In October last year, a report by Australia’s peak industry association warned that a second big next wave of unemployment will hit in the first quarter of 2021 when an additional 120,000 young people graduate from education with “gloomy job prospects”.
To tackle this looming crisis, the Mitchell Institute, backed by Ai Group, has proposed the creation of national 'cadet program' to help school leavers and new university graduates who have been hardest hit by COVID-19.
However, until such a program is launched in earnest, many school leavers remain uncertain about the future they’re now embarking on.
Last week, the Productivity Commission released its review of the National Agreement for Skills and Workforce Development (NASWD), finding that a new round of reform for the Vocational Education and Training (VET) system is needed to deliver a more productive workforce.
“Governments have stepped back from some of the NASWD’s policy aspirations. Targets have not been met and the performance framework has not held governments to account,” Commissioner Jonathan Coppel said.
“The guiding principle for the review is to strengthen the focus of the VET system on meeting the needs of its users – students and employers”.
According to the Australian Education Union, the report’s findings indicate that Australia will see a further narrowing of options for students and a “diminished” VET sector.
AEU federal president Correna Haythorpe said governments must ensure that Australia’s strong TAFE system is properly funded to minimise the economic consequences of the COVID pandemic.
“TAFE is the best way to ensure that Australians can access a quality and rounded education provided by industry experts, with the extra learning supports in place that make the difference between a student passing or failing a subject,” Haythorpe said.
“Therefore, it is unbelievable that the Productivity Commission would recommend increased contestability and force TAFE to compete as ‘just another provider’ in the marketplace, when TAFE generates a staggering $92.5bn in economic benefits each year, which is 16 times the annual cost of running the institution”.
Andrew Henwood, general manager of Federation TAFE, has been playing an important role in the Pathways to Technology program (P-TECH) – an education model that provides young people from diverse backgrounds with the academic, technical, and professional skills and credentials they need for competitive tech jobs.
He says vocational education and training in 2021 will play a “vital role” in the post COVID-19 recovery.
“The importance of skill development and providing opportunities through short course or full qualifications will be critical in assisting people to return to work or seek new employment opportunities,” Henwood told The Educator.
“The important role that Fed TAFE plays in partnering with industry and community will be a feature of the future landscape as we work together to meet the needs of our local communities and build economic recovery and develop the skills required for future jobs”.
Henwood has created a pastoral care team to support students facing complex mental health and social issues in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis.
“The team’s commitment to student success and ensuring a holistic approach to pastoral care in a confidential and supportive environment, is a key feature of the team’s culture,” he said.
“The team prides itself on having strong links with the local community, service providers and community health organisations”.
Henwood said it is through these links that the team is able to refer or provide dedicated support that meets the needs of individual learners.
“Through this, students can seek advice, talk about issues, or have the opportunity for advocacy in identifying or negotiating reasonable adjustments to successfully complete their studies”.