Margherita Caggiano No Comments

Message from the Chair – March 2019

An Australian who has led one of our largest and most successful international companies very recently described our environment as a “walled garden”. It was not a compliment on Australia’s horticultural skills. In fact it describes a crippling characteristic.

For a couple of decades the global markets and industrial integration have been the drivers of change. Opportunities have abounded, creating and recreating enterprises in the mature economies and transforming nations as diverse as China, India and Indonesia. In the education sector Australia has had a flood of foreign students into its universities and colleges. Yet it is quite hard to find a sign of any integration of Australian enterprise, including those in education.

The experience with Sustainable Skills in working with a variety of national authorities, many of them near neighbours, has defined a tangible and relatively simple means of delivering what sales folk call a win-win. Both Australians and the citizens of neighbours have the opportunity for considerable benefit if we can work to build a higher standard of vocational training across the region.  Australia has good standards and a lot of knowledge in what works and Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Myanmar and possibly India demonstrate both the potential and desire to take advantage of Australian expertise.

My own learning from the experience in recent years with Sustainable Skills is that “walled garden” thinking is holding back what is a golden opportunity. Our leaders in vocational training are very often driven solely by a single dimension of the potential of their resources. That is, they want to fill the channel of students to their Australian facilities. In effect, there is no distinction between domestic and foreign students. Yet the scale of demand is massively greater than that.

If we take Indonesia as an example, the national priority is in building infrastructure. The Widodo Government has been wholly focused for at least three years on an ambitious plan to expand energy supply, transport and shipping and logistics and to rapidly increase the supply of international standard tourism resources. Very early in that process the Government discovered that the supply of skilled people was nowhere near the scale required and now the upgrade of Indonesian vocational education and training is a personal priority of the President.

The opportunity for Australia is to help Indonesia to create an Indonesian vocational education system. Sustainable Skills has found – in Indonesia and quite a few other countries – that the fundamentals of the Australian approach are both well suited and pragmatic solutions to what is often a complex problem. The flexibility of a modular competency-based system has many practical attractions and accommodates the need for people to acquire skills incrementally. The strong industry involvement in competency design and assessment is hugely important in assuring an effective outcome for workers in training and in building commitment and engagement in labour markets where skills standards have been patchy.  In short, it is quite possible that a strategic effort to build capacity in the region would create a higher standard of skills across our neighbourhood, sharply improving economic and social progress and establishing a strong and healthy basis for social and economic exchange. In commercial terms, Australian TVET would create a natural client base through pathways that allow foreign students to acquire specialised skills.

While many Australian institutions have invested heavily in international programs there is very little evidence of anything that is much more than extensions of Australian activity. That is, in our experience, where the greater value and opportunity is located. While many have been entranced by the opportunities that emerged in Japan and China over the past 50 years, somehow Australians have overlooked our nearest neighbour – a country that is expected to rank fourth globally in the size of its economy by 2050.

It’s way past time that Australian leaders knocked down any walls and let the roses run free for a while. There are risks, but the prospective rewards are almost immeasurable.

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Margherita Caggiano No Comments

Message from the Chair – May 2018

Australians sometimes take for granted the excellent educational services and experiences available to us. Not only are they central to the progress of our community and its citizens, but they have become important contributors in an economy that has gradually moved toward an increasing level of service exports.

Yet, despite Australia’s success in attracting fee-paying foreign students, we have left untested very large opportunities to extend the value of our education capabilities and expertise.

For some time now the fastest growing economies of the world have been in formerly underdeveloped nations. Gradually, many of those nations have established stronger economic performance and slowly they have improved governance and other factors that attract the catalyst of larger scale investment. The opportunity becomes one of compounding growth and rising prosperity.

In country after country, Sustainable Skills has found a new apetite for skills training. Specifically, vocational training that has a high degree of alignment with industry demand and a practical design that supports the needs of low income communities. The Australian model, with its well established industry based competencies and modular course design, is very often the preferred choice for both qualitative and pragmatic reasons.

For example, Myanmar’s new democratic government has hoped to promote rapid economic improvement on the back of the removal of international sanctions. Yet it’s education system so far has been simply unable to provide skilled people. In the course of revising its entire education system, Myanmar’s Government elevated vocational education from nowhere to top of the list. As the nation’s most consistent long term supporter, Australia has an edge in what should become a dynamic growth market.

Even more obvious is the opportunity in Indonesia. President Widodo has elevated infrastructure investment to the top priority and has an enormous investment agenda. In this case it appears likely that a major constraint will be skills. Already, key projects like the Jakarta metro are heavily staffed by foreigners – a practice that Indonesia simply can’t sustain. Again, Australian vocational education is the preferred model.

Ethiopia, Vietnam, Malaysia, India and many other developing markets are looking for the means to fast track vocational education improvements. Not all of these opportunities is straight forward and no one would advocate a rush of investments in Australian-styled institutions is environments with very different economic and social drivers, not to mention much lower incomes. But the risks can be managed and the scale requirements beyond the initial capacity-building are manageable. Yet so far, most of the activity by Australian providers in these markets has a focus on accreditation, implying some of sort of local delivery of Australian courseware. This has been demonstrated time and again to be impractical.

Sustainable Skills has a menu of very interesting opportunities that we will continue to explore and develop.  Each requires a local focus and strong guidance from experienced Australian specialists. This will take time, but we are confident that strong results will emerge from the application of that Australian expertise. We’d welcome partners or supporters in any of these projects.

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Margherita Caggiano No Comments

Message from the Chair-August 2017

Michael Gill-Sustainable Skills Chair of the Board

One of the remarkable success stories in Australia’s recent economic history has been in tertiary education. Australian institutions have attracted very large numbers of foreign students and have developed a strong reputation, especially in our immediate region. Up to now, much of this has been the result of economic growth and rising middle class, notably in India and China. Most of this activity has been in and around Australian universities in Australia.

Sustainable Skills has developed a strong position in what may be a second wave of Australian education’s potential in our region and elsewhere. We have found that the Australian model of vocational education is both a natural fit and the preferred solution to a critical issue.

Substantial investment and opportunity has arisen in many communities in recent years as a result of improved governance or political reform. Where that has occurred it is common that governments find one substantial hurdle to the delivery of economic benefit. That hurdle is the lack of effective skills. Our work in many countries has been prompted by a realisation that vocational education and training is a critical component of economic development. In many cases, vocational education has been established but it is not aligned with today’s workplace. Or the courses are too expensive for people in low income communities. Or the standards are not effectively applied to ensure that students are correctly accredited. In some cases, there is no system, but a mixture of institutions aligned with different economic players in what often was a narrowly defined labour market.

Over many years, vocational education and training in Australia has refined characteristics that make it both effective and flexible in ways that are highly applicable in the situation of developing economies. Industry alignment is vitally important, providing the means to maximise the potential for job-ready students. Modular course design means that students may acquire skills incrementally, avoiding the often impractical requirement for years of full time study. Strong standards and accreditation management provide confidence and enhance the marketability of skills acquired. These are key attributes in our work today in a number of countries.

Some of our greatest opportunities are ahead. Indonesia and Myanmar are two neighbours in focus for us.

Indonesia, Australia’s nearest neighbour, has been on a path of gradual reform for almost 20 years. In recent years, steady economic progress has led to the ambitious program of President Joko Widodo for massive infrastructure investment. This program aims to deliver enormous expansion in power generation, large increments of transport infrastructure and a series of new facilities at key ports. Anyone familiar with Indonesia’s business conditions would be aware of the need for these improvements and of the value they will bring. But they will require millions of skilled people that today are not available in Indonesia.

Myanmar’s political reform came at a rapid pace from 2011, with first a relaxing of extremely tight controls by the military regime and then a popular election in November 2015 that returned an overwhelming majority to the democratic opposition, the National League for Democracy. However, the military-socialist regime in place from 1962 has left a large problem: Myanmar’s social infrastructure – its public service, legal system, education – is in poor condition, a brake on what could be quite rapid economic and social progress.

In our work we have witnessed in both Indonesia and Myanmar the gradual recognition of vocational education as a vital strategic factor and a high priority in public policy. In both cases, leading figures in government have indicated that the Australian system of vocational education is preferred.

Myanmar’s National Education Strategy Plan was released early this year after a number of years’ background research. The NESP gives high priority to vocational education, a new status that reflects both the urgent need to improve the employment prospects of younger people and the gap in skills available to meet the nation’s needs. As Myanmar implements its strategy for education, Sustainable Skills aims to play a number of roles in both supporting the execution of the plan and assisting with projects that increase the quality and supply of education and training places.

Indonesia’s focus on vocational education is at least partly driven by the demands of major projects that are in active planning. The imperative is very close to having deadlines. Our focus has been to offer support in policy development, consulting on specific sectoral projects and to work with potential local players in providing expertise to back new suppliers to the sector.

The flexibility of Sustainable Skills’ resources and well established background in the reality of providing strong outcomes has proven to be attractive to communities with real needs and opportunities. We are at an early stage of what presents at present as an extremely promising path.

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