Skills Acquisition is a National Economic/Social Imperative


There is ongoing confusion about the VET sector’s role in skill development/acquisition.

It is important to look at skills across the economy, as distinct from focusing solely on VET sector delivery. VET sector delivery is driven by RTO viability and not industry need or productivity.

Australian Bureau of Statistics show that, in 2017, industry worked more than 20.5 billion hours, while the VET sector delivered less than 785 million hours of training.  If you conservatively estimate that 5% of hours worked are by people learning or developing skills in their job role, i.e. being shown what to do and then practicing the activity with feedback and supervision until a new skill is developed, then this equates to 1 billion hours of worktime being spent on informal learning and skills development each year. This is over 1.3 times greater than the output of the entire VET sector – inclusive of on- and off-the-job training, whether in the classroom, simulated workplaces or online – and so highlights the importance of the informal learning currently taking place in industry.

Australia’s skills system could consider recognising the quality and extent of learning taking place in enterprises as well as institutions, and ways to capture data about it. The recent NCVER report The Stock of Qualifications in Australia recognises that skills are learned outside of the qualifications process but are not yet captured or recorded. If everybody could have their current skills assessed and recorded, it would lift the skills stock of Australia exponentially.

Industry works more than 20.5 billion hours each year.
If approx. 5% of hours worked include learning skills on the job, then industry spends 1 billion hours of worktime on informal learning and skills development.

VET sector delivers less than 0.785 billion hours of training each year.

Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2019, 6202.0 – Labour Force, Australia, May 2019, Table 19. Monthly hours worked in all jobs by Employed full-time, part-time and Sex and by State and Territory – Trend and Seasonally adjusted.


Units of competency are developed to describe all work carried out in Australia, except work supported by university qualifications. A large waste of resources follows if these units are then only recognised as applying to the operation of the VET sector. They are the working IP of all Australian industries and should be available for use by industry in a supported manner. The upcoming review of the national skills register ( may provide a better platform for industry to access units of competency for use at an enterprise level. Units should not just be seen as tools to be used by RTOs, and while they are called training products currently, they are in reality industry skill and work standards and perhaps they should be called what they are. Click here to read about a suggested solution for how training packages could be reimagined for use by industry, in collaboration with RTOs, to support competency outcomes and improve vocational training.

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