This research investigated how the training sector could better meet the needs of regional, rural and remote Australia. It explored how various stakeholders in the VET system understand local skills needs, and the barriers faced by RTOs when delivering training in such locations. Understanding local skills needs relies heavily on local consultation as most national/state data sources become less reliable at the local level. RTOs face many barriers when delivering is regional, rural and remote locations, but training might be better enabled with consideration of diversity of place, funding arrangements, co-ordination of training demand and the facilitation of partnerships.
About the research
This research investigates how the training sector could better meet the needs of regional, rural and remote (RRR) Australia. It explores how various stakeholders in the vocational education and training (VET) system understand local skills needs, along with the barriers faced by registered training organisations (RTOs) when delivering training in such locations.
- An understanding of local skills needs, especially in regional, rural and remote Australia, cannot be gained through quantitative data alone. Local intelligence is required, gathered through informal relationships, formal partnership arrangements and other targeted activities.
- RTOs face many different barriers in delivering training in regional, rural and remote locations. These include challenges that are: RTO- and/or market-based; location-based; and student-based. Increased costs are associated with delivering in regional, rural and remote Australia, and these challenge the viability of training in such locations, especially in areas of thin markets.
- RTOs who deliver in regional, rural and remote Australia display a determination to assist individuals in these locations to succeed, as well as to provide good service to local industry. RTOs also demonstrate the importance of the right mindset and a flexible approach; characteristics that allow them to adapt to overcome the challenges in regional, rural and remote VET delivery.
- More effective provision of training in regional, rural and remote Australia may be facilitated by consideration of:
- the diversity across regional, rural and remote Australia, and how reconceptualised policy and training package development might better enable the flexibility required in the local context. Devolved decision-making may help to minimise mismatches between national, jurisdictional and local training needs
- the true costs of delivery in such locations to ensure that funding arrangements better cover them; additionally, ensuring that information on local training needs is effectively fed into funding decisions to ensure these needs are better met
- coordination of training demand to help alleviate issues of thin markets. This could be facilitated by a third-party, but adequate resourcing of this role is likely to be required for it to be effective
- mechanisms to assist in the development of informal relationships or formalised partnerships to help ensure that communities and local industries get what they need from training. There may be a role for government in assisting RTOs and other stakeholders in facilitating such linkages.
Delivering training in regional, rural and remote (RRR) Australia is not easy. Australia is a large, diverse country, and ensuring that training is suited to individual locations, which are unique in their landscapes, economies, industries and cultures, is challenging. There is an ongoing policy interest in making sure that the vocational education and training (VET) sector is serving the needs of regional, rural and remote Australia. VET has a key role to play in regional development through its dual function of developing individuals and providing skills to industry.
This research set out to investigate how the training system could better meet the needs of regional, rural and remote Australia, with the project focusing on:
- understanding how various stakeholders in the VET system perceive local skills needs in regional, rural and remote locations
- understanding the current barriers to delivering VET in regional, rural and remote locations, and if/how these are overcome.
These issues were examined through interviews with 58 stakeholders in eight case study locations across the country. Interviewees represented registered training organisations (RTOs), industry peak bodies, state training authorities (STAs), regional development bodies and employment service providers.
Understanding local skills needs in regional, rural and remote locations
Traditionally, skills planning by state training authorities takes place at the state or jurisdiction level, but efforts are being made to better understand skills needs in regional, rural and remote locations. While a variety of data sources are used to determine skills supply and demand at the national and state levels, these become patchy and unreliable at the local level. The lack of data means that state training authorities, as well as regional development organisations and RTOs, rely on consultation to understand local skills needs.
An array of consultation approaches is adopted by state training authorities, regional development organisations and RTOs to determine local skills needs. Some of these are organised as part of a point-in-time effort, such as the regional skills summits held across WA in 2021. Others are ongoing activities, often drawing on intelligence from organised networks involving industry, local councils, education providers, and community development bodies. These activities highlight the importance of both informal relationships and formalised partnerships in attempts to understand and address local skills needs.
The barriers to training delivery in regional, rural and remote locations
RTOs face many barriers and challenges when delivering VET in regional, rural and remote locations, with these varying according to the unique characteristics of each location, including its degree of remoteness. These challenges fall into three broad categories:
- Market- and/or RTO-based barriers: these tend to be faced before training begins and include:
- missed opportunities to deliver training in a location
- trainer shortages
- thin markets.
- Location-based barriers: these are a consequence of the location in which training is occurring and include:
- distance to travel and difficult access, as well as extreme weather
- lack of infrastructure/resources, technology and/or connectivity
- limited pathways and/or job opportunities
- training not matched to local training needs
- trainer safety, especially due to social problems in some locations
- lack of other services in the location.
- Student-based barriers: these relate to the student cohorts being trained and include:
- language, literacy and numeracy (LLN) issues
- digital literacy limitations
- cultural differences and a need for cultural awareness in Indigenous communities.
Costs, funding and the viability of training
The challenges described above, and the efforts required to overcome them, add significant cost to training delivery in regional, rural and remote locations. These increased costs have ramifications for the viability of training, especially in thin markets, those where it is difficult to enrol a critical volume of students. Interviewees highlighted several constraints of current funding models that impact on their ability to deliver in such locations. These included:
- a mismatch between local needs and the funding available; for example, funding available to deliver certificate III level qualifications but not for lower-level qualifications, the latter being more suited to some learners or communities
- inconsistency of funding; for example, no longer being able to offer training to a community due to changes in funding priorities
- the loading applied to funding not always sufficient to cover the true cost of training resulting from travel or extra support or time required by students.
Overcoming the challenges
RTOs discussed the various strategies they use to address the challenges they face when delivering VET in regional, rural and remote locations. In addition to the specific approaches described by RTOs, the interviews revealed some overarching characteristics of RTOs that enable them to overcome the challenges faced. These are:
- a strong desire and determination to assist individuals to succeed and to provide good service to business and industry; RTO interviewees demonstrated that they go ‘above and beyond’ to ensure the successful delivery of training
- having the right mindset and a flexible approach; being able to adapt to changing situations and having back-up plans are essential when dealing with the complexity of delivering in regional, rural and remote locations.
The impact on industry
Despite all efforts by RTOs to deliver in regional, rural and remote locations, on occasions there is no choice but to send people to larger centres to undertake their training. This could be due to the absence of local trainers (or not being able to get a trainer to come in from elsewhere); lack of the equipment needed for the training; or the extra support required by students not being available locally. Industry interviewees revealed that, in particular, accessing training at higher levels is difficult in regional, rural and remote locations, meaning that workers need to undertake that training elsewhere.
In addition to the challenges in accessing higher-level skills training in regional, rural and remote locations, industry interviewees identified other training-related issues that impact on their workforce development. These included:
- a lack of local training providers
- a lack of trainers and/or training facilities
- a reduction in major large-scale training (such as a decline in the numbers of apprentices).
These issues are concerning, given that industry respondents described a host of workforce issues they currently face, including the widespread skills and labour shortages being experienced across the country.
What could better enable training in regional, rural and remote locations?
The following approaches have the potential to help facilitate training delivery in regional, rural and remote Australia:
- More flexible approaches to training delivery
Policy development that sets up a uniform approach to training delivery may be a constraint to delivery in diverse locations across Australia. The participating RTOs in this study described the flexible approaches they need to adopt to deliver in regional, rural and remote locations and that the training system, as it is currently structured, impeded their ability to do this. Training package requirements and a mismatch between state and local training priorities were all cited as issues hampering their capacity to provide more flexible training in some locations. A greater understanding of how training needs to be delivered in a local context, aided by reconceptualised policy and training package development, would potentially allow for more flexibility. Devolving decision-making to ensure that local needs are better addressed may be an important consideration in this.
- Funding arrangements
Interviewees questioned the suitability of funding for regional, rural and remote locations. While loadings (additional funding) are often provided for delivery in such locations, some interviewees argued that it does not always cover the true costs of delivery. A more comprehensive understanding of the true costs of delivery (for high-quality training) is necessary to ensure funding is adequate. Additionally, the funding available did not always match local needs, especially in terms of qualification level. Ensuring that the local needs of regional, rural and remote locations effectively inform funding decisions may be difficult and resource-intensive, but is necessary for minimising these mismatches and providing opportunities for people in regional, rural and remote Australia. As above, devolving some of the decision-making on these issues may help to alleviate them.
- Coordination of demand
Thin markets hamper the viability of training for RTOs. Establishing mechanisms to enable the pooling of training needs (for example, across separate employers) in regional, rural and remote locations could help alleviate this issue by creating sufficient volume of students. It was suggested that government, industry peak bodies, or local councils could potentially facilitate this if resourced to do so.
- Enabling relationships and/or partnerships
Interviewees confirmed the importance of building relationships and forming partnerships to allow successful delivery of VET in regional, rural and remote locations. These relationships are critical in informing RTOs about what communities and local industries/employers need from training. They are also important in gathering community support for training, especially in Indigenous communities, and in gaining access to infrastructure and/or resources. Establishing and maintaining these relationships is time-consuming and complex, especially for small training providers without dedicated staff for this purpose. There may be a role for government in assisting RTOs and other stakeholders in enabling such linkages.
It's bigger than the training sector
Some of the barriers to workforce development and training in regional, rural and remote Australia do not fall under the responsibility of the training sector. Issues such as lack of housing/accommodation; community problems (safety); technology/connectivity limitations; and limited job opportunities need to be tackled more broadly. A coordinated and holistic approach to regional development will better enable training delivery in such locations.
|VET delivery in regional, rural and remote Australia: barriers and facilitators
|VET delivery in regional, rural and remote Australia: barriers and facilitators
Diverse and flexible training approaches are needed for the training sector to better meet the local… Show more