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SPE: A-NZ President letter

Updated: Apr 8, 2021

In the first Newsletter of this year, I promised to update all of you as stakeholders of the plastics industry on the work which is being done by the Industry Reference Committee (IRC) on the review of the training units for the Plastics, Rubber and Cablemaking Vocational Education and Training (VET) system in Australia.

What is the IRC doing?

The IRC is a committee with as members representatives of the industries which the IRC represents and the respective industry unions’ representatives. The IRC advises the Australian Industry and Skills

Committee (AISC) which in turn advises the Federal Minister of Education and the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) on matters relating to skills and the industry VET training packages taught by TAFEs and Registered Training Organisations (RTO’s).

What is the responsibility of the IRC?

The IRC responsible for the Plastics, Rubber and Cablemaking Industries is part of the Process Manufacturing Industry which also includes the oil, gas, mining and chemistry industries. These industries have been joined in the IRC with the Laboratory Operations Industry and Recreational Vehicles Industries with their respective industry representatives and are responsible for the Training Packages of MSL Laboratory Operations, MSM Manufacturing, PMA Chemical, Hydrocarbons and Refining, PMB Plastics, Rubbers and Cablemaking, and PMC Manufactured Mineral Products.

Who are the representatives on the IRC?

The Plastics, Rubber and Cablemaking Industries have as representatives, Keith Monaghan (formerly President of PIMA) as Chair of the IRC, Grahame Aston, Managing Director of PPC Moulding Services (and also the current President of PIMA) and Han Michel (also President of the Society of Plastics Engineers Australia-New Zealand Section) as expert members. Recently, Kerryn Caulfield, the CEO of Composites Australia has joined this expert group. The union representatives are Ian Curry, National Coordinator – Skills, Training & Apprenticeships, Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union (AMWU), and Godfrey Moase, Executive Director, United Workers Union (UWU).

The Laboratory Operations Industry is represented by Leah Simmons, SkillsPoint Industry Relationship Lead for Innovative Manufacturing, Robotics and Science – TAFE NSW, Nigel Haywood Manager (Deputy Chair IRC), Resources Industry Training Council WA, is representing the oil and gas industries as well as Peter Morgan from Minara Resources. Stuart Lamont (CEO) of the Caravan Industry Association of Australia is representing the Recreational Vehicle Industries.

How does the IRC make use of Assistance by the Federal Department of Education, Skills and Employment?

The IRC is provided by assistance through a Skills Services Organisation (SSO). The task of the SSO is to assist the IRC with administrative services so the IRC can report in a proper and consistent way to the AISC. The SSO looking after our IRC (and a number of other IRC’s in manufacturing) is IBSA, standing for Innovation & Business Skills Australia. It is an organisation consisting of professionals in the skills and education services sector. The SSO is headed by CEO, Sharon Robertson, General Manager SSO, Antoinette Hewitt, and General Manager Industry Engagement, Philip Clarke. We are fortunate that our Industry Engagement Partner of the SSO is Mark Shaddock who has gained extensive knowledge of our industry and is doing an excellent job in coordinating our efforts with the management of the SSO and the AISC as the responsible SSO officer for our IRC.

With the current team having been appointed a number of years ago we set out, under the guidance of Keith Monaghan as Chair and Nigel Haywood as Deputy Chair, to ensure that the focus of the SSO is the alignment of skills with the current and future needs of our industry while meeting regulatory compliance.

What has the IRC achieved?

The IRC had to become accustomed get to the many year’s business processes of the organisations involved. An important element is the yearly skills’ forecast. Based on these skills’ forecasts it became clear that the IRC needed to work on a modernisation of the existing training packages so these training packages would be more in line with the thinking about the current and future needs of the industry.

It had also to take into account that over the last 10 to 15 years the Federal Government had been working hard to shift the execution of the training from the traditional public provider model via the TAFE sector to an open competitive market involving both TAFEs and private RTO’s. Unfortunately, this experiment resulted in some unintended consequences including an explosion of training by private training organisations, market failures and fraudulent activity in some jurisdictions. The VET sector is still in a rebuilding phase with different approaches being adopted by the different States and Territories. It should be remembered that over half of the approximate $9bn in Government subsidy of VET training is provided by State Training Authorities.

This coincided with a trend by HSC students to select the university pathway as the preferred choice of training for later life compared to the vocational studies offered through the TAFE/RTO systems. These circumstances have led to changes supported by the digitalisation of learning through the arrival of Industry 4.0 including Virtual and Augmented Reality as well as more information and automation in the factory based on Artificial Intelligence systems. There are also trends which lead to further changes in the future requirements of training packages to more fundamental knowledge and competency with specialisation being executed by other means and other players in the supply chain, e.g. in our plastics industry by equipment manufacturers/suppliers and by polymer processors in-house.

With the help of the SSO, the IRC has submitted a Case for Change to the AISC which was approved which means that funding would be made available to make this happen. The IRC was assisted by a Technical Advisory Committee (TAC). Apart from the PIMA members and others such as Paul Saunders from Victoria and myself on the TAC, I would like to mention the stand-out performance by Roger Cater and his team of PARTEC/QLD in systematically reducing the number of units of the training packages and modernizing the text of the existing ones.

This has resulted into a first publication of the revised package to the public for consultation. See the attachment.

What will happen in future?

Undoubtedly, the revised package will receive submissions from industry and the education sector for amendment which will be considered by the IRC followed by an amendment or official rejection. The IRC hopes to close the consultation rounds in the next couple of months so the revised package can be submitted to the AISC for approval and implementation by October 2020 latest.

Skills for the Polymer Industry project Round 1 Public Consultation for the Skills for the Polymer Industry Project closes on Friday 15 May 2020. All components in the PMB Plastics, Rubber and Cablemaking Training Package are under review:

  • Qualifications have been reconfigured to include specialisations, improving alignment with industry skill needs and job roles. Consideration is being given to reducing the five qualifications to three.

  • Units of competency have been revised to better reflect industry requirements, with several proposed for deletion as they are considered to no longer be required by industry.

Please click here to read the Consultation Paper and to access the draft training package components.

Please submit your feedback via email to

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