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Conference opening speech

Hon. Gavan Troy, MLA
Minister for Productivity and Labour Relations

I am delighted to have the opportunity to open this conference on behalf of the Premier, Dr Carmen Lawrence. You will appreciate that she has been at the Premiers' Conference during the past few days. It is a pleasure to be here on her behalf and to compliment the organising body, the WA Chapter of the Australian Society for Educational Technology (ASET). It is an excellent programme. I am disappointed I cannot stay longer with you, but I have a very good reason for an early departure today. At seven o'clock Mr Kevin Woods, the Director of TAFE, and myself will be going to a dinner function which has a significant formal component to it. We will be signing an Agreement of Understanding with the United Arab Emirates for the delivery of training into that area. There is an enormous potential in that scene and this agreement reflects the appreciation in the wider world of the talents we have here in Australia, and in Western Australia in particular, to make a contribution to the wider region, not only in the Indian Ocean but into Southeast Asia as well.

As Minister for Productivity and Labour Relations and Minister responsible for TAFE, I have a dual interest in the subject of this conference. I am interested particularly in the role of open learning and new technology in enhancing productivity through skills development. The range of areas covered by my portfolios, which include employment and training, TAFE, productivity and labour relations, reflect the importance this government places on developing a skilled workforce in Western Australia. When I visit countries such as Singapore and find that their entire workforce has been trained or retrained in a span of seven and a half years, I am excited at the potential of the things we can do here.

Our competitiveness as a state and as a nation depends upon our capacity to increase industrial productivity. This in turn is largely determined by the extent to which we are prepared to invest in labour force skills. The government is committed to increasing its efforts and this is reflected in our plans to set up a tripartite State Employment and Skills Development Authority, or SESDA. SESDA will seek to engender a skills formation culture in Western Australia, and will provide coordinated advice to government on industry needs and training priorities.

SESDA will replace a rather fragmented system of over one hundred and thirty official advisory boards and some additional thirty odd non official boards that operate in an advisory capacity on vocational training in this state. We will replace that with a single, cohesive structure driven by, and directly responsible to, industry needs. These needs will be covered by an industry education training council which will be responsible for particular industry groups and for representing views in more effective ways than is currently the case.

Award restructuring will continue to increase the demands for vocational training over the next ten years. We have estimated that almost 10% of the state's workforce of about 800 000 will require training or retraining each year for the next five years. That represents an increase of about 45% in training places compared with TAFE's present capacity. Another aspect to SESDA is that TAFE is not necessarily the single, effective vocational trainer in this area. We have opened up the doors and are expecting TAFE to be demand responsive rather than supply driven as it has been for many years. The opportunity is there for other organisations to become involved in this area. But I believe TAFE will meet that challenge and hold onto the market share that it currently has.

At the same time, new technology is transforming many workplaces, bringing with it an increased demand for specialised training. Thus the demand for access to training services will be the most significant challenge facing our training system. This challenge will most acutely confront the TAFE system, which is the largest provider of vocational training, with somewhere in the order of 150 000 students in WA and over a million nationally. The impact of this demand is compounded in Western Australia by our peculiar geographic and demographic spread relative to other states. A population as dispersed as ours makes the provision of services very difficult, and the provision of learning programmes in the traditional bricks and mortar institutional mode almost cost prohibitive. When I recently became Minister Responsible for TAFE, I was approached from one centre in the north west which sought an independent college similar to Port Hedland and Karratha. I had the figures added up quickly and the cost came to $32 million. I felt that $32 million would be perhaps better spent upon an alternative teaching system, and I think that is what you people can help me with as a result of this conference.

As Minister responsible for TAFE, I am proud of the progress the Department is making in developing educational technologies and innovative learning strategies. One of the most significant developments has been the introduction of open learning. Open learning has removed the restrictions that formal, institutionalised instruction traditionally imposed on students in terms of what, how, where and when their learning may be achieved. The key features of open learning are

Already TAFE is offering customised training packages for industry and there are a number of other examples of open learning in hand. Last month the Deputy Premier, Ian Taylor, and I were involved in the launch of a six month video conferencing trial involving TAFE's Perth campus and the Karratha College, with Hamersley Iron and Telecom. This interactive video linkage, LIVE-NET, provides opportunities for the private and public sectors in the remote areas of the state to participate in meetings, personnel interviews, product launches, and other such events, and to undertake employee training programmes on work premises or through training institutions.

The potential for joint public and private sector involvement in these initiatives is evident from the fact that the video conferencing trial has been funded jointly by Telecom, the Department of Computing and Information Technology, Hamersley Iron and the Department of TAFE. We want to undertake employee training programmes on work premises or training institutions, and with the task that we have in restructuring and training for our total workforce, you can see the potential for video conferencing in many remote locations in our north. There is potential, as I mentioned earlier, for us to deliver programmes into the Southeast Asian area or into Indonesia, particularly when you consider that our satellite "footprint" overshadows Indonesia.

You, as practitioners in the area, will be well aware that technology is of value to society only in so far as it is successfully applied in particular contexts. Technology should not be pursued merely for its state of the art sophistication. If you know my background from the technology field, I think you will appreciate what I am saying. Technology, I repeat, should not be pursued merely for its state of art sophistication, but for its effectiveness, its competitive advantage and the cost efficiency that its particular applications provide. We should not be tempted by technology as an end in itself. The sheer cost of new technology signals both a need for closer coordination of investment decisions and a more cooperative effort between the private and public sectors.

In that context the state government established a Telecommunications for Education and Training Taskforce to examine the application of technologies in enhancing access to education and training throughout the state. I am very pleased to announce this evening that the government has accepted a recommendation from that Taskforce, to establish an Education and Training Telecommunications Cooperative, or Edtel as it will be called. This new venture is intended to

It is further evidence of the government's resolve to maximise benefits from new technologies through strategic coordination of its telecommunications requirements.

Finally I would like to acknowledge the efforts of the various parties in staging this conference. The government looks forward with considerable interest to the outcomes from this forum. My particular interest in this conference derives, as I have stated earlier, from my resolve to achieve enhanced productivity through skills development. So I am keen to ensure that open learning plays a key role in providing increased access to skill promotion programmes. I trust that the few issues I have touched upon here this evening will provide a useful focus for your deliberations tomorrow and my very best wishes for you along that path.

Thank you very much.

Gavan Troy is the Minister for Productivity and Labour Relations; the Minister Assisting the Minister for Education with TAFE and Minister Assisting the Premier with Public Sector Management. Gavan Troy is a graduate of WAIT where he gained a Bachelor of Business degree and he is also a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Management and the Chartered Institute of Transport. As Member for Swan Hills, Gavan Troy entered State Parliament in 1983 after a career spanning 25 years in communications working with Telecom. Mr Troy was admitted to Cabinet in 1986 and he has held responsibilities in Transport and Small Business, Labour, Works and Services, and Labour Employment, Training and Productivity. His responsibility for TAFE, dating from 1989, gives a new focus to skills training as a central part of the industrial relations portfolio.

Please cite as: Troy, G. (1990). Conference opening speech. In R. Atkinson and C. McBeath (Eds.), Open Learning and New Technology: Conference proceedings, 9-13. Perth: Australian Society for Educational Technology WA Chapter.

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