A fair go for all? Equity frameworks and landmark documents in Australian vocational education and training
'Equity' has always been and remains a problematic concept in vocational education and training (VET) in Australia, as the evidence in this review will demonstrate, making the identification of documents worthy of being designated 'landmark' a challenge. Policy change and implementation in VET has been messy, somewhat unpredictable and mostly evolutionary with governance, policy frameworks and provision linked with the economies, politics and value systems of the time. While notions of fairness alongside racialised, gendered and class-based discourses can be traced back to the origin stories of what we now call VET, the positioning of 'equity' has always been and remains nebulous.
As a companion document, this 'condensed review' foregrounds the documents highlighted as 'landmark'1 and contextualised in the accompanying full-length review of equity in Australian VET, which explicates the shifting approaches to equity and associated significant documents. In an account of almost half a century, documents of influence (mostly positive but some that hindered or resulted in changed fortunes for equity) from the many available are selected. It should be noted that while the full-length review is holistic in its approach, not every section contains documents designated as 'landmark'. This does not diminish the importance of those cited in such sections.
Given the plethora of reforms in VET and their significant impacts on equity, the period under review begins in the late 1960s, with most attention from 1970s onward and continues until prior to the federal elections and change of government on 21st May 20222. These last five decades encompass an intense period of continual reform in VET. As this review demonstrates, this period resulted in a vast and rich depository of knowledge and practice-based evidence about equity in and for VET. Together, the collection of evidence illustrates the ongoing tensions between VET's economic and social agendas, to the relative detriment of the latter. Approaches to and implementation of equity strategies have been piecemeal, rarely if ever a central concern for VET, and, as 'non-core business', equity's fortunes have waxed and waned. Despite all that has transpired equity in the VET system remains 'yet-to-be-finished business'.
The focus is on national reforms and related relevant documents for VET in the post compulsory sector. Many differing groups have been designated as disadvantaged, and so equity or target groups in VET over time. Noting the need for future attention to landmark documents for all such groups, the scope of the report limits the possibility of detail for separate groups despite their significance. The selected documents are listed along with a brief overview of the various sections of the full-length review in which they appear. The sections are named and numbered to correspond with those in the full review.
The first section of this review provides an overview in which to locate the documents, with the following section explicating notable documents relevant for tracking the shifting fortunes of equity in Australian VET – both positively and some that set in place changed arrangements that impacted equity negatively. Attention then turns to a number of 'eras' for equity in VET, from Kangan and TAFE to the formation of a national system, along with designated economic waves that drive change. Thereafter, the review tracks the many shifts in the national VET system along with key documents either influenced or were directly related to equity.
These sections illustrate tentative beginnings for equity in VET to a wealth of experimental but productive strategies and policies, through the 'golden days' for equity until the disbanding of the National Vocational Equity Advisory Council. Without a coordinating body with oversight of and high-level policy advice about embedding and enacting equity as a core principle in the VET system, attention to it has become decentred, fragmented – the topic rarely interrogated. The increasing demise of equity in VET is apparent in the literature over the last two decades. Given the ubiquitous nature of globalisation and the raft of inter-related crises now facing not only Australia but also the world, international documents from global bodies associated with education, training and issues of equity and inclusion are surveyed.
Despite the uncertain futures that confront us, this current epoch of significant change presents opportunities for a new global social compact, a new social compact for education. It may be that this is the moment for transforming education and training in Australia into an integrated institution around the concept of lifelong learning (LLL) including VET that has equity at its centre – an inclusive, equitable and sustainable VET and skills system for the benefit of all Australians.
1. Equity and access with/in VET: definitional dilemmas
Understandings of equity in the national Australian VET system rest on the interplay between notions of equity, equity legislation and the state. Generally, the approach has been distributive, rather than seeking structural or substantive change (Butler & Ferrier 1999, pp.62–64). While this section does not contain any 'landmark' documents per se, it provides significant information related to the attempt to elucidate some of the complexity associated with the often taken for granted concept of 'equity', along with documents that count education and training as a human right. Given the focus of this review, this contextualisation is central.
Equity is an ethical principal with a long history characterised by contestation (political, socioeconomic and cultural) and inherent power struggles. Equity is about justness, fairness – a lack of discrimination, prejudice and/or bias. It is associated with concepts of social justice, equality, inclusion and visions of a just and fair world – all of which are held as ideals and values that underpin Australian society. In reality, this requires formal recognition and acknowledgment of the breadth and depth of the diversity and inequalities inherent in the nation's population; of ensuring institutions of the state and national policies are designed to deliver access and benefit to all citizens with attention to their differentiated status and needs.
The invitation to contribute to the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER) Landmark Documents Project for the VOCEDplus VET Knowledge Bank suggested 'equity of access' in VET for the period 1954–2020 as the focus for this paper. However, equity in education is about much more than 'equity of access'. Although significant, access is but one of several necessary factors in the provision of equity. Equity requires both differentiation from, and clarification of its inter-relationships with 'access'; it needs to be a central organising feature of the structures and systems of state and governance, rather than an 'add-on'.
A focus on equity provides the opportunity for systemic identification of who may be left behind and why, and, with relevant supporting evidence, to instigate measures to overcome associated discrimination through the implementation of appropriate holistic measures and the necessary resources. This is especially important for VET, given that the institution of education is well recognised for its inherent transformative powers – for individuals, groups, communities and nations.
Documents reveals constantly repeated themes across the timespan of this review, with each era reinforcing findings, advice and recommendations of the previous for groups of Australian citizens categorised as 'equity', 'target', 'marginalised', 'vulnerable' and/or 'disadvantaged'. One work stands out in the provision of a clear and adequate definition of equity; that promulgated by the National VET Advisory Council (NVEAC) in its Equity Blueprint 2011 – 2016:
Equity is concerned with enacting the principle of fairness. It takes account of the fact that people and their life circumstances are not the same and that these should not limit or determine their opportunities to achieve similar outcomes. Life circumstances include the social, cultural, financial, physical, health, gender and language differences that individually and collectively distinguish different groups of people.
In vocational education and training (VET), equity involves designing systems and processes that meet diverse learning needs and which ensure that who learners are and their life circumstances are not the determining factors in their:
(i) Access to VET
(ii) VET participation and experiences
(iii) VET outcomes, such as further education and training, employment and/or community participation (NVEAC 2011a, p.3).
2. Scoping Australian VET: name games, reform waves and policy interventions
The VET system is one of the oldest institutions in Australian society, despite the occasional belief of some policy-makers that they have only recently invented it (Ryan 2011, p.21).
The two parts of this section (titled in the full-length review as 'What's in a name? Unpacking VET' and 'Contextualising VET') direct attention first to VET – how it is named and known before discussion focuses on significant periods of economic reform – especially those of the last four and a half decades – that continue to impact VET's designs and approaches to equity. Again, no landmark documents are identified in this section.
Like equity, 'VET' is also a complicated concept. In Australia it is most often presented in unproblematic terms and defined by 'what it appears to be rather than what it actually is' (Guthrie & Clayton 2018, p.2). This is also dependent on who is actually doing the defining; their role and (vested) interest in VET. Over time, the naming of the sector has shifted from technical education to technical and further education (TAFE) then VET and is now rebadged as 'skills and training'.
Along with increasing emphasis on learning for paid work in the education system as a whole, demarcation between the different sectors of education continues to blur (Schubert et al. 2018). VET is well established as a part of secondary school education; it is formally linked with and offered in many university programs and has all but engulfed much of the adult and community education (ACE) sector. Given the 'taken-for-grantedness' of the naming device 'VET' it is informative to consider the definition agreed globally via its international nomenclature (TVET), viz:
Technical and vocational education and training (TVET) is understood as comprising education, training and skills development relating to a wide range of occupational fields, production, services and livelihoods. TVET, as part of lifelong learning, can take place at secondary, post-secondary and tertiary levels and includes work-based learning and continuing training and professional development, which may lead to qualifications. TVET also includes a wide range of skills development opportunities attuned to national and local contexts. Learning to learn, the development of literacy and numeracy skills, transversal skills and citizenship skills are integral components of TVET (UNESCO 2015, annex II, p.2).
This broader more inclusive definition is useful, given the dual demands (social and economic; education and training) of VET. It is especially important for considerations of equity.
Given the breadth, depth and complexity of VET and the necessity to draw boundaries, the review focuses on publications that relate to national provision of technical and vocational education in the post compulsory sector, with limited reference to LLL ACE. Publications relating to VET in schools (VETiS), universities (higher education (HE)) and workplace or work-based learning have not been included to limit the scope of the review.
The origin story of vocational education as work-related learning (or training) in Australia has a very long tail. The history of Australian VET in its various guises has been explained as:
… essentially a study of the social and economic effects of the chronic shortage of skilled labour in the community, and the ideas devised to remedy this (Rushbrook 2010, p.34).
The era of reform in Australia between the 1960s and 2005 was a period of accelerating change in education, with technical education and training in Australia moving through the 'golden age' of TAFE into the VET system recognisable today. The latter period saw the beginnings of neoliberalism as a dominant ideology especially so over the last four decades when reforms have largely focused on opening markets (including in government sectors and so education and VET) to increased competition.
Prior to the impact of the COVID-19 global pandemic Berger-Thomson et al. (2018) identified three broad thematic economic reform waves (macroeconomic stability; microeconomic reform; and monetary and fiscal policy developments) that influenced the course of the Australian economy over the past 40 years. Significant shifts in understandings of and approaches to equity and to the changing positions of equity in VET located in these decades are explicated in more detail in the full-length review.
These three waves of reform continue to be highly influential in the design, governance, funding, delivery and core functions of VET. Australia along with the rest of the world is now on the precipice of a new major socio-economic reform period associated with the COVID-19 global pandemic, a 'fourth wave', the implications of which are touched on in the full-length review's final section.
The transformation from VET's small beginnings to the ever-changing highly complex and vast system; ongoing tensions between a post-compulsory education institution with the ability to respond to peoples' aspirations to access equitable and affordable quality learning environments that link them with decent work, and a system that government/s utilise as a mechanism or lever to assist the economy (especially at times of crisis) with the provision of timely skills. It is the context in which landmark documents for equity in VET have evolved.
3. The first wave: from Kangan and TAFE to the emergent national system
Attention in this section of the report turns to identification and discussion of landmark documents for equity in VET in the 'first wave', from the 1970s to the early 1990s – one of increasingly rapid reform. These documents highlighted below set the foundations for approaches to equity, along with the tensions, that are still evident as traces in contemporary VET policies.
The Faure report
Developed in response to social and political ferment of the 1960s in Europe, the International Commission on the Development of Education chaired by Edgar Faure was established at the beginning of 1971. The Faure/UNESCO report Learning to be: the world of education today and tomorrow (Faure et al. 1972) was published with the aim to 'assist governments in formulating national strategies for the development of education in a changing universe'.
The Faure Report became a Blueprint for education reform globally. Inherent in this Blueprint were notions of life-long education/learning (LLL), (recurrent education) as a condition of and for equal opportunities and forms of democratic policies and citizenship. It remains a pivotal document in debates about the purpose of education and also for the promulgation of notions of a learning society and life-long education, now badged as lifelong learning (LLL).
Learning to be (for which a second edition was released in 2013) can in many ways be considered the mother-ship document for equity in Australian VET.
The Kangan report
After the post war boom in Australia, the 1970s ushered in rising inflation and unemployment and the beginnings of stagflation. A key period of reform of VET began with the publication of the Kangan report in 1974: TAFE in Australia: report on needs in technical and further education, April 1974 (ACOTFE 1974). The Kangan committee (Australian Committee on Technical and Further Education (ACOTFE)) was commissioned by the Commonwealth Government to 'report on needs in TAFE' with regard to finance and to provide 'advice to government' on 'well-balanced development of TAFE'. It was part of the Whitlam Labor Government's extensive education reform project based on ideals of social justice to redress disadvantage including that linked with class and poverty.
The report identified two primary purposes of vocational education: 'manpower' development for the economy, and an educational and social emphasis to enable people to develop their potential. The tensions between these two functions of VET have continued into the present. Of the two functions of vocational education, Kangan recognised the second as the most important, noting that 'the emphasis …in institutions should be primarily on the needs of individuals for vocationally oriented education' and the manpower (sic) needs of industry should be seen as context for courses' (Australian Committee on Technical and Further Education 1974, vol.1, p.xxiii).
These ideas represented a major shift and promoted broader forms of vocational education than previously. It laid the groundwork for future attention to equity issues, acknowledging the existence of 'barriers to access' and positioned TAFE to play a central role in redressing 'social imbalances', with increased targeted resources to improve 'access of specific groups such as migrants, women and Aborigines'3 (Hawke & Sweet 1983, p.1).
Increased government funding for TAFE saw rapid growth in enrolments and a much broader scope of program provision. However, there was a tendency for 'access' programs to be seen as marginal, mostly low level, often short and non-credentialed. Significantly, the Kangan era also ushered in a first – a period of exponential growth of expertise in equity in TAFE – what equity was, could be, looked like in practice and so how to 'do it'.
However, the economic recession in the years that followed re-asserted the primary position of the 'manpower' goals of vocational education, providing the skills needed for economic recovery and success.
Skills for Australia
In the late 1980s, Australia was facing major economic challenges that required 'adjustments in the structure of the economy' (Dawkins & Holding 1987, Foreword). At the time there was concern that not enough training opportunities were being offered to lift the economy out of recession. Anxiety about Australia's international competitiveness in global and regional marketplaces increased, as did un/employment issues, directing further attention to training for skills development with a focus on human resources and so human capital, despite critique of the troubled relationship between human capital theory and equity.4
The 1987 Ministerial Statement Skills for Australia (Dawkins & Holding 1987) was the precursor to the creation of a new portfolio combining education, training, employment and youth affairs with the brief to integrate a 'set of programs which ultimately will embrace all Commonwealth activity in these fields' (1987, p.iv). Skills for Australia outlines the approach, program directions and priorities for employment, education and training for 1987–1988. It marks a milestone in VET with its focus on the direct connections between 'skill', labour market programs and the economy.
The statement focussed on increasing Australia's emergent training system in quality and flexibility, capacity and participation, along with seeking to raise industry commitment including the level of private investment in training and skills formation. It was also the forerunner of two further reports issued by Dawkins, A changing workforce (Dawkins 1988a) and Industry training in Australia: the need for change (Dawkins 1988b). Traces of equity from the Kangan era are still evident, with an articulated aim for changes in Skills for Australia to improve the employment and training opportunities available to the unemployed and otherwise disadvantaged members of the community.
A major contributor to reform of the VET landscape with lasting impact to contemporary times was a joint report of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) and the Trade Development Commission (TDC). The subsequent report, Australia reconstructed: ACTU/TDC mission to Western Europe (Department of Trade, Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) & Trade Development Council (TDC) 1987) focused on reform to integrate training with work and to promote skills formation, in line with Dawkins and Holding (1987). It was a blueprint for industry, unions and government to build a fairer social democratic Australia and established a baseline for a national skills system. The review asserted the importance of labour market policies, and a need for Australia to invest more in 'the process of skills formation'. It recommended the establishment of a 'National Employment and Training Fund' – a five-year program to combat youth unemployment and policies to improve job placements and overcome labour market segmentation. It also saw the politicisation of the concept of 'skill'. Its ongoing legacy in terms of equity is mixed, especially for those in feminised industries and occupations.
Demanding skill: women and technical education in Australia
Close to this time, Pocock published her findings of a three-country study – Man-made skill: women challenging the tradition in England, Sweden and Germany (Pocock 1988a). This was closely followed by her seminal publication, Demanding skill: women and technical education in Australia (Pocock 1988b). These publications encapsulate the growing awareness of the highly gendered nature of skills, and the differentiation in how 'men's work' and 'women's work' were valued. Women and women's groups were following the Government's unfolding reform agenda closely with the intent to bring about some much overdue equity related change through opportunities as they arose in a new national system.
A changing workforce
A changing workforce (Dawkins 1988a) that followed Skills for Australia (Dawkins & Holding 1987) outlines 'the Australian Commonwealth Government's intention to 'meet the employment, education and training demands of structural adjustment' and the ways in which this can be done' (Dawkins 1988a, Foreword). This locates VET (then still TAFE) firmly as a tool of and for the economy. It also illustrates the Government's dual aim to focus on improved education and training as key to increasing Australia's 'future prosperity' while 'achieving social justice' for disadvantaged groups by integrating social security and employment, education and training policies with forms of incentivisation and assistance.
A changing workforce set the scene for major reforms: award restructuring, job reclassification, a competency based approach to training, an increased role for industry, the expansion and diversification of training infrastructure and competition for TAFE, all underpinned by new administrative arrangements.
Despite the potential for addressing disadvantage, once again the promise did not live up to the rhetoric. A range of issues that mitigated against the fulfilment of the potential for women were identified, including that the drive for change emanated from a masculinised trade/industry base, that the 'powerful male unions 'high jacked' the agenda' (Emery 1993, p.172).
Improving Australia's training system
In 1989 Minister Dawkins released a paper Improving Australia's training system (Dawkins 1989) that took up many of the ideas expressed by the ACTU/TDC and led to reforms focused on quality and flexibility of training, national consistency and coordination and increasing 'equity of access' that would shape the VET system for some years. The paper recognised pressures arising from the VET system's dual functions of meeting the economic needs of the nation for skilled labour and its functions of serving the disadvantaged.
Training became 'competency-based', with industry in a tripartite consensus with unions and employers defining the competencies (skills) necessary for curriculum content, assessment and alignment with award structures. Skills acquisition replaced formal qualifications allied with the provision of multiple pathways to enable movement through the system (Dawkins 1989).
While it was the 'government's view' that 'education and training systems should play an active role in responding to the major economic challenges facing Australia (Dawkins 1989, p.1), Improving Australia's training system acknowledged 'continuing evidence of inequities in access to training, requiring further targeted action to improve the labour market prospects of disadvantaged groups' (p.2). In particular, the paper acknowledged the need for attention to the needs of women and the long-term unemployed. In this same period attention was directed again to the education and training needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples5, acknowledged as the most disadvantaged of all Australians.
The Hughes report
An Aboriginal Education Policy Taskforce chaired by Paul Hughes was established in 1988. After a very short turn-around time, the Task Force reported in August 1988: Report of the Aboriginal Education Policy Task Force (Aboriginal Education Policy Task Force 1988). The Report advised that, despite government actions in recent years, the situation signalled 'a crisis in the provision of education to Aborigines' (p.7). It reported that 'the disadvantages faced by Aboriginal people in securing their right to an education remain far more severe than for any other group in Australian society'.
Significant attention is given to strategies for technical and further education, government (TAFE) and non-government (ACE) including 10 separate recommendations that took into account the potential inter-relationships between the government's commitment to economic development in and for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and the new focus inherent in Dawkins policy reform changes (Aboriginal Education Policy Task Force 1988, pp.29–34).
The Report concludes with five specific recommendations for the development and implementation of the new policy over two stages (pp.41–43). Subsequently, the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Policy (the Joint Policy) came into effect in January 1990, after endorsement by all governments.
The Deveson report
Given growing concern at the potential cost of award restructuring and its cost implications for the new national system, the Government established the Training Costs Review Committee chaired by Ivan Deveson in 1990 to 'review training costs associated with award restructuring' including a focus on cost and regulation requirements. In its subsequent report – Training costs of award restructuring: report of the Training Costs Review Committee: volume 1 [the Deveson report] (Training Costs Review Committee 1990) – Deveson reported that Australia was at 'the "back of the pack" in skill formation relative to other OECD countries' (1990, p.v). Access and equity considerations were considered under the header of 'Equity arrangements as part of an integrated package of reforms' (pp.51–53), that of a possible 'equity package' with income support arrangements, deferred payments options.
The Deveson report 'is notable as the first systematic statement of the case for developing a market for training, rather than continuation of the essential free public provision' (Ryan 2019, p.4). Its greatest impact on (and to the detriment of) equity from the acceptance of the Deveson report's findings was its encouragement of diversity and so competition between VET providers in an open training market.
The Finn review
In December 1990 the Australian Education Council (AEC) was requested by the Ministers of Vocational Education, Employment and Training (MOVEET) to follow up on the AEC's investigations into the convergence of general and vocational education (schools and TAFE) by developing an issues paper and recommend an agenda for a major national review of post compulsory education and training. In 1991 the AEC Review Committee reported on its work on Young people's participation in post compulsory education and training [the Finn review] (AEC Review Committee 1991), with a particular focus on young people not participating in a formal education or training program.
The review proposed a set of new national targets for education attainment and participation that encompassed schools, HE, TAFE and other training. It noted the 'convergence of general and vocational education' and the need for 'key competencies' for work. A goal of the Finn review was that by the year 2001, 95% of 19-year-olds would have completed Year 12 or an initial post-school qualification or be participating in education and training. The establishment of local industry vocational training for young people was a major initiative of the review.
It also proposed a guaranteed place for all young people post school year 10 and the need for particular attention to transitions – especially for students with disabilities and those 'at risk'. It noted also that questions of income support for students needed to be addressed. The Review Committee expressed confidence that its proposed strategies would enable greater participation by young people from all disadvantaged groups and thus defended its focus on students 'at risk' and with disabilities as those requiring additional specific education.
Come in Cinderella
The ACE sector in Australia had embraced the Faure report, Learning to be and its social democrat underpinnings and focussed on a wide variety of locally delivered mostly unregulated informal education opportunities across the country, some of them in conjunction with TAFE. The comprehensive report, Come in Cinderella: the emergence of adult and community education: report of the Senate Standing Committee on Employment, Education and Training, was published in November 1991 (Aulich 1991). The first two (of 30) recommendations brought an agenda of reform and fundamental change to ACE in Australia, by incorporating it into the formal structures of education and training nationally, framed as 'an idea whose time has come' – a 'fourth sector'.
Many of the features that differentiate ACE from other sectors highlighted by the Inquiry continue: it is still a flexible, predominantly user pays sector and mostly non-compulsory that enables its clients to come and go as they choose. In terms of equity, it continues to promote the concept of LLL despite the lack of a national policy. Importantly, ACE fulfils a significant role in providing people, many disadvantaged, a 'second chance' to overcome lack of or shortcomings in previous formal education and training while also assisting with pathways to more study, work and/or fulfilling personal needs or wishes.
Report of the National Review of Education for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples
Five years after the Hughes Report, a reference group to undertake a National Review of Education for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, chaired by Mandaway Yunupingu was appointed in 1993. After wide research and consultation, in 1994 the reference group handed down the report of the National Review of Education for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples (Reference Group Overseeing the National Review of Education for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples 1994a). In acknowledging both progress in funding and the improvement in Indigenous Australians in education decision-making and program delivery since the Joint Policy it also notes the increased participation in technical and further education. However, it states that 'equity is not just a matter of numbers'; that in 1994 Aboriginal and Torres Strait peoples continued to be the most educationally disadvantaged groups in Australia and remained concerned that their views are not heard (Reference Group Overseeing the National Review of Education for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples 1994a, p.2).
Given the two principal themes that emerged from the review (equity and reconciliation), the report of the National Review integrated and reframed the 21 long-term goals and four themes set out in the 1989 Joint Policy as:
- Involvement of Aboriginal people in educational decision-making
- Equality of access to educational services
- Equity of educational participation
- Equitable and appropriate educational outcomes (1994a, pp.4–5).
Sadly, the findings and recommendations of the Review remain unfinished business as of 2022.
4. National co-ordination: early developments in the ANTA era
The Australian National Training Authority (ANTA) era is central for landmark documents relating to equity in VET. It was a period of high levels of intellectual/academic and political/policy interest, of experimentation and evaluation in the quest to maximise equity outcomes in VET. Together, this section along with following sections 5–7 cover the formation, growth and eventual demise of ANTA – a highly significant period of both globalisation and rapid evolution of education and training in Australia, especially in the VET system.
In 1992, Federal and state and territory ministers agreed to establish a national government statutory authority – ANTA – to oversee the VET system and address the co-ordination difficulties revealed during the National Training Reform Agenda (NTRA). It aimed to strengthen the national focus on training and ensure that funds were spent more effectively. VET would remain the responsibility of the states and territories, but ANTA would serve to promote co-operation and harmonisation between them.
ANTA officially commenced work on 1 January 1994. It was both an administrator and advisor, reporting to an industry-based board as well as advising the ANTA Ministerial Council (MINCO) established in 1994 as the peak government decision-making body for training. The ANTA era marks a significant period for equity in VET.
Working nation: the white paper on employment and growth (Keating 1994) – developed as a response to the economic recession in Australia – was introduced in May 1994 just months after ANTA's official commencement. The objectives of Working nation included reducing unemployment and fostering sustainable economic growth, informed by the ideas of competition. It included policies aimed at industry and regional development, the reform of labour market assistance, and the development of a more skilled and flexible labour force.
Measures included increased spending on both employment and training, along with new income support measures, regional development initiatives and initiatives in science, technology and industry. It was anticipated that long term unemployed and other disadvantaged groups would benefit from increased job opportunities through this approach. In these ways, its relevance to 'equity' groups was highly important.
Working nation resulted in a plethora of training programs for many disadvantaged Australians through linking training with welfare and/or labour market programs. Working nation widened the reach of VET responsibility and activity and expanded 'welfare-to-work' training imperatives that continue to impact many Australians from disadvantaged backgrounds.
The Delors report
In 1993 UNESCO engaged in a three year worldwide process of consultation and analysis under the oversight of Jacques Delors, chairman of the International Commission on Education for the Twenty-first Century. In 1996 UNESCO published the influential 'Delors report' – Learning: the treasure within (International Commission on Education for the Twenty-first Century 1996) that became the twenty first century companion of the 1972 Faure report, Learning to be. The 1996 report established the 'four pillars of education': learning to be, learning to know, learning to do, and learning to live together.
The Delors report established LLL as a 'global educational master concept' (Elfert 2015) along with an integrated approach to education and training that centres learners. Along with stressing the need for increased resourcing of education, the report also makes the strong case for invigorating international cooperation in education and training with UNESCO as a key player that continues to date.
Towards a skilled Australia
Over its lifetime, ANTA produced three national strategies for VET. Towards a skilled Australia: a national strategy for vocational education and training (ANTA 1994) was the first and sets the scene and approach for the future of the NTRA reformed as a national system of VET. The strategy makes the mission and aims explicit on its first page, co-locating competition and equity, education, industry and learners. The National Strategy then details a suite of 12 inter-related specific strategies to be implemented and 'comprehensively reviewed at the end of the 1995–1997 triennium to see what progress has been made in improving opportunities and outcomes for people in the target groups' (ANTA 1994, pp.19–20). Importantly the review includes an undertaking for ongoing consultation with equity groups.
Equity groups are 'people under-represented in vocational education and training', with target groups identified as 'women, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, people without adequate English language, literacy and numeracy skills, people with disabilities. rural and isolated people. unemployed people' (ANTA 1994, p.19). People with non-English speaking backgrounds are also recognized as under-represented in VET.
An access and equity planning model
An access and equity planning model (ANTA 1995), the first document published by ANTA in relation to equity in the new national VET system, was released in alignment with the first national strategy. This document that established the first framework for the national VET equity system was also experimental and contained some of the flaws that would result in inadequate responses, given the complexity of the new system, the demand for improved system performance and its reliance on cooperation and compliance across jurisdictions, sectors, industry, agencies, non-government organisations (NGOs) and community groups. However, perhaps the most obvious flaw was that the model for ensuring equity and access was being introduced as the new system itself was agreed and in place, while the requirements of the equity model were not.
The commitment to equity is unequivocal: 'The issue of Vocational Education and Training transcends all other loyalties ... It is in the first place, a national issue of equity'. It also confirms that on the direction of the Ministers, one of ANTA's primary aims was to promote increased opportunities and improved outcomes for individuals from target groups (ANTA 1995, p.[i]).
The six target groups identified are: women, people without social and functional skills in English language literacy and numeracy, people with disabilities, Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, the unemployed, and people in rural areas.
The document asserts that industry's needs for productive multi-skilled workers are not mutually exclusive to the needs of individuals for 'appropriate, responsive, supportive' VET; that while individuals 'need generic and industry-based competencies to be able to follow career choices and improve their opportunities for employment', there are some groups of individuals who are less well served by the sector.
ANTA also released some separate strategies concerned with specific social groups (e.g., women, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, prisoners) or topics (e.g. flexible learning). Each national strategy was preceded by a period of consultation by ANTA, including with selected representatives for specific (selected) equity groups in accordance as defined at the time.
An approach to achieving access and equity in vocational education and training
In 1996, the ANTA Board established a committee to develop advice on access and equity strategies for the next VET National Strategy. Building on earlier consultations and fact finding and using Towards a skilled Australia (1994) towards redevelopment 'to take account of developments in VET and broader, related areas', ANTA issued An approach to achieving access and equity in vocational education and training: issues paper for consultation seminars April/May 1996 (ANTA 1996a). The outcomes it established were seen as achievable within a three-year period. It was also made clear that Equity 2001 would be incorporated into the second National Strategy for VET.
The purpose of the issues paper was: to raise issues and provoke discussion as a basis for consultation on considering strategies and approaches to achieving access and equity in VET as part of the re-development of the National Strategy for Vocational Education and Training. (ANTA 1996a, p.1)
The paper included a significant acknowledgment: 'There is added complexity when an individual belongs to more than one of the above groups' (ANTA 1996a, p.1) – an early recognition of compounding disadvantage that results from what is now recognised as intersectionality. It lists six more potential groups: males, particularly young men and boys in the senior years of schooling; in the high suicide risk group; at risk of incarceration and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men; people with a psychiatric disability; prisoners; mature age workers faced with retrenchment due to structural changes in industry; refugees from a variety of ethnic backgrounds; and the homeless (ANTA 1996a, p.3). This is a salutary illustration of the difficulties inherent in designing systems for 'all Australians', without ensuring equity considerations are central to the original design, rather than trying to fix a system without challenging its foundational assumptions and values.
While it acknowledges 'inroads' made in relation to access (overt discrimination has been challenged; improved awareness of 'differences' by training providers, employers and the community generally; and support programs put in place), it admits:
So far, achievements have largely been confined to increasing access to VET by a wider range of people to the existing structures or institutions and to a relatively homogenous product. This is an important first step. We must also look at how successful outcomes from training can be achieved by all VET students – in other words, how equity can be achieved. This requires a much greater focus on the heterogeneity of the fit between the product, the needs of industry and the needs of individual students of VET (ANTA 1996a, p.2).
Equity strategies to the year 2000 and beyond: consultation paper
Closely following the Issues Paper, ANTA launched a further consultation paper at its 1996 conference – Equity strategies to the year 2000 and beyond: consultation paper (ANTA 1996b). This paper presented the case for equity in VET, justifying 'why equity?' for the first time in the language of human capital. The section on 'Why equity?' makes a highly significant statement: 'This means placing equity at the centre of our reforms (ANTA 1996b, p.3).
The section ends with recognising 'that not all Australians live on the 'level playing field', restating that 'equity is more than providing 'equal' access to VET'; that while it is important access is only the first step so any intervention that stops at access will 'invariably fail to deliver the increase in skill levels Australia is seeking' (ANTA 1996b, p.4).
Equity 2001: strategies to achieve access and equity in vocational education and training for the new millennium
Following the consultations, ANTA issued its first substantive report on equity: Equity 2001: strategies to achieve access and equity in vocational education and training for the new millennium (ANTA 1996c). This policy document spans the first two national VET Strategies (Towards a skilled Australia, 1994 and A bridge to the future, 1998) and was designed with the intent to incorporate it into the second strategy. It commented that it was 'very clear from the consultation and the considerable body of work already available, that implementation of strategies is necessary, rather than more research and more reports' (ANTA 1996c, p.2).
Under a 'participation and qualifications profile', the document sets out expected outcomes by 2001 (some quantified) for each 'key individual client group' along with possible strategies that relate to all the groups, to improve the performance of the VET sector in relation to the issues (ANTA 1996c, pp.6–8).
Equity 2001 details a 10 point approach (ANTA 1996c, pp.9–19) to improve performance to 2001 and beyond, referenced to and linked with the five principles and accompanied by a matrix: improving funding arrangements, making training more relevant, improving discriminatory attitudes, increasing levels of language, literacy and numeracy skills, improving basic work and life skills, improving student and employee support, improving childcare provision for students, eliminating bias in competency standards, curriculum, teaching and course requirements, increasing RPL assessments, and improving flexible delivery. Interestingly, the 10-point approach is the same as the 10 priorities detailed in the Equity strategies consultation paper (ANTA 1996b, pp.5–13) with one noticeable difference – 'improving funding arrangements' moved from being the last of 10 priorities to first place in Equity 2001 (ANTA 1996c).
Equity 2001 attempted to redress disadvantage by identifying its causes, to 'provide a clearer strategic focus for intervention' (ANTA 1996c, p.9). It recognised that although 'access and equity' requirements were included in state/territory profiles, they were not seen as being of central importance or deserving significant funding; that an improved funding model was required for long term program funding to support continuity and certainty rather than short termism. It also pointed to the need for greater emphasis on funding based on outcomes for the needs of clients rather than on particular programs or concentrated on providers' and so the need for 'appropriate costing' (p.9).
Women and TAFE: a national plan of action
Women and TAFE: a national plan of action [NPAWT] (DEET 1991) was in place between 1991–1994. Acknowledging the important contributions it made during a time of major changes occurring in the VET sector at that time, NPAWT is credited with succeeding 'in addressing many of the entrenched barriers to women's participation in TAFE' (ANTA 1996d, p.5).
It encapsulates the significant work done by women working in state/territory TAFEs collaborating nationally despite jurisdictional differences. This entailed both the development of national plans, and then in the development and implementation of state based strategies for women to meet specific 'local' requirements. It was the forerunner and along with the expertise developed by those involved was influential in shaping ANTA's first national strategy for women (ANTA 1996d).
National Women's Vocational Education Strategy
Category 'Women' is a shifting category of disadvantage in ANTA's national strategies. Acknowledging the diversity of women, then accounting for and redressing the multiple and compounding forms of discrimination and disadvantage that occur through intersectionality6 is challenging but necessary.
The first National Women's Vocational Education Strategy (ANTA 1996d) was issued in March 1996. It was a product of an ANTA national project under the auspices of the Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs, Vocational Education, Employment and Training (MCEETYA VEET) Women's Taskforce and was designed to sit immediately under Towards a Skilled Australia (ANTA 1994) for maximum impact and ease of use. An aim of the strategy was to seek 'a measurable change in the profile of women and completing programs of vocational education and training' (1996d, p.6). The strategy was contemporaneous with ANTA's Equity 2001 (ANTA 1996c).
The strategy sets a direction for governments, industry and training providers to ensure that the needs of women are consistently addressed as a priority in policy making, planning, resourcing, implementing and monitoring VET.
At the time of its launch, the strategy was also accompanied by a support document, The National Women's Vocational Education Training Strategy: an implementation guide (ANTA 1996e). After providing an overview of the strategy part two of the guide details its rationale and context (pp.5–18) and in part three (pp.19–36) provides processes and practical guidelines to assist the agencies and people responsible for implementing the strategy.
A National Workshop was held in August 1995 as the first stage in national consultations then followed by consultation with a wide range of organisations across Australia to develop the strategy. By using gender experts and applying a gender lens to Skilling Australia in its development, the intent was to 'make equity for women a significant consideration at all levels of decision making in the Vocational Education and Training system' (ANTA 1996d).
Following the release of the strategy, MCEETYA VEET Women's Taskforce developed, and funded projects designed to support the strategy's aims. The Taskforce commissioned seven National Implementation Projects to research issues and develop strategies to improve outcomes for women in VET – training and staff development; standards and curriculum; promotion of VET to women; continuous improvement measures; women in decision-making; equity key performance measures; and planning pathways (ANTA & MCEETYA VEET Women's Taskforce 2001, p.10).
Equity performance measures for women
A key project was Equity performance measures for women (Schofield & Dryen 1997) for which the report was issued in 1997. The report comprises three sections: a description of the context of performance measurement in VET, an analysis of current approaches to measuring equity for women in VET, and proposals for future directions. As advised by Schofield and Dryen, one of the measurement frameworks under consideration at the time had a 'significant conceptual weakness' in that it was based on the assumption that 'equity outcomes for women is of value to individual women only, and not to the nation or employers' (p.ix).
They also commented that they 'found highly variable policy interest in the question of equity for women at State and Territory level' (Schofield & Dryen 1997, p.ix). They go on to advise that the shift in Equity 2001 and other equity policy statements:
...reflect a significant shift in emphasis away from strategies for equity target groups and systemic factors in educational disadvantage, to a focus on 'individuals' and remedies to address their specific 'problems' (Courtenay & Mawer 1997, p.6).
This shift entrenches a deficit view of disadvantage and fails to address systemic barriers. More critically it fails to recognise that more equitable outcomes for women benefit not just 'individuals' but industry and the nation as a whole.
5. ANTA's second national strategy
A bridge to the future
ANTA's second national strategy A bridge to the future (ANTA 1998a) was the first issued by the new Howard Coalition Government (1996–2007) but most of its preparation occurred in the Keating era. Australia was still facing economic challenges, with the Asian financial crisis (1997–1998) and the dot.com bubble burst in the USA both de-stabilising factors. A bridge to the future was designed to cover the period 1998–2003 – a time of increasing conservatism and market-based competitive policy strategies informed by neoliberalism.
In VET, private provision was expanding with public funding expanding to include private providers (registered training organisations (RTOs)) in competition with TAFE. National training packages were replacing state/territory-based course material for VET qualifications, and what had been the National VET system (NVETS) changed to the National Training Framework (NTF) – industry-led with an enterprise focus.
Equity had shifted to continuous improvement based on 'credible and measurable outcomes', with key performance measures and indicators. It was increasingly being framed as 'diversity' – productive diversity and diversity management. Equity units in TAFE and the wider public sector were being disbanded and/or recast as 'diversity' units (Butler and Ferrier 2000; Maddison and Partridge 2007).
Framings of equity shifted to a competitive model of equal treatment for all, regardless of issues of intersectionality or other factors of disadvantage. This had major implications for equity in VET, where women students were still a minority and located in lower-level training programs and courses, predominately in feminised occupations and industries.
The preface of A bridge to the future (ANTA 1998a) expresses the 'collective commitment by Australian governments, in partnership with Australian industry', to VET and reiterate ANTA's mission statement:
To ensure that the skills of the Australian labour force are sufficient to support internationally competitive commerce and industry and to provide individuals with opportunities to optimise their potential (1998a, preface).
This second national strategy acknowledges that the VET sector had experienced a 'necessary' period of 'profound change' through 'rapid and intense' response to economic forces of globalisation, and that time for consolidation and implementation of the reforms was important. However, it also warns that reform must continue, due to ongoing complex economic and social challenges and a list of 'major forces for change' (1998a, pp.1–2). In light of these forces, A bridge to the future sets out a vision statement, not only for VET but for the nation, declaring that the five years of the strategy presented the VET sector 'a window of opportunity to' fundamentally transform the way in which we develop labour force skills' while also creating 'the world's most innovative and best regarded vocational education and training sector' (1998a, pp.3–4).
A bridge to the future contains what could be read as a commitment (albeit mediated again by tentative language) that 'through planning and accountability arrangements under the ANTA Agreement, all governments would take action in eight areas: identify and remove structural barriers to access and inequity in VET; 'encourage' improved performance by RTOs in delivering training programs to disadvantaged groups; 'encourage' training based on packages that could be 'customised' to suit the needs of all clients; equip VET trainers to address equity issues including inclusive package based programs; the creation of incentives for RTOs to address equity issues; make available data for monitoring equity performance; make efficient use of opportunities for use of new technologies, especially for rural and remote communities and those unable to access training, and finally, to develop and monitor performance improvement annually (1998a, pp.15–16).
Achieving equitable outcomes: a supporting paper to Australia's national strategy
Achieving equitable outcomes: a supporting paper to Australia's national strategy for vocational education and training, 1998–2003 (ANTA 1998b) clarified ANTA's repositioning of equity in its second national strategy A bridge to the future. The presentation of a new framework for equity was designed as a 'beginning point for discussion between all major stakeholders on how to increase equitable outcomes.
The supporting paper admits that 'achieving equitable outcomes for a diverse client base has proved to be a significant challenge', with participation and attainment predominantly mirroring existing patterns of community disadvantage in the new system. It also acknowledges that increasing flexibility and 'responsiveness' (both key features of the system closely inter-connected with the concepts of marketisation, competition and so 'user choice') do not necessarily result in improved equity or benefits (ANTA 1998b, p.4).
In this supporting paper ANTA details a strategic approach to equity that incorporates three critical elements: overcoming or removal of structural inequities; implementation of targeted responses to equity based on 'workable solutions' and introduction of resource allocation strategies and incentives which encourage responsiveness to client needs (ANTA 1998b, pp.6, 8). The new approach to measuring the performance of the VET system on equity would be based on two important changes – the expansion of monitoring equity groups to include outputs and outcomes as well as participation using key performance measures (KPMs), and that monitoring would also focus on the capacity of the system to respond to its diverse client base as well as the 'position of groups' via an evaluation methodology to be developed (1998b, p.6).
Full reporting was scheduled to commence from 2001, with data collection and analysis to focus on the following groups: women, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, people with a disability, people from non-English speaking backgrounds and people from rural and isolated areas (1998b, p.7).
These new arrangements incorporated significant shifts consistent with the values of both social justice and managing diversity – the capacity to focus on outcomes (employment and/or further education) as well as participation for groups, and that the system itself would be monitored and so held accountable. Similarly, several issues that required further discussion with all stakeholders were also identified, and, with the benefit of hindsight, remain significant as unfinished business in 2021:
- the equity impacts of broad policy shifts within the vocational education and training system
- the identification of 'workable solutions'
- the development of resourcing strategies which provide incentives for equity
- the development of methods of evaluating performance which take account of both participation and output/outcomes data, and
- methods of evaluating the capacity of the vocational education and training system to respond to a diversity of clients (ANTA 1998b, p.9).
Commitment was given to develop two further national strategies within the three-year period of A bridge to the future, one to improve VET experiences and outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the other to address the VET requirements of people with a disability (ANTA 1998b, p.5). Both strategies were published in 2000.
Partners in a learning culture: Australia's national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander strategy for vocational education and training 2000–2005
Partners in a learning culture: Australia's national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander strategy for vocational education and training 2000–2005 (ANTA 2000a) was launched after extensive consultation including a wide range of First Australians' organisations and community groups along with federal and state/territory governments and employers. It was viewed as a new vision to be achieved in partnership between First Australian communities, governments, industry and training education providers built around the claim that 'education and training specifically, and LLL more generally, must be at the cutting edge of economic, social and cultural development for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians in the new millennium' (ANTA 2000a, foreword).
The four objectives to achieve the vision of Partners in a learning culture (each accompanied by key performance measures) and designed to 'complement and enhance 'a series of objectives contained within VET sector strategies'7 to enhance greater national consistency and coordination were:
- Increasing the involvement of indigenous people in decision making about policy, planning, resources and delivery in VET;
- Achieving participation in VET for indigenous people to equal that of other Australians;
- Achieving increased culturally appropriate, and flexibly delivered training, including the use of information technology, for indigenous Australians; and,
- Developing closer links between VET outcomes for indigenous people, industry and employment (ANTA 2000a, p.15).
This national strategy was accompanied by a companion document8 to act as a blueprint for its implementation. The blueprint's target audience is program managers in government agencies and training organisations (ANTA 2000b, p.8), and is divided into two sections, the first providing an overview (the business case and outcomes) for decision makers (pp.10–20) and the second (pp.21–49) the strategies and actions required to drive the changes, including resource implications, timelines and performance measures. Outcomes are prescribed for individuals, training providers, industry, government and community (pp.12–15). Leadership responsibilities are spelled out as actions for 'national systemic change', with ANTA in a leadership role working collaboratively with states and territories (pp.17–18).
Following a mid-term review of the blueprint, the Australian Indigenous Training Advisory Council (AITAC) identified specific areas for priority attention to meet the requirements of Indigenous communities, including those in rural and remote areas: improving employment outcomes; increasing training pathways; ensuring Training Packages were inclusive and culturally appropriate in design and delivery; improving access to recognition of prior learning (RPL), current competencies and increasing the number of Indigenous Australians with Certificate IV in training and assessment; developing flexible funding models based on individual client needs, and minimising reporting complexities and building strategic alliances (DEST 2004, p.11).
Bridging pathways: the national strategy for increasing opportunities for people with a disability in vocational education and training from 2000 to 2005
Bridging pathways: the national strategy for increasing opportunities for people with a disability in vocational education and training from 2000 to 2005 (ANTA 2000c) was also the first national strategy issued by ANTA, in this case for people with disability. It was underpinned by Commonwealth and State/Territory anti-discrimination legislation (especially the Commonwealth Disability Discrimination Act 1992) as well as national policy decisions associated with both Bridging pathways (ANTA 2000c) and the second national strategy A bridge to the future where the objective of achieving equitable outcomes in VET was also one of the five core areas of business (ANTA 1998a).
In preparation for the Bridging pathways national strategy, the ANTA Disability Forum consulted with people from both the VET and Disability Sectors around Australia in 1999. A major finding was the distinct lack of collaboration between the two sectors; 'that stakeholders from each sector knew little about the roles of agencies in the other sector' (Harrison 2000, p.5).
Rather than being a technical paper Bridging pathways is presented in general (plain language) terms. The vision, based on 'building on partnerships involving people with a disability, training providers, industry, policy makers and planners' and accompanied by aspirational outcomes, was articulated thus: 'To create a vocational education and training system that leads world's best practice in achieving equitable outcomes for people with a disability (ANTA 2000c, p.7).
Consultations undertaken for a Bridging pathways blueprint re-confirmed that 'the disadvantage that people with a disability face in the labour market is reflected in their stark under-representation' in VET; that many more 'would like to participate in training but only if it is made easier to do so' (ANTA 2000d, p.2). National systemic change was needed, albeit through 'investment' and gaining 'maximum benefit through existing resources applied to the inclusion of people with disability in vocational education and training' (p.19).
A mid-term review was set in place to establish how the Bridging Pathways Blueprint was faring. The mid-term review team found that that the greatest progress against the four Goals of the Bridging pathways blueprint had been made against Goal 1 (Access) and Goal 4 (Accountability), with progress in Goal 4 being assisted by 'the broader public sector trend for greater accountability against equity outcomes', with the Australian Quality Training Framework (AQTF) Equity Standard 6 and the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) being key drivers for that trend (Kate Barnett and Associates & ANTA 2002, p.6).
However, there were also issues underpinning the Bridging pathways blueprint that required attention, even at the early stages of implementation. Funding was a significant issue as was responsibility for the considerable amount of activity that was 'ad hoc' rather than coherent.
Planning for ANTA's third national strategy was underway at the time of the mid-term review. ADTAC decided to revise the blueprint and replace it with an updated version to be used as an engagement tool. They also undertook the development of a compendium of statistics on people with disability in VET (1998–2003) – an analysis of data including age, disability, region, training package and certificate level (Cavallaro et al. 2005); a targeted communication plan for ADTAC and an analysis of research recommendations to progress an ADTAC/ANTA collaboration with a focus on drawing out links to the training/employment connection (Griffin & Nechvoglod 2008).
The revised Blueprint was published in 2004: Bridging pathways: revised Blueprint (Australian National Training Authority & Australian Disability Training Advisory Council 2004).
National strategy for vocational education and training for adult prisoners and offenders in Australia
In 2001 ANTA widened its 'target groups' to include all Australian adult prisoners and offenders in a new national strategy – National strategy for vocational education and training for adult prisoners and offenders in Australia (ANTA 2001a). This strategy acknowledges that the diverse backgrounds of this group must be considered in all stages (planning, managing, delivering and evaluating) of VET programs, with a comprehensive list of factors – educational level or previous educational experiences; cultural background including Indigenous Australians; language/literacy/numeracy levels; disability and geographic location along with age, gender, sentence type and length, offender history and employment/unemployment history (ANTA 2001a, p.2).
The Vision statement was: 'To provide adult prisoners and offenders with educational and vocational pathways which will support their productive contribution to the economic and social life of the community'. The brief strategy document was supplemented by a detailed implementation plan developed as a companion document – Rebuilding lives: VET for prisoners and offenders: the implementation framework for the National Strategy for Vocational Education and Training for Adult Prisoners and Offenders in Australia (ACEA 2004)9.
Both were located within the policy context of Shaping our future: Australia's national strategy for vocational education and training 2004–2010 (ANTA 2003) and cross reference and link with ANTA's three existing 'equity' statements for Indigenous Australians (Partners in a learning culture, ANTA 2000a), people with disability (Bridging pathways, ANTA 2000c) and the 'policy paper' for women (Women: shaping our future, ANTA 2004).
6. A shifting context for equity in VET
In her presentation at a forum sponsored by SA TAFE Equity Standing Committee in October 2000, Schofield described the VET system as 'a work in progress': the years 1987–1989 as laying the foundations, 1990–1994 refining the framework and the period between 1994–2000 as a time of 'trying to make it work'. The issues Schofield selected as those that participants should be 'thinking and talking about' included equity – issues around target groups as well as fairness in the labour market (Schofield 2000).
Advocates for and researchers of equity policy in VET were deeply engaged in 'thinking and talking about' issues relating to equity and fairness in VET from a variety of standpoints and interest groups. The problematic of VET, equity and 'women' provides an informative case. Butler and Ferrier (2000) in their critical review of the literature with a focus on equity and gender discuss the interplay between notions of equity, equity legislation and the state and the general lack of success of distribute approaches rather than seeking structural or substantive change (Butler & Ferrier 2000, pp.62–64) noting that contemporary focus was now shifting to transformative equality10 to address the intransigence of inequality. They contend that '… the conceptual confusion that accompanies the unproblematic in-tandem use of these terms will continue to dog equity policy strategies' in VET (Butler & Ferrier 2000, p.72).
In their 1999 Equity in transition report Kearns and Grant noted the evolution in approaches to equity between the first and second ANTA national VET strategies, saying the 'general direction of change has been towards more comprehensive and strategic approaches to equity' of which the National Women's VET Strategy was the exemplar. Kearns and Grant warned that 'the goal of achieving equity in access and outcomes in VET was confronted by a context of radical change producing a new generation of equity issues' that required more strategic and holistic responses (Kearns & Grant 1999, pp.5, 8).
In its 2001 Annual report on operations 2000–2001 (ANTA 2001b) ANTA's 'Vision for Australia' included minimal (indirect) mention of equity – 'all Australians sharing in the rewards of information and knowledge, with equity of access' (ANTA 2001b, p.10). By this stage, there is no Advisory Council for women in the list of Key External Committees. The AITAC and Australian Disability Training Advisory Council continue as the only two remaining representative groups (ANTA 2001b, p.34).
Negotiations for ANTA's third national strategy Shaping our future: Australia's national strategy for vocational education and training 2004–2010 (ANTA 2003) took place in the third wave of economic reform characterised by revision of spending policies, cost shifting and ever-smaller government. During the mid to late 1990s reforms to increase productivity and efficiency of the Australian economy were particularly intense. The globalising economy was restructuring relations between the state, 'family' (especially the roles of women), work and education (Blackmore 2000; OECD 1994; Pocock 2003).
The Australian labour market was facing a number of challenges including increasing casualisation, outsourcing and use of labour hire companies that were providing 'flexibility' along with increased inequalities, fragmented hours of work and increasing non-standard work. Along with this, personal insecurity was increasing in Australia and globally. Debates about skill and the politics and meanings associated with it were escalating, as were rapid changes in the world of work so VET policies were under pressure to keep up (e.g., Butler 1999, 2000; Jackson & Jordan 1999; Jordan & Jackson 2001; Schofield 2001).
As described by Gilbert (2001), 'equity issues in the 1990s … mainly focused upon the 'war of the sexes' – a media-sponsored boys-versus-girls story, which sought to position boys as the new disadvantaged group in Australian schools' (p.1). Connole and Butler's 1995 investigation funded by the Department of Employment, Education and Training (DEET) by the Women's Research and Employment Initiatives Program (WREIP) to analyse the inclusion of gender equity in the policy and implementation frameworks of the national VET system found that there was a high level of awareness of gender equity as part of national policy frameworks and key documents, with most respondents obtaining their information on gender equity policy from ANTA documents and other national documents (Connole & Butler 1995, p.65).
It was also noted that the focus on economic outcomes in the national VET system as opposed to educational equity or broader notions of education for citizenship was producing tensions that distorted equity outcomes (Connole & Butler 1995, p.59). By the time of their research, they reported that the 'G' word had become highly problematic, saying that '[p]erhaps the single most difficult problem in progressing gender equity in the NVETS is that the issue of gender has become regarded as unacceptable' (1995, p.58). Accompanying the backlash was the rising discourse relating to the status of men and boys and a focus on the politics of masculinities and power dynamics against the backdrop of what was described as an increasingly divided world dominated by neo-conservative politics (Connell 1995, 2000, 2005; Connell & Messerschmidt 2005). The backlash manifested in part as 'widespread concern in Australia over gender patterns in educational performance' (Collins, Kenway & McLeod 2000, p.1) but spilled over to what some construed as the privileging of women.
The national women's vocational education and training strategies: transforming VET transforming women
In her 2003 book The end of equality: work, babies and women's choices in 21st century Australia Anne Summers11 claimed that 'among the most contentious issues Australia faces at the beginning of the 21st century is one that many thought had been dealt with in the 70s – the condition of Australian women', with debate still 'raging' about their position in the workplace and society. This was the context at the time of consultations about and negotiations for a second women's national VET strategy.
The report Transforming VET transforming women: evaluation report on the National Women's Vocational Education and Training Strategy 1996–2000 [the evaluation] (ANTA & MCEETYA VEET Women's Taskforce 2001) was issued in April 2001. The report is divided into two parts, with the first (the evaluation) examining changes in the participation and outcomes rates of women in VET during the period of the strategy, against key performance indicators (pp.5, 21–80). The focus of the second part explicates future industry employment and skill projections along with major issues and future directions that needed to be 'considered when developing further strategies to improve the profile of women in VET and employment' (pp.5, 81–99). Findings were based on collation and analysis of quantitative and qualitative data extracted from national research, outcomes of national implementation projects and statistical data along with information provided by State and Territory systems, Commonwealth agencies, industry and unions.
The evaluation highlighted the success of the 1996 National Women's Vocational Education and Training Strategy while reasserting that 'a national approach is essential for government and industry recognition of the priority to address women's access and equity issues within VET and allocate adequate resources towards implementation of strategies' (ANTA & MCEETYA VEET Women's Taskforce 2001, p.19). However, along with identifying two major outcomes along with other improvements achieved in the short time of the strategy, the 'lack of real equity-driven structural change within VET' was noted (p.19). Looking forward, recognising that 'training and employment outlook for women over the next several years is mixed' (p.19) and drawing on analysis of research into equity strategies in VET, the evaluation advised that the next phase of the strategy would need to consider and respond to:
- lifelong learning imperatives
- targeting multiple disadvantaged groups
- increased focus on monitoring and improving educational outcomes (in addition to the inputs and outputs of education and training), and
- the shifting equity approach from a 'target group' to a 'productive diversity' model (ANTA & MCEETYA VEET Women's Taskforce 2001, p.20).
The major recommendation of the evaluation was:
… to continue the National Women's Vocational Education and Training Strategy to build upon the momentum and achievements generated from the first stage. … Re-positioning equity principles and practice from the margins of the VET system to 'core business' to facilitate long-term sustainable improvements for women, should underpin all future action (ANTA & MCEETYA VEET Women's Taskforce 2001, p.20).
The second national women's VET 'strategy'
Rather than accept and act on the major recommendation of the evaluation that the Strategy be continued and refined both to build on achievements gained and to incorporate major issues and recommendations ANTA embarked on a lengthy period of consultation without involvement of the Women's Taskforce12. The consultation to provide advice to ANTA and the government about a new national strategy for women in VET comprised four stages spread between April 2002 and February 2003.
ANTA MINCO requested the ANTA Board to convene a women's forum (the Women in VET Futures Forum) to consider the findings of the evaluation and make recommendations 'on the future management of women's issues in VET' – almost two years after receiving the 2001 evaluation13 (Quay Connection 2003, p.3). Following an online survey in April 2002, the Forum was held in 2002. Conducted utilising a scenario planning approach around two separate scenarios (the future of VET and the future of women), the intended aim was that the Forum would 'clarify the objectives for a second phase National Women's VET Strategy, identify critical or focal questions, develop strategic themes, and agree on key stakeholder and target groups' (Quay Connection 2003, pp.6–15). The Forum was presented with a draft for a new women's national strategy, under the title of 'Women in VET – real access, real choices, real outcomes and a vision statement – 'Women access VET pathways that lead to choices in work and life'.
While noting that women's participation rate in VET was 'roughly' similar to that of men, the data presented illustrated yet again the complexity of experiences of women in VET and outstanding issues requiring attention – both in contrast to and out of step with the 'neat' way in which women in VET were portrayed and 'segmented' in the National marketing strategy (ANTA 2000e). Similarly, the presentations to the Forum by ANTA's chief executive officer (CEO) and that by Quay diverged especially in relation to policy directions in ways not apparent at that time to most Forum participants. ANTA CEO Scollay's presentation included comment about 'advance standing' in VET that differentiated between participation rates of different 'sub-groups' of women14 in two ways; one where specific groups (Indigenous women and women with disabilities) were least likely to gain 'advanced standing' and the other for 'at risk' young women who need 'specific attention'.
Given 'unresolved elements' (outcomes) from the Forum, 'ANTA developed an adjusted draft vision statement and adjusted four key result areas' to be tested 'with stakeholders' (Quay Connection 2003, pp.16–17). This redrafted outline for a new strategy together with a survey form comprised a 'Women in VET Consultation Kit' that was circulated to all Forum participants for further testing. ANTA also established the Women in VET Steering Committee to guide the next three stages of consultation (the 'Women in VET Consultation Kit' and survey; another document review; and interviews and focus groups with clients and stakeholders) to 'determine advice to the ANTA Board regarding future management of issues for women in VET' (Quay Connection 2003, p.3). ANTA commissioned additional 'stakeholder' consultation to collect the views of industry, unions and VET in Schools representatives through telephone interviews.
The report Choice, participation, outcomes: women in VET 2003: consultation report. March 2003 (Quay Connection 2003) covering this protracted consultation process was issued a year after the initial Forum. The challenge of producing clear and directive outcomes was compounded by the requirement that the results of the Forum were also required to coalesce with both ANTA's Annual National Priorities (that would change) and with the (well advanced) third national strategy for VET (Quay Connection 2003, p.52). While the report provides an interesting snapshot, it can be argued that length of time taken since the publication in 2001 of the original and valuable evaluation report Transforming VET transforming women (ANTA & MCEETYA VEET Women's Taskforce 2001) along with both the convoluted consultation process and resultant the lack of clear direction it provided, Choice, participation, outcomes: women in VET 2003: consultation report. March 2003 (Quay Connection 2003) did women a disservice.
Women: shaping our future
After waiting almost three years since the evaluation of the first National Women's VET Strategy, and in a climate that required ongoing vigilant advocacy, in the short-term women were both relieved and hopeful when Women: shaping our future (ANTA 2004) was finally launched in 2004. However, a careful reading of the (very slim) document demonstrates the lack of status it affords to women and more specifically, for women in VET. First, and significantly, it is 'a policy paper', not a strategy.
There are no key results areas. Rather, under each of the four national objectives there are 'Key Focus Areas' and 'Enabling Strategies' supposedly 'identified from the evaluation of the National Women's VET Strategy 1996–2000 and the extensive research and consultation process conducted over the past year' (ANTA 2004, p.2) that follow a brief paragraph to link 'women's issues' with the objective (pp.5–10). Action Plans referred to in the Preface did not eventuate. Moreover, the onus of ensuring that the overarching National Strategy's 'vision is realised for women' was directed to women working and studying in VET, assuming they would all be familiar with the document and ways to leverage it in the cause of equity. There was no blueprint for implementation of Women: shaping our future, but a 'model of 'integration with visibility' thereby alleviating the need for any further resourcing. At the national level, 'industry' would be in charge of women's issues and interests, despite a lack of appropriate knowledge and expertise (ANTA 2004, p.3).
Finally, the document does not specifically cite any of the extensive research and consultations carried out either in relation to renewing the National Women's Vocational Education and Training Strategy 1996–2000 or that invested in prior to and since the formation of ANTA relating to equity and women to back the highly questionable claim that the way forward (for women in VET) was integration. Despite the lack of direct attention through an 'integration with visibility' strategy, women along with some of the other groups also previously listed as target or disadvantaged continued to be utilised by ANTA both in advertising and in presenting (or perhaps defending) its record in equity.
Despite the best efforts of those with a commitment to equity, Women: shaping our future was not a document that was widely circulated or recognised, nor was it ever implemented in any meaningful way. However, it is worthy of being considered a landmark document, for all that preceded it, and as the last national VET strategy for women at the time of writing this review. While it was not a new national strategy to progress women in and through VET in the 21st century as anticipated, as a policy paper it provides a prime case study example for the widely recognised work about the construction of policy by Bacchi (1999, 2009) that asks, 'What's the problem represented to be?' The answer is clear – women in all their diversity are highly problematic for the VET system, as is designing policies to encompass the concept of intersectionality. Further, consistency and clarity about approaches to equity in VET continue/d as both elusive and opaque.
ANTA's third national strategy
ANTA's third national strategy (Shaping our future: Australia's national strategy for vocational education and training 2004–2010 (ANTA 2003)) was released after change of government and protracted negotiations, some of which are referred to above. As part of the process in developing Shaping our future, ANTA commissioned NCVER to undertake a series of meta-analyses of research on 12 VET topics. Equity and access does not appear as a separate category in the published Meta-analysis of the Australian VET system (ANTA & NCVER 2003).
The vision for VET documented in Shaping our future was primarily that of 'making businesses internationally competitive' while 'giving Australians world-class skills and knowledge' along with 'building inclusive and sustainable communities' (ANTA 2003, p.1). It claimed to be more far reaching than the previous two strategies in length and breadth, acting as 'an important point of reference for any manner of partnerships and agreements', '[t]he strategy does not apply just to education and training, but to employment, regional development, environmental sustainability, innovation, social inclusion and other portfolios' (p.4).
Underpinning the stated purpose for VET to provide skills and knowledge for work, enhance employability and assist learning throughout life, the four objectives set for the period 2004–2010 were that:
- Industry will have a highly skilled workforce to support strong performance in the global economy.
- Employers and individuals will be at the centre of vocational education and training.
- Communities and regions will be strengthened economically and socially through learning and employment.
- Indigenous Australians will have skills for viable jobs and their learning culture will be shared (ANTA 2003, p.2).
Shaping our future, the third of the national strategies is notable for its uses of the phrase 'client-driven', marking a difference with previous documents. A goal was to 'ensure a 'client-driven system'. VET would have a 'client-driven culture' in which 'diversity' will be valued, so that 'products and services will be designed to suit all learners' (ANTA 2003, p.12). Key performance measures for the system were developed with this strategy, including data on access, participation and outcomes for 'individual client segments' (p.19).
Following the objectives and mirroring their order, the 'key players' in VET were industry first and foremost, followed by training providers. 'Clients' are ranked third in the list of key players as 'the users of the system' with the term encompassing 'businesses, small and large, full-time and part-time students, apprentices, trainees and people who work, are preparing for work and looking for work' (ANTA 2003, p.3). The fourth and last group of 'key players' were training brokers and facilitators (intermediaries between VET and employment) who would assist 'clients' navigate and transact VET, to 'facilitate the 'flow of people from training and assessment to work and vice versa' (p.3).
Within this 'client driven' framework, and while acknowledging that there was still a need for more to be done the Shaping our future strategy claimed that in ensuring equity:
It's inclusive. People facing barriers to learning due to disability, age, gender, cultural difference, language, literacy, numeracy, cost, unemployment, imprisonment or isolation have particular needs, which vary from person to person. This strategy builds equity into the core business of vocational education and training (ANTA 2003, p.4).
The first of 12 strategies was to increase participation and achievement through servicing – the provision of LLL for adults to continuously upgrade their work-related skills as well as national recognition and recording of RPL. Shaping our future also undertook to provide equal opportunities for learning for workers in part-time, casual, contract and occasional employment (ANTA 2003, p.15). The main strategy for equity was the fourth:
Take positive steps to achieve equality of participation and achievement
- A whole-of-life approach to disability issues (initiated in 2000 in the Bridging Pathways Blueprint) is implemented.
- A whole-of-life approach to Indigenous issues (initiated in 2000 in the Partners in a Learning Culture Blueprint) is implemented.
- The learning needs of people who face barriers due to age, gender, cultural difference, language, literacy, numeracy, cost, unemployment, imprisonment or isolation are addressed through an integrated diversity management approach (ANTA 2003, p.15).
In this way, commitment is refocused to two target groups – First Nations Australians (with a specific Key Performance Measure 4 (ANTA 2003, p.20) and people with disability – with the undertaking that the strategies and Blueprints for both groups discussed in the previous section would be based on a 'whole of life' approach and that they would be implemented. The rest, including women, would be 'addressed through an integrated diversity management plan' for which no further explanation is given in Shaping our future.
Equity in vocational education and training: research readings (Bowman 2004) was the publication of a further activity commissioned by ANTA as a contribution to decisions about positioning of and approaches to equity in Shaping our future. In response to the key question posed – 'for the period 2004–2010, what should the equity focus be?' it reviewed the achievements realised for equity and the five equity groups identified in the second national strategy (ANTA 1998a) with authors discussing approaches and frameworks needing development for further improvements in equity in VET. Overall, it claimed that equity initiatives lacked cohesion and their spread was minimal; that policymakers and funding bodies responsible for equity in the VET sector needed to rethink the funding mechanisms used to stimulate innovative equity practice (Bowman 2014).
In the section 'Equity in VET: an overview of the data for designated equity groups' (Dumbrell et al. 2004, pp.19–42) the authors present an overview of how each of the five designated equity groups had fared in recent years. It found that results were mixed, as indicated in the detail for women (pp.21–24), even without accounting for issues of intersectionality.
In the final section, Bean (2004, pp.281–304) challenged the conventional equity group approach. As described by the Bowman (2004, p.11), he noted 'that the VET response to equity in 1998 was based mainly on a strong social justice and compliance approach, and argues that recognising diversity and its management is an alternative approach which needs greater attention in future'. Using the language of diversity management discussed above, Bean argued that '[a] variety of equity and diversity management approaches are already policy or are in use by vocational education and training organisations, 'built in' or 'bolted on' to varying degrees' (p.302). Further work was commissioned by ANTA to support what would be required in the delivery of 'equity' in VET, including the publications by Robertson et al. (2004) under the collective title Working with diversity.
A fair go? Shaping our future and the national equity strategies
When ANTA's third national strategy Shaping our future was released in 2003, there were three existing national equity strategies in place:
- National Women's Vocational Education and Training Strategy (ANTA 1996d)
- Partners in a learning culture: Australia's national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander strategy for vocational education and training 2000–2005 (ANTA 2000a)
- Bridging pathways: the national strategy for increasing opportunities for people with a disability in vocational education and training from 2000 to 2005 (ANTA 2000c).
Of the three, only the latter two were developed and implemented after the change of Federal Government in 1997. They were designed with timeframes that coincided with the midpoint of Shaping our future (2003) and had received assurance of implementation in the third national strategy documentation. ANTA's Equity 2001: strategies to achieve access and equity in vocational education and training for the new millennium (1996) was no longer referred to at all.
Following a mid-term review and the publication of Bridging pathways: revised Blueprint (Australian National Training Authority & Australian Disability Training Advisory Council 2004) activities were underway for the disability strategy as highlighted previously. A new national strategy for Indigenous Australians was published in 2005 – Partners in a learning culture: the way forward (ANTA 2005).
7. Where to next? The demise of ANTA and the post ANTA era
With the benefit of hindsight, it is now conceivable to link the extended processes that resulted in the unfortunate timing of the release of Women: shaping our future (2004) in its amended form as delaying tactics utilised while a further period of political reform was underway. The sustained reforms of the 1980s and 1990s had resulted in Australia shifting from strong central control to a devolved new public management (NPM) model. This included the creation of statutory agencies including ANTA to whom the 'central government delegated activities to concentrate on policy development' (Grant 2005, p.1).
The era that was unfolding was to prove challenging for equity initiatives in VET, as it would for the provision of VET. Given the impact of the changes on the arrangements for equity and for VET, some contextualisation is included to help identify significant documents in this section.
Australia had experienced a healthy economy after the 1990s recessions, but by the turn of the century 'the key drivers' had changed and 'productivity growth in the 2000s [was] significantly below the strong growth in the 1990s that was attributed to economic reforms' (Gerard and Kearns 2011, p.1). Despite the good times, many Australians were experiencing what Borland et al. (2001) described as a national paradox – rising insecurity and inequality linked with rapid economic, industrial and labour market changes including the changing nature of work. Work had intensified and casualisation, precarious work and non-standard forms of work such as through labour hire and contracting had increased markedly. Under-utilisation of labour was a growing issue as was the gap between 'work rich and work poor' (Borland et al. 2001; Spierings 2002).
In considering the problems facing young people in the labour market and the effectiveness of Australia's educational system in preparing young people for the labour market in 'refashioned economic system' of the last two decades, Spierings (2002) commented on challenges to education and training and skill development, citing OECD data that show the rapid decline in Australia's investment in knowledge between 1985–1998. Linked to this, in 1997 Australia's deteriorating expenditure on education saw us 25th out of 29 OECD countries (2002, p.4).
Since 1998 Commonwealth funding for VET had been reducing in real terms, with growth in the VET system being set through efficiency targets and competition. Both ANTA Agreement renewals had been 'characterised by protracted negotiations over which level of government should fund on-going growth in VET' (Noonan 2016, p.v). This was accompanied by ever increasing privatisation and outsourcing described by Noonan as 'a propensity by the Commonwealth to fund specific VET policy objectives outside of the Agreement'.
In November 2002, Prime Minister Howard commissioned the Uhrig Review of the corporate governance of statutory authorities. The timing of the resulting report – Review of the corporate governance of statutory authorities and office holders (Uhrig 2003) coincided with 'other complex domestic policy issues that required strategic and integrated government responses involving multiple agencies and levels of government', accompanied by 'intractable policy problems and issues experiencing bureaucratic blockages' (Halligan & Horrigan 2005, p.2).
The decision to abolish ANTA was made within the context of the Uhrig report. By 2004 ANTA was experiencing internal administrative and governance problems (ANZOG 2008, pp.4–7), with 'both ANTA officials and senior executives within the Department of Education, Science and Training (DEST) questioning the role of ANTA' (p.9). Negotiations over Commonwealth funding within MINCO had been very difficult since 2003 (The Senate Employment, Workplace Relations and Education Legislation Committee 2005, p.12) and a new funding Agreement was not reached in 2004. During the 2004 federal election campaign Prime Minister Howard announced unilaterally 'that ANTA would be abolished from 1 July 2005 and its responsibilities transferred to the Department of Education, Science and Training (DEST), bringing about significant administrative savings' (The Senate Employment, Workplace Relations and Education Legislation Committee 2005, p.1).
In his working paper about managing VET that followed ANTA's unexpected abolition, Selby Smith (2005) identified five potential impacts. At the time the changes were underway, Selby Smith commented that:
So far, the Commonwealth's approach is hard to understand in terms of any genuine desire to improve outcomes in VET; perhaps it is better understood as (the only partially resolved) interim consequence of a clash of interest, ideologies and individuals (Selby Smith 2005, p.ii).
This did not auger well for equity-based funding or initiatives. Quite contrary to Kangan's 1974 conception of a post-secondary technical and further education system delivering social equity through training delivered by non-market solutions, while reviewing changes Zoellner and Stephens (2019) argued that:
[p]ublic policy changes… have seen priorities shift from government delivery of VET to the marketisation of provision accompanied by funding changes to economic and social programs that have perpetuated inequity of access to, and benefit from, education (Zoellner & Stephens 2019, p. 5).
The new regime: from ANTA to a (new) National Training System (NTS) and the National VET Equity Advisory Council (NVEAC)
The period leading up to ANTA's demise was one of further significant policy changes that would impact VET. The 1995 National Competition Policy (NCP) reform program was due to expire in 2005–6. In terms of VET ('human capital reform'), the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) agreed to address the commitment to quality training; a more mobile workforce to help meet skill needs; a more flexible and responsive training system; and a targeted response to skill shortages and regions (ACCI 2006).
ANTA was abolished as a separate entity by 2005, with its functions subsumed into the federal government department with responsibility for VET – DEST. In February 2005, DEST released a 'directions paper' that included three broad principles to 'guide the changes and a model for a new national training system' – 'that industry and business needs must drive training policies, there should be better quality training outcomes through more flexible and accelerated pathways and processes should be simplified and streamlined' (The Senate Employment, Workplace Relations and Education Legislation Committee 2005, p.1).
The Skilling Australia's Workforce Bill 2005 was introduced in a context with the expectation that the new NTS would 'deliver high quality outcomes and be flexible enough to respond rapidly to new technologies and work practices and emerging economic and social priorities', with challenges for VET noted as 'the increasing demand for skills development, the ageing population, advances in technology and innovation and changing work and employment patterns (The Senate Employment, Workplace Relations and Education Legislation Committee 2005, p.2). The new Bill included a 2005–2008 revised funding framework, noting that:
While the legislation before parliament will replace the existing ANTA funding agreement, the new national training system will build on the achievements of ANTA and will retain and strengthen key elements of existing arrangements, such as a national approach and industry leadership (The Senate Employment, Workplace Relations and Education Legislation Committee 2005, p.2).
The new Bills were contentious. The key provisions for the new national system focused on:
- maximising choice
- workplace reforms: 'An important and innovative feature of the bill is the requirement for states to introduce a range of workplace reforms and new management practices in TAFE institutions as a condition for the receipt [of] Commonwealth funding'
- competency-based training: 'The legislation requires that states and territories remove impediments in their awards to enable training qualifications to be based on competence rather than on length of time' (The Senate Employment, Workplace Relations and Education Legislation Committee 2005, pp.3–4).
At the time that the two Skilling Australia's Workforce Bills were being debated another set of equally contentious and contested inter-related Bills from the 2005–2006 Budget were in progress: the Employment and Workplace Relations Legislation Amendment (Welfare to Work and other Measures) Bill 2005 and the Family and Community Services Legislation Amendment (Welfare to Work) Bill 2005). Together these reform Bills were carefully designed to closely integrate labour market programs and income support policies in a way that would support economic growth and productivity, increase workforce participation and reduce welfare participation. As intended they:
...increased the range and number of people required to look for and accept work and expanded the support and assistance provided to these typically disadvantaged jobseekers. In particular, the reforms targeted principal carer parents, people with disabilities, mature age job seekers and the very long-term unemployed (Thomas and Daniels 2010).
Apart from the groups listed the impact was widespread with inbuilt compliance requirements causing hardship, uncertainty and often distress for many, including women and youth. Together, these Bills ushered in the era of 'Work Choices' and 'Welfare to Work' regimes. This suite of radical reform bills had major implications for equity, for disadvantaged groups and the provision of VET with the increase in training for jobs as one compliance option.
Following the legislative changes and the transfer of ANTA's roles and responsibilities to DEST, a new NTS was established:
The system builds on the strengths of past arrangements and is forward looking to ensure a high quality, flexible and responsive training sector delivers genuine competency based qualifications to provide the skilled people required by industry and business, now and into the future (DEST 2006, p.3).
The new NTS was built around two frameworks: a National Governance and Accountability Framework to establish the 'decision-making processes and bodies responsible for training, as well as planning and monitoring arrangements to guide the operation and growth of the training system'; and a National Skills Framework, to set 'out the system's requirements for quality and national consistency in terms of qualifications and the delivery of training' (Eccles 2006, p.3). DEST's primary concern with co-ordination and co-operation between state and federal governments was integrated into the new agreement between the states and territories and the Australian government on inter-governmental collaboration in VET – the National Agreement on Skills and Workforce Development (NASWD) (COAG 2009). This set out inter alia shared objectives, actions, and accountability measures.
As higher education (HE) was also a major contributor to the development of a skilled Australian workforce it was subject to a major review in 2008 to consider if its structure, organisation and financing arrangements were satisfactory to support Australia's need to compete effectively in the new globalised economy while at the same time ensuring the rights of all citizens to share in its benefits. The Review of Australian Higher Education: final report [Bradley review] (Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations 2008) had implications for VET.
It noted that participation in HE could be increased by attention to improving access for disadvantaged groups currently under-represented in the sector. With some of these groups better represented in VET, transitions from VET to high education assumed a greater importance. The review noted a 'blurring of boundaries' and argued that a more coherent structure was needed for post-secondary education overall, including in funding and regulation.
'Equity' in the new National Training System (NTS)
In the early negotiations with stakeholders to establish the directions for the NTS there was agreement that the views of all students and clients should be considered through client advisory arrangements and that the arrangements for students with disability and Indigenous Australians should carry over. However, there was no consensus on how arrangements should be formulated for all other students, including those from disadvantaged backgrounds and groups (DEST et al. 2006, p.3). Equity and access were re/framed as a 'client voice' mechanism and allocated to the second framework of the NTS – the National Governance and Accountability Framework.
In June 2005 MINCO endorsed a proposal to 'immediately set up an Action Group to develop recommendations on the best arrangements to support ongoing high-level advice on the needs of all learners'. A Client and Student Voice Action Group (CSVAC) was established for a 12-month period to provide advice to the Ministerial Council for Vocational and Technical Education (MCVTE) on a new structure to provide leadership to the equity reform process at the national level. CSVAC had three subgroups: the Indigenous Sub-group and Disability Sub-group would each develop specific arrangements for their respective client groups. A 'General Equity Sub-group' would be responsible for developing advisory arrangements for 'all other clients', particularly disadvantaged clients (DEST et al. 2006, p. 5; Eccles 2006, p.5).
Between January and March 2006 DEST implemented a two-stage CSVAG consultative process to inform the establishment of:
... a national advisory arrangement that can provide advice to the training system on better meeting the needs of clients and students, particularly those who are considered disadvantaged (i.e. client groups whose participation and training and employment outcomes are poorer than for other groups) (DEST et al. 2006, p.3).
Feedback focused on the proposed principle objectives for a new advisory arrangement with nine 'target client groups' being those 'reflected' in ANTA's last national strategy (Indigenous Australians; people with a disability; women; regional and remote learners and communities; people in correctional facilities; people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds; socio-economically disadvantaged learners and communities; mature aged; and disadvantaged youth). Ironically, Women: shaping our future (ANTA 2004) is cited as the exemplar. The scope for a new arrangement was set – 'Work to improve participation and training and employment outcomes' (DEST et al. 2006, p.8). While there was relative consensus and shared understandings reported for respective consultations with both the 'Indigenous clients' group (Eccles 2006, pp.8–13) and 'clients with disabilities' (Eccles 2006, pp.13–18), the outcomes were far less sure for the 'other client groups'.
'Other client groups of VET' consultation
The 'divergence of opinion' in the reporting for the catch all group 'Other client groups of VET' (Eccles 2006, pp.18–24) is illustrated well by the opening paragraphs under the heading of 'overarching issues' (p.18):
A number of those consulted point to a conceptual confusion or uncertainty in relation to the overall scope and focus for this group. The questions are asked: is the group designed to cover all clients and students who need a voice in VET? Or is the group designed to cover clients and students (other than learners with a disability and Indigenous learners) within the specified categories of disadvantage? e.g. women, regional and remote learners and communities, people in correctional facilities, people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, socio-economically disadvantaged learners and communities, mature-aged and disadvantaged youth (Eccles 2006, p.18).
There was 'unanimity that for disadvantaged students there is a social agenda as well as an economic agenda, that there is a role for the VET system in developing readiness in learners to learn as well as training for jobs' (Eccles 2006, p.19). There was 'concern that 'a 'catch-all' category such as proposed for the general equity group must not become the basis for individual disadvantaged groups to have to compete for attention and funds' (p.19).
In early 2007 a new client advisory mechanism was created for a two-year period comprising three National VET Advisory Taskforces and a National VET Advisory Alliance established to oversee national reform for disadvantaged/equity groups in the VET system. This was a significant shift from that developed in the ANTA era and marked a radical decline for women especially:
- The National VET Indigenous Advisory Taskforce (NVIAT)
- The National VET Disability Advisory Taskforce (NVDAT), and
- The National VET Equity Advisory Taskforce (NVEAT).
These taskforces would be the primary source of advice to governments regarding student needs in VET, and particularly for students with poorer VET participation and employment outcomes than the general student population (DEEWR 2009). The duties were defined in the first Joint Communiqué to stakeholders:
The key objectives of the three Taskforces are to see improvements in the following areas for the client groups they represent:
- Sustainable employment outcomes including increased levels of apprenticeship and traineeship participation and completions
- Higher level qualification attainments
- Effective transitions from school or community to training; and training to further education or employment
- Participation rates at least proportionate to the representation of each group in the population
- The capacity of the VET system to contribute to addressing whole-of-life barriers to training and employment (National VET Advisory Taskforces 2008, p.1).
Given the complexity and size of coverage assigned to NVEAT, its final report advised that the key tasks undertaken were:
- to consider the common issues and barriers for all learners with the aim of improving the inclusiveness and responsiveness of the training system overall; and
- to consider the issues and barriers specific or unique to particular client groups (Davidson & Rankin 2009, p.3).
The NVEAT Final report advised that 'one commonality for all students is the impact of cumulative disadvantage' (p.9). It drew attention to:
...the problems of a client group approach which often fails to take account of individual diversity within a broad group and may to lead a 'one size fits all' approach where equity solutions fail to meet the needs of a substantial number of disadvantaged students.
People experiencing cumulative disadvantage require a structural response to improve their equity (Davidson & Rankin 2009, p.10).
Commenting further on the impact of cumulative disadvantage (intersectionality) the report stated that:
The notion of disadvantage which has informed VET policy-making needs to be reconceptualised. There are major shortcomings in viewing disadvantage in terms of abstract 'client groups'. Target groups for VET equity initiatives need to be specific groups of individuals who face multiple disadvantages.
Striking a balance between the pursuit of social and economic outcomes is essential for the success of community-based initiatives designed to address access and equity in VET. Indeed, for individuals who face multiple disadvantages, the pursuit of social outcomes should be recognised as an important stepping stone to the achievement of economic outcomes.
Future strategies (including performance targets and funding) should recognise diversity within equity groups as well as the effects of cumulative disadvantage equity (Davidson & Rankin 2009, p.15).
In its second Joint Communiqué to stakeholders, the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR) advised that 'after a very busy two-year period' by the three Taskforces, on consideration of their final reports and on advice from the National VET Advisory Alliance, that at its November 2008 MCVTE endorsed the establishment of a new single equity body – the National VET Equity Advisory Council (NVEAC) to operate from mid-2009 (DEEWR 2009, p.2). The approach and achievements of NVEAC mark a significant and productive time (albeit brief) in the history of equity in the Australian VET system.
National VET Equity Advisory Council (NVEAC)
From November 2009 to April 2014 the major focus on equity in VET was driven by the establishment of the National VET Equity Advisory Council (NVEAC) to provide independent advice to the Ministerial Council for Tertiary Education and Employment (MCTEE) on how disadvantaged learners could achieve better outcomes from VET. The period marked a productive new direction for equity in VET as outlined in NVEAC's first work plan in 2009 as project one, 'Development of an equity blueprint discussion paper':
The establishment of an Equity Council for the VET sector is a new direction in advisory arrangements for Ministers around equity issues, in that it moves the focus from a consideration of specific equity groups to a wider focus on supporting all those learners in the training system who are experiencing barriers. The new Council recognises that many learners suffer multiple disadvantage and their needs cannot necessarily be addressed through single purpose groups. It also draws on synergies across all disadvantaged groups to enable a more holistic and systemic approach to equity reform (NVEAC 2009, p.1).
Specifically, NVEAC was charged to 'provide high-level advice on matters relevant to improving the participation in VET and achievement of students from equity groups in VET, and the performance of the national VET system in support of such students' (DEEWR 2008, p.5). When NVEAC described its purpose, its emphasis was on the sector supporting learners (NVEAC 2011a, p.2). Its challenge was to streamline equity advisory arrangements (DEEWR 2008, p.5). Membership included Indigenous Australians, disability and broader equity advocates as well as VET providers, union and business representatives. This body developed a nationally consistent focus on equity along with a wide range of commissioned research to build the evidence base for equity.
On its establishment NVEAC considered the work of previous equity committees, held discussions with a wide cross section of stakeholders nationally and examined examples of good practice to inform the development of an 'Equity Blueprint' for the VET system (NVEAC 2010, p.2). Research included investigation into national funding arrangements for equity students in VET and foundation skills (see NVEAC 2010, p.25).
The contributory discussion paper, Equitable inclusive VET (North, Ferrier & Long 2010) examined lessons already learned and where future efforts were required was influential in the Blueprint and other aspects of NVEAC's work. Equitable inclusive VET identified four main lessons and four additional issues that required priority attention (North, Ferrier & Long 2010, p.7). Outlining a 'vision for the future' for the new blueprint, the authors made the point that there was a need for systemic change in VET and that participation of students needed to be considered within a social context, a 'whole-of-life' approach.
An idea emerging from equity achievements coupled with the latest thinking about equity, diversity and inclusion is 'equitable and inclusive VET'. This provides the basis for a vision from which NVEAC could determine intermediate and end goals to work towards and against which it could measure progress.
For instance, an equitable and inclusive VET system would:
- Contribute to the economic prosperity of the nation, of individuals within it and of its communities, industries and enterprises.
- Contribute to social harmony and inclusion throughout Australia.
- Welcome and embrace diversity and actively demonstrate its commitment to diversity in all that it does.
- Join with external organisations, agencies and other partners to encourage participation among all sectors of the community and to support learners, ensure their success and smooth transitions to further study and/or employment.
- Strive to ensure that its learners enjoy, learn and achieve success through their VET experience.
- Listen to its learners as well as to governments, communities, industries and employers to learn where improvements are needed.
- Ensure that all those who would benefit from participation in VET are able to participate and have the resources and supports they need to succeed (North, Ferrier & Long 2010, pp.9–10).
Finally, the paper recommended NVEAC adopt four broad strategies, stating:
Four broad strategies are recommended for advancing an equitable inclusive VET system. Within each of these areas many different initiatives are possible. Each strategy also has its own challenges and will require its own set of indicators for measuring progress:
- Strengthening Lifelong Learning
- Improving the Learner Experience in VET
- Motivating VET Providers
- Developing the VET Workforce (North, Ferrier & Long 2010, p. 11).
Draft Equity Blueprint 2011–2016
NVEAC issued its draft Equity blueprint: creating futures: achieving potential through VET for feedback in August 2010. The draft stated that it 'contains NVEAC's advice to Ministers on the areas of reform that will ensure the VET system is able to support all learners, no matter what their circumstances' (NVEAC 2020, p.2). The draft Blueprint was designed to maximise opportunity for success within Australia's political and socio-economic landscape, presenting a 'compelling case for change' (2010, p.5). It detailed a radical reform agenda accompanied by NVEAC's understanding of what success would look like (p.24), its vision for an equitable and inclusive VET system (p.26) and the benefits of such a system (p.27).
NVEAC argued that there had 'never been a better time to drive the changes that will create an equitable and inclusive VET system' (NVEAC 2010, p.7). The Council's bold vision was stated clearly in the opening message by the NVEAC Chair, Tiga Bayles, that 'NVEAC seeks to 'embed equity into the DNA of VET'; that NVEAC 'want to be inside the reform process, working collaboratively with VET leaders to shape the outcomes of the system redesign and ensuring that equity is not merely an afterthought (p.2)
The draft blueprint began by posing the question 'What do we mean by equity' that was followed by the clear inclusive statement referred to earlier in the review that remains relevant and viable more than a decade later:
... diversity must be taken into account in the design of each aspect of VET – whether it is funding policy; how VET monitors and reports on its performance; how it supports and prepares its teachers; how it allocates time and resources to teaching; or the cluster of services that VET harnesses to support and meet the needs of learners. We want to see pathways through to certificate III and beyond for all learners (NVEAC 2010, p.3).
The need to recognise target groups to enable measuring system performance change was acknowledged, with the proposal that tracking focus on Indigenous Australians, people with a disability, learners and potential learners with less than year 12 or equivalent educational attainment and those from low socio-economic backgrounds while remaining open to the fact that others may also experience barriers (NVEAC 2010, p.3).
Along with highlighting the need for 'better coordination of policy between levels of government' raised as a matter of concern throughout consultations (NVEAC 2010, pp.23–24), the draft blueprint identified and discussed six areas of reform, that would 'make a real difference to the lives and futures of learners who experience disadvantage, while making the VET system stronger for all learners', viz:
- Adopting a sustainable investment approach to funding VET
- Measuring and reporting performance in terms of how the system deals with those who experience disadvantage
- Building the capability of the VET workforce
- Embedding support for foundation skills development
- Embedding pathway planning and partnerships as part of the VET system
- Listening to the voice of the learner when designing our system and continuously improving its services (NVEAC 2010, p.5).
NVEAC focused attention for responsibility on those with the power to implement the required change necessary to embed equity in VET, stating clearly that:
The actions in this Blueprint focus very strongly on those who are currently reforming and redesigning the VET system. Too often policy development focusing on the needs of groups of learners has been fragmented and not tackled at the highest level in a holistic way. Achieving improved outcomes for learners, irrespective of their life circumstances when they enter VET, can only occur if equity in embedded in the DNA of VET (NVEAC 2010, p.5).
While NVEAC was seeking feedback on the draft equity blueprint, the Productivity Commission was charged to study education and training workforce issues with a view to increase efficiency and productivity, with the first focus being on the VET sector – part of the reform agenda mentioned above. However, the disjuncture between approaches and language usage is clearly visible. For the Commission's view of VET, the human capital imperative is clear, as is the prime function of the sector:
The Vocational Education and Training (VET) workforce builds Australia's human capital and contributes to its economic prosperity by equipping workers with the skills that industry needs. The VET workforce also contributes to social inclusion and civic participation (Productivity Commission 2011, p.xxviii).
A number of recent economic analyses have reached a …conclusion … that Australia's human capital – the knowledge, skills and abilities embodied in its population – holds the key to advancing its economic and social prospects. For this reason, human capital has underpinned a significant proportion of recent policy initiatives, both at a national and state and territory level. (p.2)
In conjunction with other education sectors, the VET sector plays a key role in building Australia's human capital. Its workforce, aided by infrastructure and equipment, provides students with new or improved competencies that can make them more valued, productive and innovative workers (p.3).
The Commission's glossary definition of 'equity group' is referred on to 'disadvantaged learner', a deficit approach with a diminished grouping:
Disadvantaged learners are from groups that may have more difficulty studying in the VET sector, and include, but are not restricted to people: with low prior educational attainment; who speak a language other than English at home; who are Indigenous; who have disability; or who live in remote areas (Productivity Commission 2011, p.xxi).
In its submission to the Productivity Commission's discussion paper the NVEAC statement of its goal clearly builds on the paper by North, Ferrier & Long (2010) discussed above:
NVEAC's aspiration is for an equitable and inclusive VET system that enables all learners to achieve their potential through skills development and to access the opportunities society has to offer. In providing its advice to Ministers, NVEAC believes that systemic VET reforms are required – in contrast to a focus on short‐term, project‐based initiatives (NVEAC 2011b, p.2).
It takes issue with and a clear stand against the Commission's deficit approach of 'disadvantaged learners', citing the position stated in the draft blueprint:
NVEAC does not want to define people by disadvantage. NVEAC recognises that people may come to VET with low language, literacy and numeracy skills; they may have a disability or be experiencing mental health issues; they may live in remote communities, or communities with concentrations of low socio‐economic status (SES); they may have low incomes and access to few services; they may be offenders in juvenile justice centres or correctional facilities; they may be women in low‐paid jobs with family responsibilities; they may be Indigenous Australians or new arrivals and refugees. This very diversity must be taken into account in the design of each aspect of VET – whether it is funding policy; how VET monitors and reports on its performance; how it supports and prepares its teachers and other staff; how it allocates time and resources to teaching and to the cluster of services that VET harnesses to support and meet the needs of learners (NVEAC 2011b, p.2).
Equity blueprint 2011–2016: creating futures: achieving potential through VET
Feedback on the draft blueprint was constructive and positive. Based on its extensive consultations across Australia, NVEAC launched the final 'equity blueprint' for the period 2011–2016 on 14th February 2011 as the new approach to equity in VET: Equity Blueprint 2011–2016: creating futures: achieving potential through VET (NVEAC 2011).
In his opening message to the blueprint the Chair of NVEAC, Tiga Bayles, noted that it 'contains NVEAC's advice to Ministers on the areas of reform that will ensure the VET system is able to support all learners, no matter what their circumstances' (NVEAC 2011a, p.2). This demonstrated a broad, inclusive approach across all disadvantaged groups. He also expressed again NVEAC's wish to 'embed equity into the DNA of VET' and to work in collaboration with other VET reform processes, showing that the lessons of ineffective 'bolted on' equity initiatives had been well learned.
There were some shifts from the draft document, including the following groups being identified by NVEAC as its primary focus:
- People from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds
- Indigenous Australians
- People from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds particularly new arrivals to Australia, refugees and emerging communities
- People with a disability
- People from rural, regional or remote locations or communities with high levels of disadvantage (NVEAC 2011a, pp.3–4).
While agreeing that the above 'are important population groups to monitor in the context of VET' (NVEAC 2011a, p.4), the Council argued for the additional need to monitor the VET system's success for second chance populations, especially to make judgements about the inclusivity of the sector:
- with less than Year 12 or equivalent level of educational attainment
- returning to learning after a long period of absence from study and/or work
- reskilling following redundancy
- involved in the criminal justice system
- of working age who are neither working nor studying (NVEAC 2011a, p.4).
Moreover, NVEAC demonstrated recognition of the complex dynamics of intersectionality (albeit without the advantage of this naming device), based on feedback on the draft blueprint:
The Council believes that it is important to establish a baseline of the sector's achievements for different groups, and over time to provide a more nuanced picture of the VET sector's performance in relation to people who are located within more than one group and who experience increased disadvantage because of this.
NVEAC also remains open to the idea that some individuals may experience barriers in accessing training and employment, even though they already hold higher-level qualifications. For example some highly skilled graduates with a disability continue to struggle to gain access to employment opportunities and there are women for whom higher-level qualifications do not lead to improved employment outcomes due to structural labour market barriers (NVEAC 2011a, p.4).
The blueprint confirmed and detailed the six specific areas for reform proposed in the draft document and that continue to resonate strongly with reforms required in 2022:
- Adopting a sustainable investment approach to funding VET
- Measuring and reporting performance in terms of how the system deals with those who experience disadvantage
- Building the capability of the VET workforce
- Embedding support for foundation skills development
- Embedding pathway planning and partnerships as part of the VET system
- Listening to the voice of the learner when designing the VET system and continuously improving its services (p.6).
Section 2 of the blueprint entitled a 'compelling case for change', highlighted the inadequacies and failure of previous equity reform efforts:
For more than a decade Ministers for training have been advised by equity committees comprised of diverse stakeholders with the passion, commitment and authority to influence and strategically advise on improving opportunities and outcomes for disadvantaged learners. Despite efforts based on expertise, good will and a spirit of cooperation, previous reviews by those groups, as well as findings from research, have shown that real progress for disadvantaged groups and systemic change to achieve universal access have been slow and patchy.
Time and time again we see positive policy statements, but the implementation is failing to translate into real change. We see clever pilot programs, but these are not transforming into new design and embedded good practice.
When we unpack the data and consider how groups of learners who experience disadvantage fare, we find:
- under-representation of some groups of disadvantaged learners in the VET student population compared with their Australian population share
- over-representation in certain types of programs (for example, lower qualification levels)
- poorer completion rates than other learners
- poorer outcomes than other learners (NVEAC 2011a, p.7).
NVEAC described VET as the 'weak link in the chain of education reforms' (NVEAC 2011a, p.7) and noted that this was creating barriers to pathways for learners. It cited other government reports, including by the Productivity Commission showing the potential benefits of improving participation in VET and challenges in the external environment to its achievement, such as population shifts and inadequate foundation skills. It also made a strong case for changes in funding and improved investment. Illustrating a noteworthy understanding of equity and equity work (p.3), the diversity of the VET sector including industry and adult & community education (pp.7-12). Along with the challenges associated with the task at hand, the Equity Blueprint 2011–2016 contains an important statement:
A note on 'embedding equity'
NVEAC is very conscious that embedding equity carries with it the risk of it becoming invisible. By making equity everyone's business we don't want to turn it into no-one's responsibility.
NVEAC will therefore adopt a two-pronged strategy when working to influence reforms and embed equity:
- Firstly, it will act as a champion and advocate for equity practice as well as identifying and collaborating with champions and advocates across the country; and
- Secondly it will continue to articulate clear responsibility and accountability for all the actions proposed in the Blueprint.
We urge Ministers to do likewise when considering policy to reform VET and improve outcomes for learners who experience disadvantage (NVEAC 2011a, pp.6–7).
NVEAC published a number of reports and case studies to support the implementation of the Equity Blueprint. Notable amongst these are:
- The review and analysis of competitive tendering and contestable funding in VET, augmented by a number of overarching equity principles and specific guidelines to enhance access and participation for all learners, including those who experience disadvantage (Allen Consulting Group 2011).
- An investigation into how RTOs demonstrate their compliance with the Australian Quality Training Framework (AQTF) and Commonwealth, State and Territory legislation concerning access and equity along with an examination into the extent to which legislation and supporting materials are sufficiently explicit in setting standards for equity in RTOs (Bateman & Dyson 2011).
- A number of investigations into the position of learners in the system; 'Closing the loop': listening and responding to learner voice in vocational education and training in Australia: principles and models for effective practice (Golding et al. 2012); Learner representation and advocacy in VET: final report (Moretti et al. 2013); Integrating the learner voice: final report (Synergistiq 2013); and Equity in VET: good practice principles accompanied with case studies from VET research, programs and initiatives that were achieving successful outcomes for disadvantaged learners (NVEAC 2011c).
In 2012 NVEAC developed a VET Equity Outcomes Framework as a comprehensive set of measures for monitoring the performance of the VET system in achieving 'positive outcomes for the wide range of disadvantaged learners identified in the national Equity Blueprint' (Brown 2012). specifically, to:
- measure the progress and achievements of the full range of disadvantaged learners in VET
- to provide the basis for a more nuanced picture of the VET sector's performance in relation to people who experience multiple forms of disadvantage.
The overall outcome which is aspired to is that participation, achievement and transitions within and from VET for disadvantaged learners are at least as good as those for other VET learners (Rothman et al. 2013, p.5).
To progress the Equity Outcomes Framework NVEAC engaged the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) and the Centre for Economics of Education and Training (CEET) to develop its first annual report on disadvantaged learners in VET in order to 'provide a comprehensive baseline dataset to monitor progress' in the framework (Brown 2012). Based on the Framework, the annual report will include a synthesis of data analysis and research literature on the following nominated equity groups:
- Indigenous Australians
- people with a disability
- people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds
- people from rural, regional and remote locations
- people from low-SES backgrounds, and
- 'second chance' learners, that is
- people with less than Year 12 or equivalent level of educational attainment
- people returning to learning after a long period of absence from study and/or work
- people re-skilling following redundancy
- people involved in the criminal justice system, and
- people of working age who are neither working nor studying (Brown 2012; Rothman et al. 2013, pp.xi–xiv).
National report on social equity in VET 2013
In 2013 NVEAC released its significant (landmark) report – the first of its kind in Australia – National report on social equity in VET 2013 (Rothman et al. 2013). As well as presenting separate chapters on the groups listed above, the report also includes national and state and territory breakdowns of 2011 quantitative data relating to participation, achievement and transitions, with accompanying analysis, providing not only an invaluable baseline dataset but also an informative and useful document for those working to progress inclusivity and equity in the VET system. As confirmed in the executive summary, such information is critical in a system based on performance measures to provide the evidence used 'for identifying priorities for policies and practices that better meet the needs of learners from equity groups' (Rothman et al. 2013, p.xi):
Monitoring and reporting is a vital feature of good practice to support the advancement of access and equity in the Australian national training system. There is a range of data sources available at the national and jurisdictional level to inform understanding of the participation, achievement and transitions of disadvantaged learners. However there has not been, until now, a concerted effort to bring these sources of information together to produce a national report on disadvantaged learners in the Australian VET sector.
Both at a national and jurisdictional level, the systematic reporting of information on disadvantaged learners can assist with identifying issues, trends and patterns across a range of indicators and measures of progress. Evidence of change over time is not only important for systematising the monitoring and reporting process but also to give strength to the many small but successful programs that are championed by those working in the VET, Adult and Community Education (ACE) and related sectors (Rothman et al. 2013, p.1).
In its conclusion, along with the benefit of VET, two issues highlighted remain highly relevant in 2022: the availability of data relating to 'disadvantaged' learners/groups, and issues associated with intersectionality.
The Equity Blueprint identified six learner groups, as discussed in this report. These groups, however, are not independent. Many of those living in Remote and Very Remote areas are Indigenous Australians; they also more frequently live in areas at the lowest socioeconomic level; they also more frequently left school before the completion of Year 12. Similarly, many recent arrivals to Australia, as described in Chapter 4 on CALD learners, also live in lower SES areas.
Within this report, it was not possible to examine separately all possible combinations of learner groups. What is apparent from the data for 2011, however, is that VET provides opportunities for people from the identified learner groups to gain skills that can assist them to move into employment or further study.
Overall, vocational education and training provides a diverse range of ongoing training opportunities for individuals experiencing a wide range of life circumstances. VET provides an educational setting that enables people from a variety of backgrounds to improve or update their knowledge and/or skills, acquire new skills for a career move, retrain, participate in ongoing personal or professional development, and participate in continuing education and training as part of lifelong learning (Rothman et al. 2013, p.158).
For four and a half years, NVEAC worked consistently to fulfil its aspiration for an equitable and inclusive VET system that enabled all learners to achieve their potential through skills development and so to access the opportunities society has to offer. It provided advice not only to the MCTEE, but also worked with a range of other Ministers and government agencies engaged in VET reform in order to embed equity and contribute to the achievement of shared goals. Further, by working collaboratively with a diversity of 'stakeholders' and consulting widely, NVEAC performed an important educative role that enhanced a sound understanding of equity and inclusivity and the need for it to be embedded (in the DNA) in the VET system at all levels.
In September 2013 the Abbot Coalition (LNP) Government replaced the Labor Government that had held power since 2007. Once again political change resulted in a shift in priorities and emphasis towards embedding equity in VET, including which groups should be considered eligible for special attention:
Since 2014, equity reporting of VET participation and outcomes data has focused mainly on indigenous learners, those in remote areas, and learners with disabilities. This more limited equity agenda appears to have lowered expectations of training providers and their potential to act as capacity building institutions (Myconos, Dommers & Clarke 2018, p.3).
The change in the political environment resulted in NVEAC being dissolved in April 2014 by the newly established COAG Industry and Skills Council (CISC) as part of efforts to streamline the governance arrangements for the NTS. The secretariat functions of NVEAC were brought into the Department of Industry. Instead of embedded equity there was an increased policy focus on an industry-led skills training shift away from a social inclusion agenda to one of contestability, marketization and private provision as discussed in the following section.
The ideas put forward in NVEAC's 'Equity Blueprint' were not noticeably followed up in any subsequent policy changes or documents, despite the extensive efforts that went into its production and its strong ambitions. However, the Blueprint still represents a high point in recent equity efforts. Its potential along with other resources and processes developed at that time to make a significant contribution to the wider understanding of equity continues given its valuable legacy and data base.
Moreover, the contributions made by NVEAC were in tune with the increasing global focus on equity and disadvantage in a time of disruption.
Leave no one behind? Towards a global 'new deal'
At the time that coincides with the demise of NVEAC global economies were in the early stages of profound change (Picketty 2014). Mega trends were driving rapid transformation of labour markets across the globe (Berger & Frey 2016; Hajkowicz et al. 2016) now badged as the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) (Schwab 2015). 4IR is fundamentally different from those that preceded it and so the beginning of a fourth wave of economic change that Australia is still undergoing. Global issues such as those associated with climate change and human impact on earth further compound the complexity of this shift.
In Australia many people were being left behind with the rise of the 'gig economy' and insecure work. The Abbott Government's attention turned again to out of work Australians on welfare. In 2015 Job Services that had operated as an outsourced employment service since 2009 was replaced by jobactive with the mandate to 'helping jobseekers find and keep a job; helping jobseekers move from welfare to work; helping jobseekers meet their mutual obligations' (ANOA 2017). Within a competitive quasi-market system for employment services not dissimilar to that for VET, providers are paid to:
- Deliver services under Commonwealth and/or State Government funded programs, such as jobactive (including Work for the Dole), Disability Employment Services, Community Development Program (formerly the Remote Jobs and Communities Program), Skills for Education and Employment, and similar State Government programs.
- Deliver accredited or non-accredited training for unemployed people as Registered Training Organisations, Group Training Organisations, apprenticeship centres, social enterprises and other non-profit training and education institutions.
- Deliver similar employment and training services to unemployed people without any government funding (Jobs Australia 2016, p.3).
The services provided by Jobactive differed according to the level of disadvantage of the 'job seeker', their circumstances or the allowance they received. Jobactive expanded its remit to include those on most forms of government income support including the (highly criticised)15 Newstart Allowance (work for the dole), youth allowance and parenting payments. Recipients are obliged to fulfil 'mutual obligations' in pursuing paid work while receiving a government payment. This contractual obligation links vulnerable people (including some of the most disadvantaged Australians) with the VET system through a marketised employment service system with obligatory training where 'choice' is often compromised. Tensions between reducing welfare payments and supporting the economy and/or addressing inequality in a meaningful and sustainable way are highlighted.
In 2015, and noting the increasing trend in inequality, the Secretary-General of the OECD stated that, as a global community, 'we have reached a tipping point. Inequality can no longer be treated as an afterthought. We need to focus the debate on how the benefits of growth are distributed'; that there should not be a trade-off between growth and equality (Gurria 2015). Rather, 'inclusive growth' is the new goal. Skills for life and work remain an integral part of this mix.
Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development
With the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) expiring in 2015, the United Nations managed an extensive global consultation about what should replace them. This resulted in global agreement 'the bold and transformative' 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development encapsulated in the UN document Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (Agenda 2030) (UNGA 2015) based around 17 interlinked and integrated Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and targets (pp.14, 15–26).
The overarching intent of the SDGs is to realise inclusive and sustainable economic, social and environmental development. Central to Agenda 2030 is the commitment to ensure that 'no one is left behind'; that no goal is considered met unless met for all. This entails national anti-discrimination policy agendas with a focus on intersectionality that will actively seek to prioritise and fast track actions that go beyond a 'trickle down' agenda to reduce inequalities among both individuals (vertical) and groups (horizontal) marginalised through discrimination, geography, governance, socio-economic status &/or shocks and fragility (Stuart & Samman 2017; Renner et al. 2018).
The SDGs include a specific goal for education (SDG4) – 'Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all' (UNGA 2015, p.17). It is argued that SDG4 underpins all of the SDGs. For T/VET, two other SDGs are relevant and significant: decent work (SDG8) – 'Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all' (pp.19-20) along with the cross cutting SDG5 – 'Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls' (p.18). As a signatory to the SDGs, Australia has an obligation to meet the Goals through the transformative systemic and institutional change necessary to so do.
The World Education Forum (WEF) 2015 (Equitable and inclusive quality education and lifelong learning for all by 2030) held at Incheon, Korea was the culmination of years of global broad-based inclusive consultations running in tandem to those for Agenda 2030:
Over 1,600 participants from 160 countries, including over 120 Ministers, heads and members of delegations, heads of agencies and officials of multilateral and bilateral organizations, and representatives of civil society, the teaching profession, youth and the private sector, adopted the Incheon Declaration for Education 2030, which sets out a new vision for education for the next fifteen years (UNESCO 2015, p.4).
The resulting global landmark document for education encapsulates the agreement reached to align education with Agenda 2030 – Education 2030: Incheon Declaration and Framework for Action for the Implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 4: towards inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong learning for all (UNESCO et al. 2015) – was adopted during a special meeting to be organized alongside the 38th session of the General Conference of UNESCO in October/November 2015. It remains the key guiding document for the broad field of education globally.
UNESCO strategy for technical and vocational education and training
A new UNESCO TVET strategy developed through global consultations was formally adopted in 2016: UNESCO strategy for technical and vocational education and training (TVET) (2016–2021) (UNESCO 2016)16. It both centres the intent of Agenda 2030 and sits alongside the Incheon Declaration: Education 2030 Framework for Action that includes attention to technical and vocational skills development, specifically regarding access to affordable quality TVET and the acquisition of technical and vocational skills for employment, decent work and entrepreneurship along with the elimination of gender disparity and ensuring access for the vulnerable. Its intent was to support UNESCO member states in their efforts to enhance the relevance and capacity of their T/VET systems. As stated in the TVET 2016–2021 strategy:
TVET is expected to address the multiple demands of an economic, social and environmental nature by helping youth and adults develop the skills they need for employment, decent work and entrepreneurship, promoting equitable, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, and supporting transitions to green economies and environmental sustainability (UNESCO 2016, p.4).
The strategy has three pillars of priority areas (all of which depend on the structures and opportunities in the labour market for realisation): fostering youth employment and entrepreneurship; promoting equity and gender equality, and facilitating the transition to green economies and sustainable societies.
This then is the wider context in which Australian VET and its policy makers are located – a scenario of global/regional/national/local impacts where proactive systemic change including attention to equity to redress inequality is foremost. In the consideration of what it means 'to leave no-one behind' and how to implement such an undertaking into a system complete with targets and indicators, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) states that action to leave no one behind could not be an 'add on' or optional extra. This is the same position adopted by NVEAC.
The pledge to leave no one behind runs across all 17 SDGs, embedded in goals, targets and indicators that demand disaggregated data, inclusion and equity in social, environmental and economic spheres. …Leaders in all walks of life will need to become agents of change, challenging and disrupting business as usual, building national consensus on the policies the pledge requires, making hard choices and finding innovative ways around trade-offs (Renner et al. 2018, p.21).
Taking an intersectional approach, UNDP also identifies five factors (Renner et al. 2018, p.10) as key for assessing who is being left behind and why, that, when integrated into a framework approach, provides countries with a practical way to implement the 'leave no one behind' pledge in conjunction with the SDGs:
- Discrimination: Exclusion, bias or mistreatment based on some aspect of a person's identity (ascribed or assumed) including, but not limited to gender, ethnicity, age, class, disability, sexual orientation, religion, nationality and indigenous or migratory status;
- Geography: Physical isolation, vulnerability, deprivation or inequity based on a person's area of residence;
- Governance: Global, national and/or sub-national institutions that are ineffective, unjust, exclusive, corrupt, unaccountable and/or unresponsive; and/or laws, policies and budgets that are inequitable, discriminatory or regressive (including taxes and expenditures);
- Socio-economic status: Disadvantages in terms of income, wealth, life expectancy, educational attainment or chances to stay healthy, be well-nourished, be educated; and access to energy, clean water and sanitation, social protection, financial services, vocational training etc.; and
- Shocks & fragility: Vulnerability and exposure to the effects of climate change, natural hazards, violence, conflict, displacement, health emergencies, economic downturns and other types of shocks
Three mutually reinforcing "levers" are required simultaneously through integrated approaches for successful implementation: Examine: who is being left behind, using disaggregated and people driven data and information; Empower: enabling voice and meaningful participation through civic engagement and voice; and Enact: inclusive, catalytic and accountable strategies and financing, integrated, equity-focused SDG policies, interventions and budgets (Renner et al. 2018, pp.21–27).
Although those responsible for Australian VET system were fully cognisant of the global 'new deal'17 and the disruptors associated with it (e.g., Reeson et al. 2016) there is no evidence that the marked shift to address inequality, enhance inclusivity globally and so enact proactive equity policies was deemed necessary in Australia18 (Australian Coalition for Education and Development 2019, p.5; Guevara , p.4). The demise of NVEAC is perhaps evidence enough of the lack of political will at that time.
8. Shifting reform agendas: VET, skills and jobs
Between 2005 and 2010 there was an explosion in the number of international students in the VET system but there were instances of fraudulent qualifications being offered. The contestable training market further muddied the issue of equity in VET with tension between equity and free market agendas (Fowler 2017). Increased funding to private VET providers since the 1990s was also associated with waste, fraud and a decline in quality. Total enrolments in TAFE contracted by a third from 2012–2015. This was thus not a good period for equity.
Since the disbanding of NVEAC in 2014, equity reporting of VET participation and outcomes focused mainly on Indigenous Australian learners, those in remote areas, and learners with disabilities. This more limited equity agenda appears to have lowered expectations of training providers and their potential to act as capacity building institutions. However, bodies associated with target groups were stepping up engagement and advocacy, with an increased emphasis on policy input (having a voice), co-design and place-based initiatives for the design and delivery of VET. The three documents selected as landmark for this period are those with significant input by Indigenous Australians – National Agreement on Closing the Gap (2020), Wiyi Yani U Thangani (Women's Voices) (2020) and the National Roadmap for Indigenous Skills, Jobs and Wealth Creation (2021).
The LH Martin Institute paper Viewed from the margins (Myconos, Dommers & Clarke 2018) argues that to overcome many of the VET sector's shortcomings, 'policymakers and provider communities must first affirm equity and access as central to the sector's core business' (p.3). It notes that there appears to be little recognition of this, and therefore 'poor connectivity and integration of the VET sector with other community supports', with 'a lack of understanding of the range of support needs of disadvantaged learners at key moments in their educational journeys' (Myconos, Dommers & Clarke 2018, p.3). This paper also reflects that the contested notion of 'equity groups' hindered the development of a clear political agenda for VET and its relationship to vulnerable learner groups, including which groups to prioritise and the barriers they face.
At this time attention was turning again to inter-linkages in Australia's education system, including HE and VET. The Australian government announced a review of the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) in the 2017–18 budget. The review's 2019 report recommended that significant reform of the AQF was necessary, noting:
...compelling economic and social equity reasons to continue widening access to participation in education and training in Australia, and to continue improving educational attainment levels, particularly for those with low participation and attainment levels (Noonan et al. 2019, p.19).
The Australian Government accepted all the review's recommendations.
The National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education's (NCSEHE) issued an important report in March 2019, The best chance for all: student equity 2030: a long-term strategic vision for student equity in higher education (Zacharias & Brett 2019) took a holistic approach of HE and VET. The report acknowledged that while Australia was recognised globally for its sustained efforts to improve student equity in the HE sector, such work was a legacy of the Dawkins era reforms and remained a 'work in progress' with many groups remaining significantly under-represented (p.4).
The report presents a holistic notion of student equity arguing that 'education is central to nation building only if it is equitable' (Zacharias & Brett 2019, p.10), and based on a perspective of three inter-related concepts – nation building, an intentionally broad framing of the education system and multiple dimensions of equity, the latter to capture 'the complexity of issues that underpin educational disadvantage' (p.11).
In the context of declining employer confidence in the VET system, ongoing concerns about quality and low student enrolments in courses leading to qualifications the Australian Government in 2018 commissioned a substantial review of VET with the aim of delivering 'skilled workers for a stronger economy' – Strengthening skills: expert review of Australia's vocational education and training system (Joyce 2019). Known as the 'Joyce review' the report of the review includes a six-point plan for reform and a roadmap of how to achieve it.
Notably, 'equity' is not specifically mentioned in this report, although a number of comments and recommendations note concerns about specific forms of disadvantage affecting participation in VET. The report called for the states and federal governments to co-operate in developing a new vision for the VET system that would place 'work-based learning' at the forefront and in seeking a re-branding of VET as 'skills education' illustrated its view of the paramount nature of industry and business concerns over the broader educational objectives of individuals and communities.
Where the review touches on equity issues is largely in its concerns with low levels of language, literacy, numeracy and digital literacy (LLND) skills acting as barriers to participation and to transitions to higher level VET qualifications. It noted particularly the clustering of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in lower-level courses and the role that low level LLND skills played in this phenomenon. Its recommendations call for additional support and 'culturally relevant learning opportunities' to overcome these problems.
The Australian Government responded positively to the review, identifying additional funding for instance for LLND initiatives, career advice for students, additional apprenticeship places and incentives as well as establishing a National Skills Commission and pilot 'Skills Organisations'. Financial support was indicated for 'training hubs' in regional areas where youth unemployment was high, to connect schools and workplaces more effectively.
In August 2019 COAG, released its 'Vision' for VET. This was both ambitious and somewhat wishful. It was more a statement of an 'ideal' that identifies government priorities for VET without specific reforms It is thus a useful document in identifying Governments' priorities for VET but less so in pointing to the specific reforms it required. On issues of access and equity, diversity and inclusion, it was disappointing despite some statements that had echoes of some elements of social justice.
The vision alludes to a high-quality system fulfilling important social and economic functions. It meets the needs of all participants, including 'learners', employers and industries, is innovative and forward-looking, flexible and responsive to changes in work and skill needs, an integral part of a 'joined up and accessible' post-secondary education system. However, it did not affirm the centrality of access and equity to the sector.
In 2020 the Australian Government's Productivity Commission reviewed the NASWD, for the second time since it was established in the post-ANTA era. The Productivity Commission's final report was released in 2021. A major conclusion was that while the VET system was not in crisis the NASWD had failed to meet its objectives. No specific concerns with previously recognised equity groups were raised but there was a demonstrated interest in those highlighted by Joyce as disadvantaged in VET – people with low level language, literacy, numeracy and digital skills.
Much of the review is concerned with issues of costs, funding and efficiency especially on the question of value for money of public investment in VET. One concern it raises as an issue of 'equity' is which social groups should be supported by 'loadings' or 'subsidies', and the vast differences in both the levels and types of these offered by the states and territories. It does not argue for the removal of such loadings and fee concessions, but for greater transparency and standardisation recognising that 'Governments also pursue social policy objectives through the VET system, for example, by subsidising particular student cohorts to ensure equity of access' (Productivity Commission 2020b, p.170).
The major contribution of the review in the complex policy landscape to which it refers is a set of recommendation for reframing the NASWD, based on eliminating observed weaknesses and building on strengths in the VET system.
Steps in the right direction
In 2020 the Coalition of Peaks19 together with all Australian Governments as well as the Australian Local Government Association (ALGA) agreed on the new National Agreement on Closing the Gap (National Agreement) (Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet 2020). Described as a 'game changer', it is structured around four priority reform areas to replace the 2008 Agreement:
The National Agreement sets out a strategy to close the gap that is strongly based on, and underpinned by, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples' priorities. It is built around four new Priority Reforms about transforming the way governments work with and for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander during the engagements (Coalition of Peaks 2020).
This new National Agreement (2020) and the new approach it embeds mark a significant step in the right direction, with the commitment '…to set out a future where policy making that impacts on the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is done in full and genuine partnership' (Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet 2020, p.4), with the main objective being 'to overcome the entrenched inequality faced by too many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people so that their life outcomes are equal to all Australians' (p.3). While all the reform areas are inter-related and interdependent, Priority Reform Two (Building the community-controlled sector) details 'sector strengthening plans' for four streams: workforce, capital infrastructure, service provision and governance (p.10).
Another highly significant and informative report published in 2020 is that by the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC): Wiyi Yani U Thangani (Women's voices): securing our rights, securing our future report (AHRC 2020). Wiyi Yani U Thangani 'builds on the legacy of the 1986 Women's business report: the first time in Australian history that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women were consulted nationally' (AHRC 2020, p.10). June Oscar AO describes this report that she auspiced as:
... the culmination of a multi-year partnership between the Commission and the National Indigenous Australians Agency. The report elevates the voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and girls and examines their, and their communities', enjoyment and exercise of human rights (2020, p.1).
The recognised importance of and thirst for VET (including life skills and literacy skill sets) (pp. 506–513), work (pp. 513– 527) an economic participation (pp.533–561) is both visible as well as supported by evidence along with the direct voices of a diverse range of numerous First Australian women and girls.
In December 2021 the then Minister For Indigenous Australians, Ken Wyatt AM issued a new National Roadmap for Indigenous Skills, Jobs and Wealth Creation (National Roadmap) (NIAA 2021) that 'provides a long-term commitment and organising framework to implement actions that will substantially lift economic outcomes for Indigenous Australians, and support their aspirations to thrive in the mainstream economy' (NIAA 2021, p.2). Given its focus on economic opportunity, the National Roadmap complements the National Agreement on Closing the Gap and facilitates achievement of its Priority Reforms.
This integrated National Roadmap brings together three critical domains – skills, jobs and business opportunities, each underpinned by a series of policy pillars which will help to inform short-, medium- and long-term actions that will be driven by industry leaders, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander businesses and organisations, with the support of government:
While this forward-looking partnership model marks notable progress it also offers a more hopeful approach towards an 'equitable and inclusive' VET for First Nations Australians. Moreover, it provides a working example for improved policy development (NIAA 2021, p.11).
9. Uncertain times: towards a new social contract?
In 2019, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic the Global Commission on the Future of Work in response to the rapid changes and new forces transforming the world of work globally deemed urgent and decisive action was required 'to seize the opportunities presented by these transformative changes' (ILO 2019, p.10). It called for a 'human-centred agenda' for the future of work designed to reinvigorate the social contract (p.11). This human centred agenda would 'strengthen the social contract by placing people and the work they do at the centre of economic and social policy and business practice' (p.11).
The agenda was based on 'three pillars of action, which in combination would drive growth, equity and sustainability for present and future generations': increasing investment in people's capabilities, increasing investment in the institutions of work and increasing investment in decent and sustainable work (ILO 2019, pp.11–13). The first of these pillars (increasing investment in people's capabilities) detailed a number of requirements that link education and work, including VET system design and policies:
- A universal entitlement to lifelong learning that enables people to acquire skills and to reskill and upskill. Lifelong learning encompasses formal and informal learning from early childhood and basic education through to adult learning. Governments, workers and employers, as well as educational institutions, have complementary responsibilities in building an effective and appropriately financed lifelong learning ecosystem.
- Stepping up investments in the institutions, policies and strategies that will support people through future of work transitions. Young people will need help in navigating the increasingly difficult school-to-work transition. Older workers will need expanded choices that enable them to remain economically active for as long as they choose and that will create a lifelong active society. All workers will need support through the increasing number of labour market transitions over the course of their lives. Active labour market policies need to become proactive and public employment services need to be expanded.
- Implementing a transformative and measurable agenda for gender equality. The world of work begins at home. From parental leave to investment in public care services, policies need to foster the sharing of unpaid care work in the home to create genuine equality of opportunity in the workplace. Strengthening women's voice and leadership, eliminating violence and harassment at work and implementing pay transparency policies are preconditions for gender equality. Specific measures are also needed to address gender equality in the technology- enabled jobs of tomorrow.
- Providing universal social protection from birth to old age. The future of work requires a strong and responsive social protection system based on the principles of solidarity and risk sharing, which supports people's needs over the life cycle. This calls for a social protection floor that affords a basic level of protection to everyone in need, complemented by contributory social insurance schemes that provide increased levels of protection (ILO 2019, pp.11–12).
In June 2021 the International Labour Conference 109th Session agreed the 'Resolution concerning a global call to action for a human-centred recovery from the COVID-19 crisis that is inclusive, sustainable and resilient' (ILO 2021a). Global call to action for a human-centred recovery from the COVID-19 crisis (ILO 2021b) calls for an action-oriented approach based on the ILO's mandate for social justice – 'a human-centred recovery from the COVID-19 crisis that is inclusive, sustainable and resilient' highlights the need to build forward better (ILO 2021b, p.10) that relies on 'a transformative agenda for equality, diversity and inclusion' (p.8). The findings are in accord with the UN Secretary General's future-oriented Report Our common agenda (UN 2021) that also seeks 'a new social contract anchored in human rights, better management of critical global commons, and global public goods that deliver equitably and sustainably for all'20 through actions associated with twelve key commitments.
The first of these commitments is 'Leave no one behind' and includes action for a renewed social contract anchored in human rights' (UN 2021, pp.6, 22–34) as well as the need to reinforce education and LLL and decent work (p.6). The report also notes upcoming global summits (p.7), Summit of the Future (2023), World Social Summit (2025) and, relevant to this review, the Transforming Education Summit to take place in September 202221. The objective for the latter is:
… to mobilize political ambition, action, solutions and solidarity to transform education: to take stock of efforts to recover pandemic-related learning losses; to reimagine education systems for the world of today and tomorrow; and to revitalize national and global efforts to achieve SDG422
Despite there being no end date to the pandemic and its ongoing disruption including concerns about a potential global recession, the focus is on recovery – on 'building back better'. 'Australia Notes' by OECD (2021a, 2021b) comment that the challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic impact heavily on business and education, noting 'unprecedented disruption in the provision of education and training' (OECD 2021b, p.). While stating that the pandemic has highlighted existing education inequalities, it also advised that their recommended 2021 structural reform priorities for Australia also present '… an opportunity to address long-standing challenges of inclusiveness and sustainability' (OECD 2021a, p.2):
The recovery brings an opportunity to boost innovation and reallocation, necessary to face the challenges of digitalisation and meet climate change targets in a cost-efficient way. It also provides a chance to boost educational opportunities for disadvantaged students and refocus on improving the living standards of Indigenous communities (OECD 2021a, p.1).
Now more than ever, supporting people in learning throughout their lives, and equipping them with solid skills that they can use fully and effectively at work and in society, is key to ensuring that both individuals and society thrive in this increasingly complex, interconnected and changing world. Lifelong learning is key for individuals to adapt and succeed in labour markets and societies (OECD 2021b, p.).
The UNESCO-UNEVOC Strategy for Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET)
While the Strategy for Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) (2016–2021) (UNESCO 2016) discussed in Section 7 covered a period of rapid global/regional/national change, it preceded the disruption caused by the pandemic. Its 2019 mid-term review confirmed the ongoing relevance of the strategy and 'recommended maintaining the three priority areas and cross-cutting interventions23, which had proven to be flexible enough to accommodate diverse needs and evolving agendas' (UNESCO 2021a, p.1). A final evaluation confirmed the above and provided a series of directions for follow up for the new 2022–2029 strategy, viz:
The new strategy for TVET should be based on a clear understanding of the multiple transitions and transformations that are affecting education and the world of work, including the COVID-19 crisis and recovery, technological change (digitization, automation, the fifth generation of mobile communication technology, artificial intelligence, Industry 4.0), the persistence or resurgence of informal employment including in the Gig economy, demographic transitions (resulting in youth bulges in some countries and rapid ageing in others), societal issues (around political representation, youth participation, inequality and conflict), and the transition to sustainable development, which will need to be accelerated to a considerable degree in order to achieve the relevant SDGs and the Paris Agreement on climate change (UNESCO 2021a, p.2).
TVET systems should be proactive in the way they adapt their training supply to these multiple transitions, to the benefit of individuals, economies and societies. Individuals will need to be lifelong learners, especially in the context of the recovery from the COVID-19 crisis, as young people enter disrupted labour markets, and laid-off workers need reskilling to new jobs or sectors that are resilient to the crisis. Economies will see the demand for skills shift rapidly, requiring TVET systems to supply the skills needed for inclusive and sustainable growth, in a context of rapid technological change. Societies will be increasingly challenged by the multiple transitions affecting the world of work, which will have major implications for the distribution of income and wealth, solidarity between social groups and between generations, and political organization. TVET systems can respond through more transparent governance, greater efficiency and improved accountability. However, TVET systems, in many cases, receive the least amount of funding of all the educational sectors, which requires policy attention to funding and efficiency (UNESCO 2021a, p.2).
It also proposed three priorities for the post 2021 strategy: (i) Every person to learn, work and thrive; (ii) Every economy to develop skills for sustainable development; (iii) Every society to deploy skills for inclusiveness and resilience (UNESCO 2021a, p.3). The final evaluation's key conclusions propose a revised vision and objective of 'lifelong learning, inclusion, digital and greening' (UNESCO 2021b, p.8), that:
- The new TVET Strategy could apply a lifelong learning perspective as a transformative, future-oriented, principle to TVET and education as a whole, stimulating flexible, modularized, personalized approaches based on quality assurance and recognition or prior learning.
- In strengthening TVET's lifelong learning focus and tackling inclusion issues, a whole system approach could be adopted. This means looking at TVET and adult learning vis-à-vis general education, higher education and society/economy, also focusing on informal TVET. It also means to looking at the societal role of TVET systems in preventing migration; disengagement with society; reduced democratic participation; violence, stemming from dissatisfaction about societal and economic developments and opportunities for young people to build a future.
- The need to work on the digital and green transformation, while already on the agenda for some time, increased in relevance even more as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- These key priorities need to be taken on board at system level but reflect also directly on individuals: every individual should have the opportunity and right to access quality TVET and develop skills that can support them in the life and work. This also suggests a key focus on more transversal skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, learning to learn, creativity, cultural awareness, and entrepreneurship (UNESCO 2021b, pp.8–9).
In March 2022 the UNESCO's Executive Board recognised that the pandemic lead 'to the largest education disruption ever'; that it has 'strongly impacted the Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) sector' (UNESCO 2022a, p.1). The new Strategy lists six key dimensions that require a responsive approach that is both inclusive and proactive: economic recovery; technological change; persistence of informality in employment; demographic transitions; societal issues, and the need for a green and sustainable economic transition (pp.1–2). Further, three main lines of actions are identified:
a. Main line of action 1: Develop skills for all individuals to learn, work and live. To respond to the shifting demands of society and the labour market, individuals will need to be lifelong learners and keep their skills up to date. TVET must offer lifelong learning opportunities for both women and men, with individualized and adaptative pedagogies, flexible learning modalities, pathways across types of education and training and across activity sectors, recognition, validation, and accreditation (RVA) of non-formal and informal learning, career guidance and counselling.
b. Main line of action 2: Develop skills for inclusive and sustainable economies. TVET systems must supply the skills needed for inclusive and sustainable growth, in the context of the twin transitions to digital and green economies. This requires engagement with social partners, firms, and workers, as well as the timely collection and use of data on skills needs, based on a range of data sources including administrative data, surveys, and big data.
c. Main line of action 3: Develop skills for inclusive and peaceful societies. Societies will be increasingly challenged by the multiple transitions affecting the world of work, which have major implications for the distribution of income and wealth, solidarity between social groups and between generations, and political organization. TVET systems must respond through transparent and inclusive governance, high efficiency, strong accountability, and the inclusion of education for sustainable development and global citizenship education. TVET must equip learners with the knowledge, values, skills and attitudes they need to understand their rights and empower them to engage and promote a just world of work and just societies (UNESCO 2022b, p.14).
Embedding equity, transforming education: global high-level meetings
Fully cognisant of these contemporary turbulent times of coalescing megatrends and crises, a series of interconnected significant events took place in 2022. Of relevance here are International Conference on Adult Education (CONFINTEA) VII (15–17 June 2022), the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF)24 (5–15 July 2022) and the Transforming Education Summit (TES)25 (19th September 2022).
CONFINTEA is held every 12 years to take stock of achievements in adult learning and education (ALE), discuss challenges, and develop a new framework for action for ALE globally. The new Marrakech Framework for Action (MFA) (UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning 2022a) reaffirms that ALE is an essential element of the right to education and a key component of lifelong learning, commitment to the SDGs and five designated areas for action (policy; governance; financing; participation, inclusion and equity; and quality (UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning 2022, pp.1). The MFA emphasises 'the need to build strategies for reskilling and upskilling, which are necessary to meet the changing needs of societies and the world of work brought about especially by the green and digital transitions' (p.2). It commits to the principles and priorities underlying the need for a new social contract (pp.3–4), redesigning systems for ALE including TVET (pp.6–7) and to the centrality of equity, diversity and inclusion. Paragraph 19 refers explicitly to learning for work (p.5).
The TES addressed the dramatic impact of the pandemic on education with the goal 'to galvanize social and political commitment to promote the necessary transformations so that we can really guarantee a quality education for all on this planet, as we had agreed in SDG4' (Garnier 2022). The Summit identified five Thematic Action Tracks – 'key levers to transform education by focusing on specific areas that need attention'26. The second of these: learning and skills for life, work and sustainable development, directly involves T/VET.
This then is a partial overview of the context in which the demands on and challenges facing education and work are located, here in Australia as elsewhere. This scenario has profound implications for VET in Australia, and its willingness (or not) to follow the international coalescence and so embracing equity and inclusiveness as central pillars of its design and provision in transformed and integrated education systems. It is a scenario triggered by crisis but rich with opportunity.
Equity and Australian VET in times of crisis: a reality check
Australia likes to position itself as the land of a fair go. However, as the Australian Government's National Cabinet grappled with steering the nation through the pandemic while considering strategies to enhance recovery efforts it was increasingly obvious that some segments of the population were feeling the brunt more than others. Wealth inequality rose sharply from 2003–2018 (Davidson & Bradbury 2022). The third study undertaken by Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS) with University of New South Wales (UNSW) in its 'Build Back Fairer' series enquiring into poverty and inequality and 'the effects of COVID policy responses on different population groups' (Davidson 2022, p.7) details a picture of two pandemics. Poverty and inequality declined in the first phase of the pandemic despite 'the deepest recession in a century' and an 'effective unemployment rate' reaching 17 per cent, due to robust public income supports' in 2020. However, when income supports27 were withdrawn in early 2021, the evidence collected 'indicates that income inequality and poverty increased above pre-pandemic levels (p.8).
Issues of equity and inequality tend to increase in visibility in times of crisis but constructive responses to remedy them can often be thwarted by economic interventions. JobMaker28 and JobTrainer29 are two such economic stimulus measures that have resulted in mixed outcomes, with JobTrainer pertinent especially given the widespread global recognition that women and youth are the two cohorts negatively impacted most by the pandemic. Once again, at a time of crisis, VET is positioned as a critical component of policy levers designed to help redress the increasingly dire economic crisis associated with the pandemic; this time when the efficacy of the sector is under stress and vulnerable.
The JobTrainer scheme referred to in the 2020 Heads of Agreement (PMC 2020) was launched in July 2020 after years of concern that Australia was facing a looming skills shortage, now exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic30. Following a series of initiatives labelled 'job', it was designed to run courses to assist in meeting the most urgent areas of skills shortages:
Hot off the heels of JobSeeker, JobKeeper and JobMaker, last week saw the announcement of JobTrainer. It's a $2 billion scheme that will seemingly overhaul the beleaguered vocational education and training (VET) sector with the aim of upskilling and reskilling Australians.
There are two key parts of the scheme: a $1.5bn wage subsidy for apprenticeships and traineeships by extending the pre-existing Supporting Apprentices and Trainees program; and a $500 million program (to be matched by States and Territories) to cover the cost of 340,000 free or low-cost places to school leavers and job seekers in courses predicted to experience job growth. Industries that have been mentioned include retail, wholesale, transport, postal and warehousing, health care, social assistance, construction and manufacturing (Listo 2020).
However, Listo cites evidence to support her claim, that although women were faring worse than men in the COVID-19 crisis '… JobTrainer too will have gender-inequitable outcomes by its design: investment in the VET sector, in its current form, will inevitably flow toward men' (Listo 2020). Australia has a highly gender-segregated workforce that is also reflected in VET enrolments, with the VET courses studied by women more likely to lead to insecure and lower-paid work. This is exacerbated by JobTrainer's focus on mostly male dominated industries and occupations (Listo 2020). Clarke et al. (2020) also acknowledge the gendered aspects of JobTrainer, while focussing on the position of youth disadvantage. They note that the focus on apprenticeships and traineeships potentially reinforces existing labour market segmentation and pay inequity (Clarke et al. 2020, p.5).
The pandemic has also highlighted vulnerabilities in existing Australian systems and institutions, VET, highlighting the need for structural and systemic transformation. The Macklin Review into Victoria's post-secondary education and training system for the Victorian Government explains:
Despite headline prosperity, Australia has struggled to confront its entrenched disadvantage. …
Reconciling these factors requires us to embed equity principles in the design of the system and of a more dynamic economy. These principles cannot be an afterthought, nor can they merely compensate for inequities produced by a market economy. They can shape and strengthen that economy by equipping all Victorians with the future skills they will need. They include the notion of capability that drives contemporary understanding of skills policy: in other words, people are entitled not just to a qualification, but to the opportunity, resources and support to access it and then effectively apply it (Macklin 2020, pp.27–28, our emphasis).
While this language of equity, inclusion and change echoes that found in relevant international documents and agreements, for the VET system it implies necessity for well overdue major institutional change. The report issued in March 2022 by the Centre for Future Work at the Australia Institute, Fragmentation and photo-ops: the failures of Australian skills policy through COVID (Pennington 2022) presents a forthright summation of Australia's VET/skills system. The report presents 'comprehensive evidence of the continued erosion of Australia's vocational education system, despite several high-profile announcements of new skills programs made during the COVID pandemic' (Pennington 2022, p.6), illustrating both the significance of VET and the decline of the VET system:
Strong vocational education and training (VET) systems are vital to the success of dynamic, innovative economies and inclusive labour markets. Australia's VET system once provided well-established and dependable education-to-jobs pathways, but a combination of policy vandalism and fiscal mismanagement plunged the VET system into a lasting and multidimensional crisis. During the pandemic, the federal government has pursued further VET restructuring through the implementation of several wage and training subsidy programs at the cost of several billion dollars. This has deepened the "contestable market" experiment unleashed in the 2000s, by subsidising further decentralisation of course content, delivery and student recruitment to unaccountable for-profit training providers. Meanwhile, more TAFE institutes have been closed and enrolments have continued to decline (Pennington 2022, p.4).
The report details government funding and enrolment trends (driven by a legacy of failed market-based policies, underfunding and continued defunding of TAFE), reviews apprenticeships and offers two case study reviews of the Australian Government's VET policies implemented during COVID – the JobTrainer fund and Boosting apprenticeship wage subsidy. Recognising the dual economic and social benefits of VET, and considering future skills needs, the report argues a strong case for a revitalised TAFE system (Pennington 2022, pp.5–6). Noting the 'churn effect' of several short-term policy incentives, the report concludes:
This comprehensive review of vocational education and training (VET) programs in Australia confirms that Australia's VET system shows growing signs of erosion, fragmentation and dysfunction. Several high-profile government announcements during the COVID pandemic designed to address shortages of skilled labour have not altered the VET system's worrying trajectory.
VET system underfunding, declining enrolments, and dramatic falls in apprenticeship and traineeship completions paint a grim picture of a VET system starved of consistent funding or focus, fragmenting into scattered offerings of non-accredited 'micro-credential' courses, mostly provided by private for-profit training companies. (Pennington 2022, p.44).
The challenge then is if there is the political will to transform Australia's VET system into an institution that embraces relevance and flexibility with equity and learning at its core; to remove barriers that hinder equity, inclusion and quality. Further, wider institutional reform for a holistic integrated education system based on a formalised concept of LLL is required. As posited by Macklin, '[l]inear expectations of education, training and work – assumptions of steady transitions from school to work to retirement – are long outdated' (2020, p.41).
Higher education: from sectors to a lifelong learning ecosystem?
Many of the inquiries, reports, policy statements and articles discussed and/or cited here comment on the necessity for Australia to adopt a LLL perspective in its institutional framing of education and training. While LLL has long been described as a priority in Australia, it is yet to be formalised in any meaningful way through policies (e.g., McKenzie 1998; Karmel 2004; Watson ; Jobs Queensland 2020; Adult Learning Australia 2022) with sectors in education and training remaining relatively siloed despite their inter-relatedness.
Although VET is often positioned as wedged between compulsory/school-based education and that offered by universities, the adult and community sector (ACE) that offers a significant amount of VET is rendered almost invisible. Given that COVID-19 had exacerbated the policy issues that they sought to address in their equity-oriented research for post compulsory education (Zacharias & Brett 2019), Kift, Zacharias and Brett (2021) argue that the '[l]imitations of Australian HE business and operating models have been exposed' (p.26).
The equity roadmap developed in 2019 contended that 'student equity is integral to all stages of the education ecosystem and is a necessary condition for a fair, democratic, prosperous and enterprising nation' (Kift, Zacharias and Brett 2021, p.28). On revisiting their roadmap research, they discovered that:
The visibility of COVID-19's diverging impact on different social groups has seen equity considerations – across the gamut of academic, psychosocial, financial, health and personal dimensions – move from the educational periphery to the mainstream with digital poverty, financial precarity and mental wellbeing being issues that have been particularly highlighted (Kift, Zacharias and Brett 2021, p.28).
The authors assert that the 'magnitude of the social and economic challenges presented by COVID-19 warrants holistic policy responses that enable the transition to a connected tertiary education system; …designed to deliver choice and flexibility for lifelong learners' (p.26). Accepting that '[l]ifelong learning must become a practical reality for people' …and that 'future productivity is founded on the assumption of a universal entitlement to tertiary education' they developed a diagrammatic representation of a 'connected lifelong learning ecosystem' that is inclusive of various forms of formal, non-formal and informal learning that future workers are increasingly likely to access over the course of their life (Kift, Zacharias and Brett 2021, p.32). It contains many of the elements associated with VET.
It is yet another indication of the changes sought in and for education at the time when Australia faced another federal election in May 2022.
10. An equitable and inclusive VET?: some thoughts
It is well recognised that while Australia prides itself on a high-quality education system, it can be argued that currently it is neither equitable nor inclusive, with Australia ranking in the bottom third of OECD countries according to UNICEF research conducted in 2018 (Chzhen et al. 2018, pp.8, 10). Further, taking a life-course perspective, inequalities at one stage in an education system feed into later inequities (p.7).
Results indicated that 'there is no systematic relationship between country income and any of the indicators of equality in education' (Chzhen et al. 2018, p.10). Critical factors include the overall national context (political, economic, social, cultural and institutional) followed by the education system its policies and practices (p.7). While there are no such comparable measures for vocational education and training, VET is an integral sector within Australian education.
To identify what might be considered 'landmark documents' for equity and access in VET, this review has surveyed a broad sweep of approaches to and shifts in equity in the VET system – how it is understood, what measures have been taken (or not) and indeed what deep seated assumptions shape policies and practices at particular times. To better understand this and recognising both the social and economic imperatives expected of VET along with the interplay and tensions between them, this review has contextualised VET not only in selected economic and historical times but also in the broader global context. While the latter context increased in significance from reforms in the 1980s, it is now especially relevant given the many inter-related challenges facing all nations as we enter the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic.
We acknowledge that equity and inequality are sites of contested framings, and, when considered jointly with VET, together they contain most of the aspects identified as presenting 'wicked' policy problems that may be considered intractable: structural complexity, (un)knowability, knowledge fragmentation, knowledge framing (with some receiving either too much or too little attention), interest differentiation and (dysfunctional) power distribution amongst stakeholders (Head 2022, pp.120–121). While it is evident that equity policy has been regarded as a 'wicked problem', approaching it from a deficit stance has compounded this.
Australia's population has transformed in its diversity since the days of Kangan. New participatory research paradigms, including, for example, co-design and place-based approaches along with strength-based approaches are now available and have been successfully tried and tested in VET to further equitable and inclusive policy development as well as flexibility. These can be further enhanced by wider recognition and understanding of the centrality of intersectionality, its role in shaping identities and everyday lives, as well as better illustrating the complexities associated with compound disadvantage. Utilising intersectional approaches along with a gender lens offers scope for more equitable approaches to policy design and enactment than that experienced by locating people in one 'special category' target group.
As documented in the full-length review, a rich repository of research, policies and practices that have accompanied long-standing attempts to ensure that Australian VET is both accessible and equitable and inclusive as well as relevant, affordable, flexible and of high quality has been identified. Many of the answers exist within these sources, still.
While each and all the landmark documents surveyed encompass varying notions of 'equity' in and for VET, they also represent and illustrate reform and policy changes that occurred in contexts of economic and social challenge and change (nationally and globally), with highly significant economic reforms peaking in the 1980s and 1990s (1984–2001), for Australia and for VET reform. Such shifts are also located and shaped by dominant ideological approaches, including those related to concepts of equity and the provision of education and training.
Re/viewing this documented equity landscape in retrospect affords the opportunity to learn from past experiences – good and bad – while also identifying those that are still relevant and offer further potential. While we agree with Guthrie and Clayton (2018) that 'policy development and implementation might also be regarded as a something of an experiment' (p.7), perhaps there has been too much experimentation in VET, especially over the last two decades. Policymaking may well be complex and messy, but its failures hold valuable lessons. While we also concur with them that winding up ANTA was a mistake (p.8), after considering all the evidence relating to equity interventions, it can be argued that not implementing the advice of NVEAC, and especially disbanding it, was the turning point in the embedding and enacting of equity as a core principle in the VET system (Simon 2015; Burke 2022; Myconos, Dommers & Clarke 2018).
Like so many others, we also agree that a comprehensive review and reset of Australian VET is urgently needed, building on the best of what has been achieved so far but resisting more tinkering around the edges. Fortunately, as discussed in Section 9 and due in no small way to a cascade of disruptive and urgent contemporary crises, this moment in time offers a unique opportunity for the redesign of a VET system and sector that is equitable, sustainable and inclusive, within a transformed institution of education. The many documents, reports, evaluations, articles and polemics together with upcoming opportunities available through a new Australian Government and scheduled national, regional and global summits provide both the evidence and the launching pad. As ever, the test will be political will.
2. This change to the new Labor Government ended almost a decade of Coalition Governments (2013–2022). It is marked by distinctive shifts in numerous portfolios and policies that will impact vocational education and training, the national skills agenda and approaches to equity. These changes are not covered in the full-length review, or this summary.
3. Nomenclature utilised in the naming of disadvantaged groups cited throughout this paper is as it appears in the documents and so in use at the respective times. As authors we are well aware of the necessary changes in terminology over time, to that preferred at the time of writing in 2022.
4. See, for example, Blackmore (1992) relating to tensions between education and work; labour process theory and human capital theory and equity: 'Whilst human capital theory emphasizes supply-side forces of the labour market (e.g., skills possessed by individual workers) with little reference to the production process, labour process theory has tended to ignore the labour market. In the former perspective, education is an individual investment; in the latter, education systematically reproduces social inequalities based only on class. Neither has a sense of the contradictory relationships in the education-work relationship, nor how work and education must be linked to the family and the gendered subject. Nor do they recognize how various discourses or policies seeking to produce equity (equality of opportunity, vocational education) are translated differentially, even subverted, at the level of practice within specific locations and contexts' (p.358).
5. The authors accept and support the requirement to use culturally appropriate and respectful language when writing with, for or about First Nations Australians. However, sources cited in this document contain the language in use at the respective times of their publications, and so appears in nomenclature such as that used for naming utilised at a previous time and for direct quotations.
6. Intersectionality refers to the complex and cumulative way that multiple forms and effects of inequality and discrimination overlap, resulting in intersecting axes of disadvantage especially in the experiences of marginalised individuals or groups. It crosses dimensions and attributes such as gender, race, disability, age, socio-economic status, location and class. It also operates as a tool to observe, describe and analyse power imbalances.
'The term 'intersectionality' was first coined by American civil rights advocate and professor Kimberlé Crenshaw as a means of looking at intersecting social identities such as race, sexual orientation, gender identity, ethnicity, religion, disability and economic status, and how they relate to oppression and disadvantage. Many statistics demonstrate the scale of gender inequality but hide the nuances and complexities within and between the groups of people who identify as women. To achieve transformative change for gender equality, development policies and practice need to promote the rights and inclusion of all individuals' (Hedman, J, Williams, L & McDonald, L 2022, What is transformative change for gender equality and how do we achieve it?, OECD, Paris, viewed 17 Jan 2023, https://oecd-development-matters.org/2022/05/30/what-is-transformative-change-for-gender-equality-and-how-do-we-achieve-it/).
Further useful definitional information about intersectionality along with equity and inclusion is available in Victorian Government 2018, Everybody matters: inclusion and equity statement, Victorian Government, Melbourne; and/or their webpage, Understanding intersectionality, viewed 17 Jan 2023, https://www.vic.gov.au/understanding-intersectionality
7. The strategies included:' A bridge to the future: Australia's national strategy for vocational education and training 1998–2003 (ANTA 1998a); the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander education policy (DEET 1989); and a number of State and Territory based strategies. 'The strategy builds on a number of important national reforms and initiatives, including the National Training Framework, New Apprenticeships and VET in schools. These reforms and initiatives have the potential to improve VET outcomes for Indigenous people' (ANTA 2000a, p.9). Further resources are detailed on p.10 (ANTA 2000a).
8. Partners in a learning culture: blueprint for implementation from 2000 until 2005 (ANTA 2000b).
9. The development of Rebuilding Lives was managed by the TAFE Equity and Outreach Unit, TAFE and Community Education Strategic Support Services, New South Wales Department of Education and Training. The project steering committee drew its membership from correctional and education and training jurisdictions in each state and territory (ACEA 2004, p.2)
10. 'Transformative equality is described as 'arising from the recognition that equality is not necessarily about sameness. This approach recognises the need to change rules and laws in a way that includes different perspectives and not only the dominant or majority's views and experiences' (Goldschmidt 2017, p.5).
11. Dr. Anne Summers AO was First Assistant Secretary of the office of the Status of Women in Dept. of Prime Minister and Cabinet from 1983–1986.
12. The MCEETYA VEET Women's Taskforce was disbanded. It would appear that there is no further information or available documentation about this in the public domain.
13. The previous Commonwealth Department of Education, Training and Youth Affairs (DETYA) (1998–2001) was reorganised in November 2001 into the Department of Education, Science and Training (DEST) that continued until December 2007. This may go some way to explaining the lengthy delay between receiving the Evaluation and acting on it.
14. 'An overview of who makes up this group of 'women in VET' – Who is participating: 12.6% Non-English-speaking background; 2.8% Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders; 3.4% disability; 33.5% rural or remote; 64.1% capital cities or other metropolitan areas; 14.3% unemployed; 6.1% attending secondary school' (Scollay 2002, p.7, drawing on Women in VET 2000: at a glance, NCVER, p.5)
15. For example, see: Arthur, D 2019, 'The adequacy of jobseeker payments', in Parliamentary Library briefing book: key issues for the 46th Parliament, Parliamentary Library, Department of Parliamentary Services, Canberra, pp.138–141, viewed February 2023, https://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/pubs/BriefingBook46p/JobseekerPayments and Michael, L 2019, 'A sad and sorry history of Newstart', Pb News, 19 November 2019, Pro Bono Australia, Melbourne, viewed February 2023, https://probonoaustralia.com.au/news/2019/11/a-sad-and-sorry-history-of-newstart/.
16. While utilising the original document as its foundation, the UNESCO TVET Strategy has been updated and renewed for the period 2022–2029. See: https://www.unesco.org/en/articles/unesco-strategy-technical-and-vocational-education-and-training-adopted-executive-board, viewed February 2023.
17. As a signatory to the SDGs, Australia was/is mindful of them in overseas development work through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). However, the political view at that time was that they were not relevant for Australia nationally, despite that being oppositional to the commitment Personal communication with the then Minister for Education and Training)
18. Sustainable Development Solutions Network, 'Transforming Australia: SDG Progress Report', viewed February 2023, https://ap-unsdsn.org/regional-initiatives/sdgs/transforming-australia-sdg-progress-report/
19. 'The Coalition of Peaks are made up of over 70 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled peak and member organisations across Australia. The Coalition of Peak members have their own unique histories, needs and priorities, and share a commitment to legitimate community-controlled representation of our communities on matters that are important to our people. We came together as an act of self-determination to work together with Australian governments on Closing the Gap', viewed February 2023 https://coalitionofpeaks.org.au/who-we-are/
20. See: https://www.un.org/en/content/common-agenda-report/, viewed February 2023
21. See: https://www.un.org/en/transforming-education-summit, viewed February 2023
23. The three priority areas are: (i) Fostering youth employment and entrepreneurship; (ii) Promoting equity and gender equality; and (iii) Facilitating the transition to green economies and sustainable societies while the cross-cutting intervention areas include (i) Skills anticipation and assessment; (ii) Skills and qualifications recognition within and across borders; and (iii) Monitoring progress towards SDG 4 and related TVET targets.
24. 'The HLPF is the central United Nations platform for the follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at the global level. It is the apex of the architecture for follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda established by the 2030 Agenda and General Assembly resolution 70/299. …'. See: https://hlpf.un.org (links viewed February 2023)
25. See: https://www.un.org/en/transforming-education-summit, viewed February 2023
26. See: https://www.un.org/en/transforming-education-summit/action-tracks, viewed February 2023
27. For an analysis of income support in Australia during the pandemic see Davidson, P, Bradbury, B & Dorsch, P 2021, COVID income support: analysis of income support in the COVID lockdowns in 2020 and 2021.
28. JobMaker was an economic stimulus program implemented in the pandemic by the Morrison Coalition Government in 2021 as an incentive for businesses to employ additional young jobseekers
29. JobTrainer is a joint Commonwealth & State/territory governments initiative that provides additional funding to increase access to free or low fee training for young people and job seekers, and in priority programs. See: https://www.yourcareer.gov.au/fee-free-tafe, viewed February 2023
30. For example see: Atkin, M 2017 'Crippling skills shortage coming due to vocational education cuts, Business Council says', viewed February 2023, https://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-11-30/skills-shortage-coming-due-to-vet-business-council-say/9175516