The Smart and Skilled paradox in Baird’s policy

Phil Chadwick
TAFE Organiser

Bewildering policy making building and construction teachers redundant in Sydney

Australia is currently experiencing a building and construction boom. At the same time because of a lack of skilled workers in areas such as carpentry, plumbing and electrical there is also an acute skills shortage. Ironically, this coincides with high youth unemployment and low apprenticeship commencements. In September 2013, there were 417,700 apprentices in training throughout the country. By September 2015 there were only 295,300 apprentices in training. That’s a drop of 122,400 apprentices in training across the country in just two years.

For most it would be almost inconceivable that a government would consider a policy that drives TAFE institutes to make building and construction teachers redundant. Astonishingly, that is exactly what is happening right now under the Baird government’s Smart and Skilled vocation education and training funding policy in South Western Sydney Institute of TAFE.

The government’s “Smart and Skilled” contestable vocational education and training funding model funds TAFE teaching sections through a “qualification price” as determined by the NSW state training services “Skills List”. The same qualification price per student is paid to the private and TAFE providers.

The teaching section is required to hand over up to 50 per cent of the Smart and Skilled “qualification price” funding to pay for institute overheads. The remaining funds become the teaching section’s Resource Allocation Model (RAM). The funding to the teaching section is now significantly reduced under Smart and Skilled compared to the previous recurrent funding model.

The reduction of RAM has required teaching sections to adopt a number of efficiency measures: these include increasing class sizes and a compression in the face to face teaching time allocated to students.

Based on the number of delivery hours that are viable through the Smart and Skilled funding model the South Western Sydney Institute has dramatically reduced face-to-face teaching times.

In the case of carpentry and plumbing the reduction is around 30 per cent and for glass and glazing and paint and decorating, 50 per cent. Students are still required to complete the same amount of content based on the units of competency in the relevant training package but now have much less contact with teachers to do it in.

Given that apprentices in these areas can have high attrition rates teachers are extremely concerned that the reductions in face-to-face time will do little to improve completion rates.

In March, at Granville TAFE, three of the seven painting and decorating teachers were given not-so-voluntary redundancies. On April 1, redundancies were also given to three of the six glass and glazing teachers at Lidcombe TAFE. Five of the 33 carpentry teachers across TAFE colleges at Chullora, Miller and the MacArthur Building Industry Skills Centre are to go at the end of the month.

The South Western Sydney Institute also has a change management proposal in place to cut six out of the 20 plumbing teachers at the Granville and Miller Colleges.

The reduction in staffing numbers mirrors the reduction in face-to-face teaching. The building and construction industry boom is bucking the downward trend in declining apprenticeship commencements. Because student numbers are strong enough in the case of painting and decorating and glass and glazing, following the redundancies of full time teachers additional part time casual hours were allocated to service classes.

In 2015, a strict new eligibility criteria for government subsidised training and fee structure caused a dramatic reduction and in enrolments in some areas. Any drop in student enrolments results in a reduction of smart and skilled funding. Changes were also made to the VET Fee-Help loans scheme. This affects the teaching section’s RAM, and the teaching section’s budget can slip into the red.

TAFE institutes are conducting “product and service reviews” to “better align staffing levels to student need”. Declining student numbers will also be a trigger for teacher redundancies.

A review of the Granville electrical engineering teaching section will see four of the nine teachers and one technical officer made redundant despite a decision to revise the student eligibility criteria. To date, around 300 South Western Sydney Institute teachers and support staff have received redundancies since 2012.

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