Are skill sets booming? An analysis of training package skill sets

By John Stanwick, Gitta Siekmann Research report 7 November 2019 978-1-925717-41-9


This report provides an analysis of data on training package skill sets uses data from the National Register of VET and the National Provider Collection – Total VET activity. Training package skill sets are composed of one or more units of competency from a training package and are designed to meet licensing or regulatory requirements, or a defined industry need. The report identifies how much nationally recognised training package or training package skill set activity is occurring and where. The report indicates that activity is clustered around only a small number of skill sets and a small number of training packages.


About the research

Skill sets have become recognised as an important short form of training for the modern world of work. They are seen to have a variety of purposes, including upskilling, compliance and licensing, meeting a defined industry need and as an entry pathway to further training. An analysis of nationally recognised or training package skill sets forms the specific focus of this report. The investigation uses data from the National Register of VET and the National Provider Collection — Total VET Activity.

The report identifies how much training package skill set activity is occurring and where, with the findings indicating that activity is clustered around only a small number of skill sets and a small number of training packages. The next phase of work will examine the extent to which skill set activity (training package and other) may in fact be occurring in those instances where the training is being reported as a subject enrolment (and not attached to any program). This will further our understanding of how much of this activity is occurring.

Key messages

  • The numbers of skill sets in training packages have grown over time, from 20 in 2008 to a little under 1500 existing skill sets by 2019. These skill sets are much more prevalent in some training packages than others, with over 200 skill sets in the Aeroskills Training Package, and seven current training packages with no skill sets at all.
  • Reported enrolments in training package skill sets have grown from about 58 000 in 2015 to over 96 000 in 2018. The largest skill set in terms of enrolments in 2018 was ‘Responsible service of alcohol’, followed by two ‘Work zone traffic control’ skill sets.
  • Reported enrolments in 2018 were dominated by just a small number of skill sets in  a small number of training packages. Many of the skill sets with high numbers of enrolments were compliance-related or safety-related, with some of these being refresher courses.
  • The analysis overall indicates that training package skill sets are not well utilised,  with only about 16% of them having any reported enrolments for each of the years  2015 to 2018.
  • It is interesting to observe that, despite the definition of a skill set referring to licensing or regulatory requirements, only four of the 29 units designated by Safe Work Australia as high-risk work licences are incorporated as skill sets in training packages.
  • The vast majority of skill sets were funded through fee-for-service arrangements, with government-funded training only accounting for about 10% of skill set activity in 2018.
  • The data, however, suggest that participation in skill sets can be stimulated through government subsidies, as evidenced by the rise in government-funded activity in 2016, when New South Wales provided significant government funding for training package skill sets.
  • Reported skill set enrolment activity was dominated by two states in 2018: New South Wales and Queensland, which between them accounted for over three-quarters of the enrolments.
  • Enrolments tended to be by students who were male (66%) and/or were aged over 25 (73%). In addition, over a half stated being employed (58%) and 41% stated already holding a certificate III or higher-level qualification.

Executive summary

This report presents an analysis of nationally recognised, or training package, skill sets, which are defined as: 'A single unit of competency or combination of units of competency from a training package which link to a licensing or regulatory requirement, or a defined industry need' (Australian Skills Quality Authority 2015).

The data for this analysis is drawn from National Provider Collection — Total VET Activity and the National Register of VET. Caution needs to be applied to the interpretation of the enrolment data due to significant under-reporting of these data. The analysis in this report therefore refers to data that have been reported as training package skill set data.

Skill sets and other forms of short course training are the subject of much discussion in relation to lifelong learning including upskilling and reskilling and also in terms of meeting the skilling needs of industry. In the vocational education and training (VET) sector, skill sets have now become firmly embedded in the training package landscape. From just 20 in 2008, by 2019 there were just under 1500 existing training package skill sets.

While skill sets are found in most training packages, their distribution across training packages is skewed, with just five training packages accounting for about 40% of skill sets in 2018, the largest being Aeroskills, with 215. They also vary in size: although most skill sets are comprised of between one and six units of competency (subjects), about 10% of them are composed of more than 10 units of competency, with one having 33 units.

Enrolments in training package skill sets have grown over time, but they formed only 3.7% of all program enrolments in 2018. Furthermore, enrolments are clustered in relatively few skill sets. Indeed, just 10 skill sets accounted for 68% of enrolments in 2018, with the highest enrolments being in ‘Responsible service of alcohol’, followed by two ‘Work zone traffic control’ skill sets. New South Wales and Queensland dominated skill set activity, with these two states accounting for over three-quarters of the enrolments in 2018.

A small number of training packages also dominated enrolments in 2018, with 73% of the enrolments in just three training packages — Resources and Infrastructure (33% of the enrolments), Tourism, Travel and Hospitality (21%), and Transmission, Distribution and Rail (20%). Overall, only about 16% of training package skill sets had any enrolment activity for 2018 (and it was a similar proportion for each of the earlier years, 2015—17).

It was also observed that many of the skill sets attracting high enrolments are compliance- or safety-related, some of them refresher courses. This, however, does not apply to skill sets related to high-risk licences, of which there are few and where little activity occurred in 2018.

The analysis also showed that there is little government funding of training package skill sets, only 10% overall in 2018, even in the two states with the highest skill set enrolments. There are some areas where governments do see skill sets as a priority and are willing to fund them, an example being in Queensland, where there are government subsidies for skill sets related to the roll-out of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). Overall, though, it appears that industry and individuals are willing to pay for the training, at least when it comes to the most popular skill sets. Having said that, enterprises and individuals will take advantage of any available government funding; that is to say, government funding can be a driver of skill set activity. This was seen in New South Wales, where a spike in skill set training occurred in 2016 as a result of an injection of government funding.

About two-thirds of training package skill set enrolments in 2018 were delivered by private providers, with only 17% by TAFE (technical and further education) institutes, and 13% by enterprise training providers, with the rest delivered by community education providers and university.

In terms of student characteristics, 66% of skill set enrolments were by males, 73% by people aged 25 and over, 58% who stated they were employed and 41% who stated that they already held a certificate III or higher-level qualification. Given that many of these enrolments are for compliance-related training, safety-related training or upskilling, these characteristics are not surprising.


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