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Insight issue #58 22 August 2016

Trends in VET: policy and participation

The vocational education and training (VET) sector has undergone considerable change over the last few decades, particularly in regards to policy developments and how providers and consumers are responding to the changes. Given this environment, NCVER considered it timely to reflect on the policy developments in government-funded VET over the last 20 years, and consider their influence on participation trends over the same time. This includes the overarching policy trend of expansion and opening up the VET sector, as well as three specific policy case studies within that; incentive payments for employers of apprentices and trainees, accelerated apprenticeships and entitlement models.


Policy trends: expanding the VET sector

In VET, we can see moves towards the opening-up of the sector to a broader group of people, occupations and providers. This is evident through:

  • expansion of the apprenticeships system to include traineeships
  • the promotion of accelerated apprenticeships, and the provision of incentive payments and support for apprentices from disadvantaged groups
  • the introduction of targets and training entitlements to increase the proportion of people with higher-level VET qualifications
  • the introduction of user choice and student choice approaches to funding VET, where consumers choose the provider.

While these policy developments have contributed to the overall expansion of the sector in the last few decades, there has also been an emphasis on empowering consumers by increasing their choice. This includes enabling potential students and employers to investigate courses, providers, and the employment and income outcomes of training.

Despite this emphasis on expanding the sector, we’ve also seen the rise of more targeted approaches to the allocation of funding, which is increasingly targeted at the skills and occupations needed in the labour market or local employment opportunities. Particularly in regards to incentive payments and entitlement models, where funding is now guided by various priority skills and occupations lists at both the federal and jurisdictional levels.

Participation trends: policy influencing participation

Participation trends are influenced by a range of factors, including policy interventions in all education sectors, the labour market and the economic cycle. The policy activity of the past few decades has exerted an influence on participation trends. In the three case studies used in our analysis we’ve seen:

  • The injection of incentives payments to employers has influenced the growth of apprenticeships and in particular traineeships. The removal of the incentives for occupations not on the National Skills Needs List has had a significant impact on participation in the non-trades.
  • The introduction of entitlement models has had an impact on participation trends in some states where we saw significant growth in commencements. The subsequent tightening of their entitlement models also impacted upon participation, leading to declines in student numbers. However, it is too early to discern clear trends in all jurisdictions.
  • The policy focus on accelerated apprenticeships and traineeships appears to have had an influence on completions, with more trade apprenticeships and traineeships being completed in shorter durations, particularly among adult apprentices.

Policy and participation in the future

Looking forward, the sector faces a variety of challenges and it is evident that VET is a complex multi-faceted system with many players; the approach to policy is not straightforward. We hope the forthcoming paper contributes to discussion around the development of VET policy, past, present and future, including how providers and consumers adapt to policy changes and how these changes are reflected in the participation trends.

If you’d like to see some of the participation trends yourself, check out NCVER’s historical time series for apprentices and trainees, and government-funded VET. Another useful resource is the historical timeline of apprentices and trainees, which can be found in the VOCED Plus Pod on Apprenticeships and Traineeships.

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