The Queensland Agriculture Training Colleges (QATC) ceased operating as a Registered Training Organisation (RTO) on the 6 December. New arrangements for rural and regional training needs were anticipated prior to its closure but these have not materialised.
The Government decision to close QATC was made after giving consideration to Professor Coaldrake’s review on how to grow the vocational education, training and skills sector in Central and western Queensland. The independent review found that QATC’s position had deteriorated, with the colleges operating at significant deficit and minimal enrolments.
A Project Management Office (PMO) was established inside the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries to deliver the Queensland Government’s response to the Coaldrake’s Review. PMO liaison officers were also appointed in Longreach and Emerald. A key function of the PMO was to develop an Economic Transition Strategy for staff, students and assets.
The PMO also engaged with a range of stakeholders regionally and state-wide including the Rural Jobs and Skills Alliance (RJSA) to provide input into the transition process. The RJSA has met multiple times with the PMO and QATC to get regular updates on the transition process and provide industry feedback on any potential training delivery gaps.
At the completion of the QATC ‘teach-out year’ of 2019, all students have either completed their studies with QATC or been transitioned to other RTOs. Staff have received support throughout the year with an Employee Assistance Package. The PMO has received multiple proposals to use QATC’s assets from interested parties, but no definite answer has been made about the securing a transitional plan for the Emerald and Longreach colleges.
The QATC training materials and intellectual property have been assigned by agreement to TAFE Queensland. TAFE Queensland are in the process of reviewing the catalogue of resources and developing access and licencing arrangements for other RTOs.
Tracey Singh, Director, Product Agency is the TAFE Queensland contact managing QATC training materials and intellectual property arrangements. Enquiries on access to these materials can be directed to Tracey at Tracey.Singh@tafe.qld.edu.au.
An Industry-led solution
Industry members of the Rural Jobs and Skills Alliance consider the cessation of QATC’s operations has left an immediate gap in essential training delivery for the agricultural industry and training provision in some regional areas. The RJSA are particularly concerned about transitional arrangements associated with training for schools as well as the provision of specialised training.
The Queensland Government needs to listen to industry and regional communities to better build investment in modern training methods to service the contemporary and future needs of a growing agribusiness sector. The sector must have a skilled and adaptable workforce to meet industry’s current and future needs, one that is well resourced, fit for purpose and responsive to the ever-changing technological advances and potential disruption ahead. We must, therefore, focus on producing smarter outcomes, both in terms of the models we apply to deliver the necessary training and their financial viability.
Agriculture is and will remain a key employer, particularly in Queensland’s regional communities, so it is critical that the awareness, education and employment pathways for our sector are effective. The RJSA has developed an industry-led program called the ‘Queensland Agriculture to Schools Engagement Program’ (QASEP) to address both the perceived and real gaps in schools-industry engagement and the need for continuous learning in the workforce. We believe that the proposed program will improve the way schools and agricultural industries interact, provide mutually beneficial experience and learning opportunities for students and deliver the career pathways the sector needs, as well as providing continuous learning for the workforce.
The QASEP proposal provides a pathway for government to deliver innovative, effective policy that is a critical element to realising a capable, high performing workforce in our sector. However, after a few meetings held by the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF) to progress the proposals, no response from the Queensland Government has been received on the implementation of the proposal.
The situation is now critical as QATC has ceased operations. We need to ensure that industry-relevant training is provided through the much-anticipated new arrangements. We call on the government to commit to a transition plan is and to progress the QASEP industry-led initiative that provides a wholistic program to address many of the gaps that the closure of QATC will leave.