It is mentioned quite often as one of their main concerns.

This has been the situation for years — for over a decade, probably since the turn of the century (some will ask which century).

VET is a mess.

Let’s fix it by doing something different. If you have heard that before and have rolled your eyes, I don’t blame you. How about we try something that works, at least for some industries and their employees.

First of all, stop listening to those who have designed the system or worked hard to undermine the system they didn’t design. Give them lip service and make them feel like they are important but ignore their advice.

Once we’ve sidelined these naysayers then, as is often said by employers, training has to focus on the skills needs of employees and businesses and not on the needs of the training sector. 

Government programs must be separated into education programs and industry skills training.

Welfare and community-based training should be funded separately to skills-based training, so that community welfare and support programs can be used to ‘break the cycle’ of unemployment before transitioning into skills and employment programs.

Employers should not be asked to take the place of welfare and social workers. 

There should also be greater support for group training of apprentices into small businesses.

In this evening’s budget, it seems the government will announce more support for industry and pre-apprenticeship activities – good. But we know how to make it better and make it work.

Empower selected industry associations, not peak bodies but associations with direct small business membership, to show the world how it can be done.

Call it a trial or a pilot or whatever, but do it with just a few industries – the ones where training counts and is valued and who have a heavy reliance upon apprenticeships and skills; and who also have expertise within their association ranks. Make the funding rules about the accountability of funds expenditure and outcomes achieved – not about fitting in with the current VET system.

Give those associations government funds to provide training to their members. Ensure that the desired programs are put out to tender to TAFE and private providers. Let’s see where the best value for money for outcomes is to be found.

The associations I have in mind are: the Australian Hairdressing Council; ACAPMA, Restaurant and Catering Australia; the Association of Consulting Architects; and the Institute of Certified Bookkeepers. 

These industries are focused on apprenticeships, customer service, special areas of skills needs and micro-credentialling.

Let them do it their way. The assessment of performance will be by an independent group who survey the businesses and employees involved to assess success.

Let’s be dynamic, innovative, focused on skills of the people not just the process, remove the VET politics by the tender process. All the while with basic accountability.

We could only do this by a niche ‘trial’. It will be resisted by the traditional groups who believe they know the way forward (but don’t).

Some will say this is too complicated, but the associations I have named will reject the process if they believe it to be not workable. These associations are judged by their members who are business people – they judge processes on outcomes and success, achieved efficiently and with fewest complications. 

Employees will also quickly judge training as a failure if it does not meet their needs.

If an association involved in the ‘trial’ has its own training organisation embedded in their organisation, so be it. Government agencies can get a little too concerned about so-called nepotism. Fraud and corruption is not found with successful outcomes, or activities that are assessed by an independent body (maybe even ASQA).

If and when this works, it can be rolled out, a bit at a time, to other associations that satisfy the requirements of having expertise within their ranks.

The process of what is required should be decided by a group of association, or ex-association, leaders. No offence to the public service, but when they design things it can get a little complicated and not reflect reality. When big business representatives (aka the big accounting businesses) get involved they also tend to lose sight of what the process is about.

Industry-led responses developed through niche trials and pilots is the way to achieve outcomes and to deal with the ongoing changes we all face – it should be about maintaining our workforce skills, maintaining personal skills and career opportunities.


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1 month ago

We gave up and created our own RTO as we were tired of the poor quality coming through TAFE. Of course we are small and thus the regulatory body doesn’t like us, but we always pass our inspections.

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