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Skills reforms coast through

Anticipated skills reforms sailed through Friday’s Council of Australian Governments meeting without a hitch, despite state complaints that the federal government’s new funding deal left them hundreds of millions of dollars out of pocket.

Western Australia agreed to the new reforms, which include HECS-style loans for diploma students and a guaranteed ‘entitlement’ to government-subsidised training, despite threatening to scuttle the deal over a $75m funding shortfall.

Unknown quantity Queensland, whose new government is yet to reveal its skills policies, also approved the reforms.

A spokeswoman for Education and Training Minister John-Paul Langbroek said Queensland supported measures to reduce upfront cost to students as a means of increasing participation in training.

“But [Queensland] needs to be assured that the commonwealth’s proposals are affordable, will address skills shortages in Queensland and do not represent a financial risk to the state,” she added.

The reforms also include a pilot of “independent validation of training provider assessments” – essentially, third-party checks that training graduates have the skills their colleges claim to have taught them.

COAG also agreed to implement strategies enabling TAFEs “to operate effectively in an environment of greater competition”, as well as improving information about the vocational training system.

A communiqué issued after the meeting said the reforms would help an extra 375,000 students gain qualifications over the next five years.

This included “improving training enrolments and completions in high-level skills and among key groups of disadvantaged students, including indigenous Australians”.

“These reforms will support Australian businesses and drive improvements in productivity by growing the pool of skilled workers, encouraging existing workers to up skill and supporting higher levels of workforce participation.”

TAFE Directors Australia said the “historic COAG agreement” made public providers the key drivers of the reform agenda.

But CEO Martin Riordan said the extension of income contingent loans should be “accompanied by transparent and sustained investment by government, as a co-contribution to training”.

“We will be seeking input into the negotiations between commonwealth and the states on the detail of the final national partnership agreement,” Mr Riordan said.

The Australian Industry Group said COAG had reached “an important agreement that ramps up the effort in tackling endemic skill shortages and forges overdue reforms to our national training system”.

Chief executive designate Innes Willox congratulated the commonwealth, states and territories for putting aside their differences “to achieve essential reforms that will underpin the development of Australia’s current and future skilled workforce”.

“Industry will need to be involved with all levels of government to advance and shape these reforms, ensuring the required quality improvement measures deliver the outcomes sought by both industry and individuals,” Mr Willox said.

Reinvent Your Career would like to thank The Australian where this article first appeared.

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