Monday 28 June 2010
Hansard of the Legislative Council Estimates Committee B

2.5 Skills Tasmania -

Mr FINCH - Bearing in mind the public's confusion over the changing education labels, I am looking for the description of the future now of Skills Tasmania.  I have looked at the description here and I have read it through a few times.  Can you allay my fears that Skills Tasmania does not have the characteristics of a bureaucratic overlay?  Can you just tell me about the role of Skills Tasmania now and in the future?

Ms THORP - I will let Mark do that, if I may, because Skills Tasmania is not one of the three institutes that we have been referring to with the Polytechnic, the Academy and the Skills Institute.  Skills Tasmania has different roles.

Mr FINCH - As I say, with the characteristics of a bureaucratic overlay.  I would just like to hear more.

Mr SAYER - Skills Tasmania is an independent statutory authority set up under legislation about three years ago and it has three primary roles under legislation.  The first is to develop a skills strategy and policies on behalf of the State to inform its second function, which is a purchasing role to spend your taxpayer dollars to subsidise the delivery of vocational education and training.  Its third function is to provide support services to its three client groups, which are industry, training organisations and learners.  That is simply it.

Mr FINCH - How many FTEs are there employed in this area?

Mr SAYER - Currently there are 49.2 FTEs in Skills Tasmania, which has reduced quite markedly over the last 12 months so it is a fairly lean, efficient organisation.

Mr FINCH - Can you tell me those numbers where it has been reduced from?  Do you have the figures?

Mr SAYER - I can tell you roughly that it has been reduced from the high 50s, close to 60, to 49.2.

Mr FINCH - Is that because of the cessation of the Productivity Places Program?

Mr SAYER - No, the Productivity Places Program will continue until 2012.  In fact, we will put more money out the door in 2012 than in the earlier years.  As you would know, Productivity Places is a program that is funded by the State and the Commonwealth, and by industry.

Mr FINCH - There is the cessation of that - did you say that is in three years time?

Mr SAYER - In 2012.

Mr FINCH - Was it always going to cease at that time?

Mr SAYER - Yes, that is the agreement.  We hoped that it would continue because it has been a highly successful program and competitively based, and that is where the role of a purchaser like Skills Tasmania comes into play.  You would prefer not to see a government agency being a purchaser in the marketplace.  That is why you set up a statutory authority to provide that distinction between public purchaser and provider.

Mr FINCH - Can I get an explanation of the purchasing of vocational education and training, I want some idea of this purchasing process that you go through.

Mr SAYER - Those funds are public funds.  About 70 per cent of those funds are provided by the State and 30 per cent are provided by the Commonwealth.

Mr FINCH - There was a mention of a $25 million figure some time before.  Is that the figure you are dealing with for purchasing?

Mr SAYER - No.  Skills Tasmania spends just over $100 million a year to subsidise vocational education and training in this State, so it is a significant amount of money.

Mr FINCH - Just tell me something about the purchasing and the organisations that you deal with.

Mr SAYER - It is quite complex really in that, when public funds are provided to support the delivery of vocational education and training, it does not cover the full cost.  So there have to be other means to meet that full cost, so we provide that subsidy but also industry contributes to the full cost of the delivery of vocational education and training, and learners do as well through paying fees.  I guess overlaid with that - if you would like to know a little more - as an organisation we need to study very closely how the economy is performing, which sectors need support, which communities need support and start prioritising where we put those public funds.  That is really important because we do not want to just throw the money out the door willy-nilly, we really need to decide which are the priorities of the State.  That is a fairly complex task.

Mr FINCH - Is that your work too?  Of the 49 people you employ, apart from administrative staff, you need to be out there investigating and talking with business.  Is that on an Australia-wide basis?

Mr SAYER - Each jurisdiction does this to varying levels of sophistication.  Tasmania can be pretty proud in that it has quite a distinct purchaser-provider relationship and we have quite a sophisticated and developing system to identify priorities in terms of which industries should be supported and which learners and which communities should be supported.

Ms THORP - Is it fair to say, Mark, that Tasmania's reputation in VET provision, regulation et cetera is top-notch?

Mr SAYER - It is very, very strong and it is partly assisted by the smallness of our State.  For example, Skills Tasmania has been able to collaborate with the Tasmanian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and work hand in glove when it comes to getting the message out to employers about more people now leaving the labour market than entering it and our ageing population, how difficult it will be in the future to get the numbers of people that we need which makes gaining higher qualifications much more important than it was in the past.

Mr FINCH - Through you, Minister, this million-dollar diminution in the allocation to Skills Tasmania - is that because of the lower numbers?

Mr SAYER - It is certainly in part due to that.  We are a much more efficient operation than we were in the past. 

Mr FINCH - How will that having a budget less $1 million from the previous year impact on you?

Mr SAYER – It will not affect putting around $100 million of money out the door at all.  We shield those funds and we have invested in better business systems to become more efficient as a public sector organisation.

Mr FINCH - Thanks.