Academic journal article The Economic and Labour Relations Review : ELRR

Training Reform: Back to Square One?

Academic journal article The Economic and Labour Relations Review : ELRR

Training Reform: Back to Square One?

Article excerpt


One point on which theorists of industrial development agree is the need for an effective training system. Thus far Australia has shown itself unable to develop such a system, despite sustained reform efforts since the late 1980s. The failure of recent training reform has been highlighted by a number of inquiries which reported through 1999 and 2000, in particular reviews by consultant Kaye Schofield, and a crucial Senate Select Committee inquiry (see Schofield, 1999,2000; SEWRSBERC, 2000). The Australian National Training Authority (ANTA) agreed with much of this analysis (ANTA, 2000). In response, on the 8 June 2001, State Ministers for Vocational Education and Training (MOVEET) agreed to change the name of the Australian Recognition Framework (ARF) to the Australian Quality Training Framework (AQTF) (ANTA, 2001). Whether this amounts to anything more than the 'acronym engineering' that has characterised many past reform efforts--that is, whether we are 'back to square one'--remains to be seen.

There have been few critical and political attempts to trace the genesis and the general course of the training reforms, despite the flood of research coming out of the NCVER (see Here, this article seeks to make a contribution. An historical survey of the processes of reform reveals the increasing hold of economic liberalism on training policy. This is hardly surprising, but the problem is that the training policy literature identifies training as a paradigmatic instance of market failure, in the production of collective goods. To produce such goods, collective actors must impose, their will on market processes, so the latter are shaped to successful outcomes (eg Crouch, et al, 1999; Streeck, 1989). This is the nettle ungrasped by Australian training policy makers: successive governments have effectively turned training over to employers and 'the market'. Another major pitfall for training policy (as the creation of a pool of advanced skills) is the latter's subordination to employment policy (where the prime aim is to lower unemployment). While the Liberal/National Coalition Government has taken these tendencies to new (and destructive) heights, they were begun under Labor. And it is far from clear that a new Labor government will be willing or able to reverse them.

Training reform in Australia can be divided into two phases. In the first of these, discussed in section one, training reformers proposed to put in place a training system which combined elements of the German training system, stressing portability of qualifications and strong centralised unions, with the British National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) system. This initiative was known as the National Training Reform Agenda (hereafter NTRA). The NTRA was exhausted by 1993, but metamorphosed under the Keating administration through a process denoted here as the' deregulation' of the NTRA. This latter period is a pivotal one, in which the economic liberal ideas that drove training reform under the Liberals first gained a major hold on training policy.

The second phase of training reform commenced with the change of government in March 1996, and is discussed in section two. The end of the Accord, and the exclusion of union influence from policy making, characterises this period. The incoming government quickly dismantled key elements of the NTRA, and the Working Nation programs, but built on their economic liberal components. The Liberals completed the construction of a 'market' in training, and the merging of training and employment policy begun by Labor.

The third and final section of the paper reviews the results of 13 years of reform. These include a marked decline in the quality of training, a response to declining public funding and poor supervision. There has been a decline in 'real', trade-based apprenticeships, despite a rapid expansion in aggregate student numbers. One of the more deleterious effects of the reforms has been the rise of a training regime which seems as much designed to cheapen labour costs, as to deliver portable qualifications. …

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