The Liberal–National Coalition won the 2013 federal election. Under the leadership of the new Prime Minister, Tony Abbot, this newly-elected government made some quick decisions about Australia’s vocational education and training (VET) system.
- It abolished the National Quality Council (NQC) and replaced it with the Australian Industry and Skills Committee (AISC)
- It abolished the Industry Skills Councils (ISCs) and replaced them with Industry Reference Committees (IRCs) supported by Skills Service Organisations (SSOs).
The stated aim was to streamline the training package development and endorsement process so that there would be a faster response to the needs of industry. But the change also eliminated the involvement of unions. The ISCs had been established as bipartite organisations representing employers and employees. This change was underpinned by an ideological desire to remove any possible influence of the union movement. The new arrangements were implemented at the beginning of 2016.
In November 2018, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a short-duration review of Australia’s VET system. This review culminated in the ‘Strengthening Skills: Expert Review of Australia’s Vocational Education and Training System’ report, also known as the Joyce Report. It recommended significant and fundamental changes. These proposed changes to VET were taken to the 2019 federal election when Scott Morrison ‘miraculously won’ and was returned as Prime Minister.
The recommendations from the Joyce Report was transformed into the VET Reform Roadmap, now known as Skills Reform. One fundamental change is to abolish the current arrangements for the development and endorsement of training packages. The IRCs and SSOs will be replaced by Industry Clusters, up until recently referred to as Skills Organisations (SOs).
It is unbelievable that the government is so willing to trash its own creation. Why change the training package development and endorsement process, again? Is this an admission that what it had created failed after only two years in operation? Is anyone going to be held responsible for this failure?
The stated aim for the new proposed arrangements is to streamline the training package development and endorsement process so that there will be a faster response to the needs of industry. We have heard that before. This change is also underpinned by an ideological desire to make industry ‘pay’ rather than the government. Will industry want to pay? I think the only way the industry would pay for the development and endorsement of training packages is if the government gives it the money to do so.
Structure before 2016
Eleven Industry Skills Councils (ISCs) were funded by the Australian Government to develop and maintain Training Packages. For a short period of time there was a twelfth ISC for the automotive industry. Then, Australia stopped manufacturing cars. This certainly diminished the power of this short-lived ISC.
The following is a list of the ISCs that were operating in 2015:
- Agrifood Skills Australia
- Automotive Skills Australia
- Community Services and Health ISC
- Construction and Property Services ISC
- ElectroComms and Energy Utilities ISC
- Forest Works
- Government Skills Australia
- Innovation & Business Skills Australia
- Manufacturing Skills Australia
- Service Skills Australia
- Skills DMC
- Transport and Logistics ISC.
Each ISC had industry sector committees. Members of these committees were representatives of the various industry-sectors that came under the umbrella for the ISC.
And Training Packages were endorsed for implementation by the National Quality Council (NQC). Members of the NQC were representatives of industry. Therefore, Training Packages were being endorsed by industry (rather than by government or a government agency). This was fundamental to the Australian VET system being industry-led.
Structure between 2016 and 2022
Currently, there are 67 Industry Reference Committees (IRCs) and six Skills Service Organisations (SSOs). Each SSO provides service to several IRCs. Training Packages are endorsed by the Australian Industry and Skills Committee (AISC). Members of the AISC are meant to be representative of industry. The main change from the previous structure was the removal of the Industry Skills Councils (ISCs), there by removing unions from positions of influence.
Proposed structure for after 2023
Nine ‘Industry Clusters’ have been proposed:
- Agribusiness and Food Production
- Arts and Personal Services
- Building, Construction and Property
- Early Educators, Health and Human Services
- Finance, Technology and Business
- Government, Education and Public
- Manufacturing, Print and Textiles
- Mining, Resources and Energy
- Wholesale, Retail, Transport and Logistics.
The government reserves the right to alter the clustering.
The proposed structure seems very similar to what we had prior to 2016. However, the Industry Clusters may not be bipartite organisations. And there is an early indication that not all Industry Clusters are going to be truly representative of industry. The true industry representation will come from the re-establishment of Industry Sector Committees.
The following table compares the proposed Industry Clusters with the Industry Skills Councils. A few slight differences but nothing major.
The new proposed change is a semi-return to what we previously had. Like a merry-go-round, we seem to be going around in a circle. Moving but not going anywhere. Will the training package development and endorsement process be faster? Probably not. Will the training package development and endorsement process be better? Probably not. Will people stop complaining about the training package development and endorsement process? Probably not.
There are other significant changes proposed. It is planned to replace Training Packages with Industry Skills Standards. Therefore, one day in the future, we will be talking about the ‘industry skills standards development and endorsement process’. At least that will end the constant complaining about Training Packages.
 https://www.skillsreform.gov.au/reforms/industry-engagement-reforms/ accessed 24 January 2022
 https://www.skillsreform.gov.au/faqs/industry-engagement-faq/ accessed 24 January 2022
 https://www.skillsreform.gov.au/papers/factsheet-ie-architecture/ accessed 24 January 2022
 https://www.skillsreform.gov.au/reforms/qualifications-reforms/ accessed 24 January 2022