Market Rules?

Market Rules?

Market Rules?  Where are women in skills provision in 21st century vocational education and training?  This paper was given at the recent NCVER conference 7/8 July 2015 in Sydney, by WAVE National Convenor Linda Simon

Market rules? Where are women in skills provision in 21st century vocational education and training?

Linda Simon, WAVE National Convenor*

Elaine Butler, WAVE Past National Co-Convenor/WAVE Ambassador*

In 1999, Butler and Ferrier wrote a landmark report for NCVER entitled ‘Don’t be too polite girls’.  As part of this extensive literature research and review, the authors noted that women’s participation rate in VET had improved, but that there were continuing problems, including women “... clustering in fields of study and at lower levels, less employer support for external training, under-representation and low completion rates in apprenticeships in non-traditional areas ...”. (1999:vii) They also observed that the diminishing commitment to equity in a marketised VET system would present even greater challenges for many women.  (Butler and Ferrier, 1999)

Sixteen years have passed, with the VET system being subject to ongoing significant changes including the 2012 agreement on a new market-driven funding model for vocational education. “Markets require a rationing of education, and the creation of hierarchies and mechanisms of competition”. (Connell, 2013:99) VET is now a highly complex public/private industry firmly located with/in a competitive market place. What has this meant for women and girls engaging in VET?  

Drawing on our research over this period, this paper considers equity and gender equity in C21 VET provision, especially in light of the G20 commitment by Australia (amongst other countries) to reduce the gap in workforce participation rates between men and women by 25% within the next 10 years.  

The marketised VET system in Australia has recently seen the demise of the National VET Equity Advisory Council (NVEAC) and little focus on equity and equality.  Have we moved on since 1999, or are women and girls facing the same challenges as then? Could the situation be even worse as a result of government commitment to markets in education?

This paper compares the VET landscapes of 1999 and 2015, focusing on equity policy, framing equity and equity-related strategies, and implications for women.

The focus of the 2015 59th Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW 59) was that of Beijing +20, a review of the progress of the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which is considered the global agenda for women’s empowerment to promote equality, development, and peace for all women. The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action was adopted by the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995. The Platform for Action reaffirms the fundamental principal that the rights of women and girls are an "inalienable, integral and indivisible part of universal human rights."  CSW 59 expressed concern that 20 years after the Fourth World Conference on Women, no country has fully achieved equality and empowerment for women and girls.

The UN Sustainable Development Goals call on Governments to:

Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all” (SDG 4)  & “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls” (SDG 5) – Open Working Group (2014)

The G20 countries in Australia in November 2014 made a commitment to reduce the gender gap in workforce participation by 25% by 2025.

The summit acknowledged that one of the world's most significant barriers to global economic growth is the persistently low level of women's participation in the workforce compared with men's.

G20 leaders announced that by increasing female labour participation by 25% over the next 15 years, they would bring 100 million women into the workforce – thereby allowing the G20 countries to reach their goal to increase global economic growth by 2.1% by 2018.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the target is a "clear aspiration".

"An extraordinary achievement if we can deliver on this, but it is a clear aspiration and it is an achievable accountable goal," he told ABC News.

It is in this global context that WAVE has been researching and campaigning for over 25  years to support women and girls in adult and vocational education.  The UN goals are admirable, and the commitment of the G20 countries as it should be, but do words translate into action in Australia?

In 1999, Butler and Ferrier wrote a landmark report for NCVER entitled ‘Don’t be too polite girls’.  As part of this extensive literature research and review, the authors noted that women’s participation rate in VET had improved, but that there were continuing problems, including women “... clustering in fields of study and at lower levels, less employer support for external training, under-representation and low completion rates in apprenticeships in non-traditional areas ...”. (1999:vii) They also observed that the diminishing commitment to equity in a marketised VET system would present even greater challenges for many women.

Have we moved on since 1999, or are women and girls facing the same challenges as then? Could the situation be even worse as a result of government commitment to markets in education?

Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) spokesperson Yolanda Beattie said when the G20 communique was released in 2014 that the G20 target could only be reached by addressing all the embedded workplace structures that disadvantage women.

"There is no silver bullet. It begins with a deep understanding of all of the systemic barriers to women's full participation in the workforce," she told Women's Agenda.

"Every key decision maker needs to understand that the workforce is not a level playing field, and they need to understand why this is the case and then make a commitment to addressing every single element of women's disadvantage at work".

Beattie said there were three key "levers to pull" in terms of lifting female workforce participation:

1. Social change – we need to create new social norms that see men sharing domestic and caring duties and that change stereotypes around the types of work undertaken by men and women.

2. Policy change – we need to establish clear policy to break down barriers to female workforce participation, such as providing affordable childcare and reducing disincentives for women to work more hours and more days.

3. Workplace change – we need to make sure all individual employers are focusing on eliminating workplace inequalities such as wage gaps and underrepresentation of women in leadership pipelines.

"Progress on lifting female workforce participation has been very slow and sometimes feels intractable, but if we can pull all of these levers at the same time and with commitment and focus, it is very achievable," Beattie said.

She said it was significant that the G20 leaders had made a firm commitment on gender equality, but that the leaders would need to work hard to translate the commitment into action.

Social change, policy change and workplace change have also been the focus of WAVE’s work, pursued through the lens of vocational and adult education, as providing pathways for women and girls to sustainable careers and lifelong learning. Yet, as recognised by the UN and G20, gender equality has not been achieved with the consequent impact on the economy and society in general.

In her speech that launched the Australian Human Rights Commission’s program ‘Women in male-dominated industries: A toolkit of strategies’ on 21 May 2013, Elizabeth Broderick the Sex Discrimination Commissioner said:  “On the whole, in 2013 we have not fully harnessed the invaluable contribution women can make – particularly in industries such as mining, construction and utilities.  These industries represent a thriving part of Australia’s economy, and as they continue to grow, both men and women can make an increasing contribution to their expansion and success.”

In 1999, Butler and Ferrier wrote that: “The business of equity has never been central to the ‘real’ business of VET.  There is little understanding of what equity means at a national level and there is a reluctance among policy makers to act on recommendations of equity-related research which call for structural or systemic changes that would see equity become a central organising principle within the VET system.”

They noted that in general “women’s goals recognised both the ‘education’ and ‘training’ aspects of VET and often reflect a lifelong learning focus”, and therefore called for educational arrangements that reflected these needs. In this report they wrote of how from the beginning of the Australian VET system in 1993 with the establishment of the Australian National Training Authority (ANTA), women were marginalised, structurally and systemically, but felt that with increasing participation and success by women in VET that this was changing.  However, they also expressed concerns that against a backdrop of increasing neo-liberalism that policy shifts included the decline of units and officers within public VET responsible for promoting and supporting women learning and working in VET, gender equity programs were being diminished..  Changes included the rise of mainstreaming’ and ‘diversity planning’ as ways to achieve equity.

In 2006, Butler and Ferrier wrote a further paper for the Journal of Vocational Education and Training, entitled: “Asking difficult (feminist) questions:  the case of ‘disappearing’ women and policy problematic in Australian VET”.  This was six years after their literature review for NCVER, and they noted that whilst in 1999 gender equity policies and public practices were still evident, by 2006 they found the position of women in VET ‘highly problematic’.  By this time ANTA had been dismantled and VET positioned within a Federal Government bureaucracy. VET had become ‘the training and skills sector’.

They noted that the dominant ‘official’ view about women in VET was encapsulated in the following statement, which accompanied the 2006 round of funded research for VET in Australia, and that despite women making up over 48% of all VET students in Australia, that there didn’t appear to be any ‘real’ women’s issues in VET:

“For several years the focus of national research effort has been on various social groups in VET including young people, women, people in rural and regional areas, people with a disability, Indigenous Australians and people form non-English speaking background... Research showed that women as a whole are doing well in VET and should no longer be seen as (an) equity group... A specific national VET strategy has since been developed for women that aims to integrate programs supporting women into mainstream planning.” (NCVER 2005)

In this same year, 2006, Damon Anderson produced a report for NCVER entitled ‘Trading places: the impact and outcomes of market reform in vocational education and training.’ In what he called a ‘quasi-marketplace’, students and learners were positioned as minor clients of VET, far behind industry the main client, and the needs of particular groups of students all but ignored.

With reference to Simon Marginson’s work in the 1990s, Butler and Ferrier noted that the re-regulated VET system of the mid 2000s , identifying and meeting demand for particular skills required by big industry and enterprises, had come to dominate decision-making.  This was at a time when central government funding for VET was declining in real terms, and an increasing share of this funding being directed to privatised, mostly for-profit organisations.  Student financial contributions to their VET courses were also increasing.  Butler and Ferrier note that:  “support services and access-related initiatives are forced to compete against credentialed, contractualised ‘outcomes’.” (Butler & Ferrier, 2006, p. 583)

In 2006, Butler and Ferrier reflected on two major challenges for women in the labour market.  The first was that the Australian labour market was one of the most highly gender-segregated amongst the OECD countries.  Women have traditionally clustered in a small number of industries including health and community services, education, clerical and sales, and hospitality, with a small number working in the traditionally male dominated areas of mining, construction and manufacturing.  Providing opportunities through education and employment for women to expand their labour force participation, continues to remain a challenge as we shall see.  The second was that women occupied many of the casual and lowly paid hobs.  Both of these themes continue through the literature, up until 2015.

Pocock  pointed out in 2005 that whilst almost two-thirds of women aged 15-64 are in the labour force, almost half of them are in part-time work.  This continues to be an issue, where many women with dependent children are clustered in poorly paid areas.  In 2005 women earned 85% of full-time adult males’ ordinary earnings. (Pocock & Masterman-Smith, 2006).  Pocock and Masterman-Smith also warned of concerns with the introduction of Australian Workplace Agreements, and their impact on many women in terms of negotiating their own wages and conditions. In 2006, the concerns remained despite increased numbers of women studying in VET, that women were by-and-large located in feminised study areas, and that their successful achievements in training were not translated into equitable market outcomes.

In 2005, NCVER recognised that:

* Women were less likely to be employed upon completion of their course or subject, with a 7% lower employment rate than men.

* Women chose training mainly in the fields of business, administration and economics (26.4% compared with 12.8% of male trainees), and health, community and services (12.3% compared with 5.7% of male trainees)

* Fewer women were participating in apprenticeships and traineeships.  Women’s apprenticeships were also less likely to be in non-traditional fields, in favour of intermediate clerical, sales and services (62%), elementary clerical, sales and services (11.1%), and trades (8.7%)

* Women teaching in VET reflected industry and occupational gender segregation.  Access to training, professional learning and return to industry programmes, particularly for those precariously employed, inhibits career advancement for women working part-time or casually in VET (Dickie & Fitzgerald, 2004)

Economic security4Women (eS4W), one of the six women’s alliances, funded a project in 2009 undertaken by (WAVE) and called “Women and VET:  Strategies for Gender Inclusive VET Reform”.  The researchers, Miles and Rickert wrote of the male dominated VET system, and the struggle that VET had undertaken to “offer programs that appealed to women and, more importantly, enable them to gain sustainable employment outcomes commensurate with their skill and qualification.” (Miles and Rickert, 2009, p. 5)  More importantly they went on to say that there was a “link between women’s long-term economic security and equitable access to, participation in, and outcomes from vocational education and training.  Vocational education and training offers a pathway, they said, to unemployed and underemployed Australians and up-skilling or career progression for existing workers.  Research demonstrates that targeted women’s programs within VET lead to increased individual agency, well-being and overall levels of community capacity.” (Miles and Rickert 2009, p. 7)  They also reported that while the number of women and girls studying in VET continues to increase, research demonstrates that the VET system is still not equitable, especially for disadvantaged women and girls, nor does participation in VET lead to equitable employment outcomes for many women.

In 2011, WAVE undertook research entitled:  “I can’t think of any occupation women can’t do!”  - Career Pathways for Women and Girls:  Emergent and Non-traditional Occupations and Industries (Viable Work).  This work again noted that:

* women are concentrated in feminised fields of training and work

* women are under-represented in emerging and growth areas with better than average remuneration opportunities, such as ‘green’ industries, technology, mining and managerial occupations

* women are concentrated in casual and part-time work, which makes them vulnerable in times of economic downturn while also providing them with less opportunity for work-based training and career progression

* women’s earnings on average are below those of men

* significantly more women than men live in poverty at or below the poverty line

The Equity Research Centre 2003 and 2004 stated that “many girls and women appear to still be on track for occupations that perpetuate fragmented working biographies, insecurity and low pay.  It is important that informed and expert career counselling is cognisant of gender traps in the labour market and in training trajectories for girls and women.  Information is available about skills shortages new skills required and emergent career opportunities in areas where women are underrepresented both in VET courses and employment...”

In 2014, WAVE undertook further research for eS4W, entitled: ‘Hard Hats, Robots and Lab Coats: Broadening the career options of young women:  Women and girls into non-traditional occupations and industries:  career exploration – options for secondary schools students’.  In this research which included a national survey of stakeholders, we found that: Despite Australian young women outperforming their male peers in many of the key achievement indicators in secondary school, there are far fewer young women than young men entering employment in many of the in-demand and high-income occupations and in employment-based training opportunities in traditional trades.  (Rothman et all 2011)  This reflected the broader gender segregated patterns in Australia’s workforce, where in the industries of construction, mining and utilities, women accounted for only around 12%, 15% and 23% of employees respectively.  We found that the constraints included:

* gender stereotypes and perceptions around certain career options for young women are still reinforced within schools and create barriers to widening young women’s participation in STEM and non-traditional areas

* career exploration activities are not successful when they fail to respond to existing interests and capabilities of young women

* negative experiences and/or perceptions of workplace cultures in industries and occupations with low female participation discourage young women’s participation in associated study pathways in both STEM and non-traditional careers

* the need for funded sustainable resourcing for schools to ensure a range of career development programs for students throughout their secondary years

The research outlines a number of strategies and possible models that could be adopted by government to help address these continuing issues.  It is interesting how these findings in 2014 relate so closely to the words of Yolanda Beattie from WGEA in relation to the need for social change, policy change and workplace change, and when we consider this research in 2014, it appears little has changed since 1999 in terms of equity policy, framing equity and equity-related strategies, and implications for women.

Market rules? 

What effect has the market had on VET, equity and opportunities for women and girls?

Connell (2013) in ‘The Neo-liberal cascade in education’ states: “Neoliberalism has a definite view of education , understanding it as human capital formation.  It is the business of forming the skills and attitudes needed by a productive workforce- productive in the precise sense of producing an ever-growing mass of profits for the market economy....  Once a neoliberal policy regime had been established, around the mid-1980s, a cascade of reforms followed which brought every institutional sector under the sway of market logic.  Education is a major example.  Increasingly, education has been defined as an industry and educational institutions have been forced to conduct themselves more and more like profit-seeking firms.  Policy changes across the sector have been introduced by different governments, state and federal, in different forms. But the policy changes all move in the same direction – increasing the grip of market logic on schools, universities and technical education.” Connell goes on to say that as a consequence the TAFE workforce was ruthlessly restructured.  The public education rationale of further education was sidelined into a separate user-pays market regarded as hobby courses, and technical education became another export industry.

She goes on to say in her recent paper for the 2015 AVETRA conference that by 2012 there was evidence that the effects of open competition significantly accelerated the decline in TAFE market share, with reductions in funding for TAFE: $80 million in NSW, $78.8 million in Queensland and $300 million in Victoria, and that these cuts fell on particular categories of students and educators.  In Victoria courses with over 60% female enrolments were disproportionately targeted.  Courses popular with women were cut by 85% while apprenticeships that disproportionately enrolled men were cut by 6%.  (Victorian TAFE Association, 2013)

In her conclusion, she says:  “... the marketisation of VET and the erosion of public education in the form of TAFE mark another moment in the long struggle between capitalism and democracy as regimes of governing, which has implications for the way we make futures.  The fact of declining TAFE market share in the VET market provides evidence of education being opened up to profit-making interests, an expansion of commercial territory through the design of curriculum and assessment, control of educational work, who has access to learning spaces and resources, and under what conditions of indebtedness.  These trends are not total, ... but they do turn schooling (education) over to agencies where profitability rather than civility is the primary imperative.”

This was echoed in one of the John Mitchell Campus Review interviews, with executive director of Group Training Association of Victoria Gary Workman, has expressed concerns with the impact of the VET reforms on young people including young women. “The Victorian budget in May 2013 reduced the funding for training in fields such as retail, hospitality and business administration, and this has had a larger impact on the options of young females than on young males.”  He goes on to say that a “lot of the programs that females have traditionally gone into are the ones that have been heavily affected by the new funding arrangements.”

In a marketised sector of education, as outlined by Connell, Seddon and others, where do equity and the concerns of women and girls stand?

As part of its social inclusion agenda which made the case for social justice and fairness, the Rudd Government established the National VET Equity Advisory Council (NVEAC) in 2009 to provide advice to the Ministerial Council for Tertiary Education (MCTEE), on how the VET sector could support learners who experienced disadvantage to achieve better outcomes from VET.  In 2011, NVEAC published its Equity Blueprint which was a result of discussions with stakeholders and identification of examples of good practice.  NVEAC set itself the task of ‘embedding equity into the DNA of VET’.  One of the NVEAC targets was to change the VET systems and processes so that those who experienced disadvantage were able to access and participate in education and training and achieve outcomes in the same way as those who were not disadvantaged by our social, cultural and economic systems.  Women were one of the six identified groups.

The six areas of reform were:

* adopting a sustainable investment approach to funding VET

* measuring and reporting performance in terms of how the system deals with those who experience disadvantage

* building the capability of the VET workforce

* embedding support for foundation skills development

* embedding pathway planning and partnerships as part of the VET system

* listening to the voice of the learner when designing the VET system and continuously improving its services

The Allen Consulting Group undertook a report for NVEAC in 2011 to consider the impact of competitive tendering and contestable funding on access and equity. As part of their report they detailed what concerns representatives of some equity groups expressed with contestable funding models:

* the risk that in market based systems, those with the most intensive and costly learning needs, and those in geographic  areas where provision was not economic, would face reduced access as providers concentrated on the profitable end of the market

* that competition would focus on price efficiency, volume and easily measurable outcomes, and not on harder to measure outcomes such as initial learner engagement and engagement with local communities. Furthermore, reduced prices from increased competition would compromise intensive learner support and limit providers capacity to flexibly use resources to meet learner needs

* that cooperation and collaboration rather than competition between providers would deliver more effective outcomes 

* that learners with major learning needs and with significant and multiple disadvantages would not be in a position to make informed choices

* the risk of loss of continuity of provision and expertise as well as local capacity – so that RTOs will not invest in long term capabilities to deal with complex needs of disadvantaged learners

NVEAC’s work was rolled into AWPA (Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency) for  a short time, before it too was cut by the Abbott government in 2014 as it parred back the consultative and independent agencies around the VET system.

What about 2015?

In 2015, Senator Michaelia Cash, Minister assisting the Prime Minister for Women, in a media release entitled ‘Women at the forefront of a productive Australia’, said:  “If Australia could match Canada with six percent more women in the paid workforce, the Australian economy would increase by about $25 billion each year.  And raising women’s workforce participation to the same level as men’s would boost the Australian economy by $195 billion.... More women in the workforce will strengthen our country’s economic resilience, increase family incomes, and ultimately boost Australia’s economic growth.... We are partnering with industry and key organisations to improve incentives, remove barriers, enhance skills and support women’s leadership aspirations through education and mentoring.”

She also supported the political declaration from CSW59, welcoming the commitments to achieving gender equality and empowerment of women and girls and said Australia would continue to work towards implementing the called-for concrete actions.

But just the year before, the Federal Budget slashed funding to a range of VET programs, many of which supported women.  WAVE that year made a presentation to the Senate Inquiry into the Budget cuts, and pointed out that for over 700,000 female VET students, the Budget’s focus on initiatives supporting apprentices would be of little assistance, given that women were under-represented in apprenticeships, and that apprentices were only a small proportion of VET effort. The Industry Skills Fund of $476 million over four years specifically targeted male dominated industries with skills shortages, and cuts were made to Workplace English language program, amongst others.

Cuts to VET programs and overall funding (on average by 26% per contact hour between 2004 and 2013, now less that $13 per hour) will affect many groups of students, including women and girls.  We explained that women who wished to return to the workforce by gaining new skills or updating or upgrading their skills would find courses increasingly unaffordable or not accessible locally or not available.  Young CALD women, Indigenous Australian women and women with a disability would be particularly affected by the abandonment of targeted programs and support.

In NSW, TAFE Outreach programs that reached out to some of the most disadvantaged in our communities have been savagely cut. Outreach oversaw a number of specific women’s programs including CEEW and WOW. Outreach co-ordinators with a long history of community engagement and contacts have been made redundant, three last week in South Western Sydney.  Yet this is what one woman recently said in an interview with the TAFE Community Alliance, about the benefits of VET for her:

Down a narrow Katoomba back lane around the kitchen table of a modest bungalow three TAFE students raise their champagne glasses to celebrate a remarkable achievement. The hostess Jude Pearce has just got an ATAR 94.7 for her HSC - her legal studies mark of 100% topped the state for TAFE. Her friends and fellow students Megan scored ATARs of 95 with a very high mark in English and Kate 94.3 with her highest mark in history.

Jude's story provides a classic case study of how TAFE has the power to change lives and give people a second chance. Yet when she began her studies at Wentworth Falls TAFE in the Blue Mountains her prospects looked bleak. Aged 53 she'd had cancer and been on the wrong end of 28 years of domestic violence. Now a single parent surviving on a meagre Work Cover payment Jude was down and about to be made homeless. "I had absolutely no confidence.

Doing the Tertiary Preparation Certificate has changed all that - it's a life changing course", says Jude who pays tribute to her TAFE teachers and fellow students for their support through often tough times. She's now planning to study teaching at Sydney Uni before getting a teaching job in the bush. It'll be a chance to teach Indigenous children in remote communities - something she feels strongly about, having only discovered late in life that she has Aboriginal and Torre Strait Island heritage. As Jude talks, her young daughter is playing under a Christmas tree. "My daughter has epilepsy. It makes life difficult sometimes. When I broke my ankle working at Jenolan Caves, I couldn't pay my mortgage and lost our house. If you want to break the cycle of poverty, you have to give people proper access to education. TAFE is wonderful because it makes allowances for people including those with mental health problems".

Her celebration with her friends is tinged with concern for TAFE's future. The three women have read about the State Government's plans to cut courses in Greater Western Sydney, particularly to the TAFE system. To Jude it just doesn't make sense. As a woman of over 50 she knows how hard it is to get a job without having any qualifications.

Story by Nick Franklin 

The graph below compares the enrolments in VET with those in higher education according to relative student disadvantage.  Whilst the change in higher education funding to support enrolment of disadvantaged students may change the impact of these figures in the future, there continue to be many reasons why disadvantaged students do not enrol in higher education, and why a well funded VET system should continue to meet the needs of many of these students, including many women in rural and remote areas and mature-aged women.

The Australian Government’s current Industry Innovation and Competitiveness Agenda, makes no mention of equity, women or student diversity.  Rather it is about governance and regulations, training packages and improving completions with the aim of supporting Australia’s productivity and economic growth.  When WAVE has asked the ‘women and girls’ question, we are referred to the general reforms that are occurring.

The Federal Government states that reforms under the National Agreement and National Partnership will provide the skills that Australian businesses and individuals need to prosper in a rapidly changing economy.

The key reforms include:

  • ensuring working age Australians without qualifications can get the skills they need to get higher skilled jobs in today’s economy, by introducing a national training entitlement for a government-subsidised training place to at least the first Certificate III qualification;
  • reducing upfront costs for students undertaking higher level qualifications, by offering income-contingent loans for government-subsidised Diploma and Advanced Diploma students;
  • improving the confidence of employers and students in the quality of training courses, by developing and piloting independent validation of training provider assessments and implementing strategies which enable TAFEs to operate effectively in an environment of greater competition;
  • improving access to information about training options, training providers and provider quality on a new My Skills website, so students and employers can make better choices about the training they need; and
  • supporting around 375,000 additional students over five years to complete their qualifications, and improving training enrolments and completions in high-level skills and among key groups of disadvantaged students, including Indigenous Australians.

In a document prepared for the WAVE 2015 National Conference, NCVER provided the following data, showing that:

* the proportion of women participating in VET remained at around 48%

* the number of women commencing an apprenticeship in 2013 is 38.5% compared to 61.5% for men

* the proportion of women commencing an apprenticeship or traineeship in the trades has remained a steady 15%, with a similar proportion completing

* in trades apprenticeships women are almost wholly concentrated in the lower- paid trades of hairdressing and food (NCVER 2014: Australian vocational education and training statistics)

*while employment and training outcomes for women after training are generally favourable, about one quarter are not employed after training

*average income after training for VET graduates employed full-time, females on average earn less than males (NCVER 2014, Australian vocational education and training statistics: Student outcomes 2014)

A recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald, ‘TAFE teachers and students furious over ‘ghost town’’, reflects on the impact of Smart and Skilled NSW, the NSW Government’s policy response to the National Skills Agreement.  The article says:  “Some TAFE courses are costing up to 10 times as much with half the teachers, pushing thousands of students out the door.  Enmore design student, Minta Furness is about to become one of them:  “I’m not coming back next year,” the 20-year-old said.  “The debt is just too great.  It went up from $1200 last year to $12,000 this year, and you never know if you are going to be able to pay it back with the income from design.  Last year we had six classes of 15 students.  This year we have one class of 10.  I was shocked to see how many people weren’t there.”  The impact of marketisation and the consequent shift of cost to students is having a significant effect on many women and courses in areas such as design.

It appears little has changed in the sixteen years since Butler and Ferrier wrote their report, and that many women and girls are still facing the same challenges today as in 1999.  Given the lack of any apparent equity focus in the marketised VET system of 2015, chances are that many women may be worse off.

As Federal Women’s Officer with the Australian Education Union, Catherine Davis wrote in 2006 in the Australian TAFE Teacher:  “It appears that where gender is acknowledged in policy, it is to affirm stereotypes and where it is invisible it hides the continuation of disadvantage in traditional areas.  We must not let gender drop off the agenda in VET.”  (Davis, 2006, p. 14)


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NCVER 2014, Australian vocational education and training statistics: students and courses 2013,  NCVER, Adelaide.

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