Mikael Kristenson

News Articles and analysis

Waive fees for high-growth community service qualifications

Victoria is facing a growing dearth of disability and aged care workers. Waiving fees for entry level VET courses would help plug the gap.

A new wave of students celebrated completing a Certificate III in Individual Support in front of family, friends and teachers in December 2017. As the inaugural Future Social Service Institute (FSSI) Cert III scholarship students, they had much to celebrate.

Equipped to take on a range of rewarding roles including disability, school and family support, personal and home care, they spoke of how the course had opened up new career pathways for them, or reinforced their dream of working to support people to live full and rewarding lives.

Many had previously been disengaged from education, training and employment, or faced barriers to taking part in the Cert III course, so their successful completion was well worth celebrating. The FSSI scholarships had provided them tuition free of charge, as well as social service sector expertise that inspired and gave insight into working in the industry.

Armed with their Cert IIIs, these students are now ready to work in Victoria’s fastest growing industry. The health care and social assistance industry in Victoria currently employs around 427,000 people, making it the largest industry employer. It has the fastest employment growth, adding 56,200 employees in just five years. Workforce growth in the health and social assistance sector in Victoria is expected to accelerate in the coming years, surpassing all other industries. Estimates project 64,000 new jobs will be created in the five years to 2020.

Armed with their Cert IIIs, these students are now ready to work in Victoria’s fastest growing industry.

Employment growth in this sector is driven by an increasing and ageing population, significant social and community disadvantage, as well as major national reforms such as the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) and My Aged Care, and Victorian reforms such as the response to the Family Violence Royal Commission.

Whilst the growth in employment in the health care and social assistance sector is projected to be nearly twice that of any other industry in Victoria, there is no plan to ensure an available pool of qualified, skilled workers to fill all these jobs. This industry is already experiencing a shortfall in qualified and experienced workers to meet existing vacancies, let alone the expected rapid workforce growth. Universities and TAFEs report they are not currently attracting enough applicants to train the workforce required.

Waiving fees for entry level vocational education and training courses related to health and social assistance in Victoria would go some way to attracting new people to this growing industry. Fees should be waived for people facing barriers to employment or currently employed in industries in decline. The waiver should apply irrespective of the person’s existing qualifications.

The FSSI students received a scholarship which paid their tuition and hence removed a substantial barrier to their re-engagement in education. Access to a hardship fund helped remove small, but significant barriers to their education, such as enough credit on a Myki or short-term accommodation support. Once in the program, students were given a guaranteed place in the RMIT Diploma of Nursing, if prerequisites of language, literacy and numeracy were met. While this guarantee attracted several students to the course, upon completion of the Cert III many were instead inspired to choose a career in social services.

Given the size of the social service workforce demand, the relatively low pay for entry level social service work and the potential of the sector to grow the Victorian economy, there is a strong case for waiving fees for community service courses across public TAFEs and not-for-profit Registered Training Organisations.