Outdoors Insight #1 April 2014

VET training for outdoor activity leaders

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Outdoor activity leaders are in high demand in Victoria, especially to meet the growing needs of school outdoor education programs. Restoring funding for VET outdoor recreation programs would enable industry to meet this demand without further reliance on overseas-trained staff.

Outdoors activity leaders include a range of workers who guide dependent participants in outdoors activities, such as camping, rock climbing, canoeing and kayaking, and many others. The outdoors environments and activities involve necessitate specialised training and skills, especially in risk management, dependent group leader – ship, and technical skills in the relevant activities. These skills are provided in large part through VET programs, includ – ing Certificate II/III/IV and Diploma-level courses in outdoor recrea – tion. The technical and risk management aspects in particular cannot be acquired through other courses. Significantly, the Fair Work Commission has accepted that outdoor activity field staff are not covered by any other industry-based modern award, such as the Amusement, Events and Recreation Award 2010 and the Fitness Industry Award 2010. This is consistent with expert advice received by outdoor providers that their field staff are award-free because of the specialised nature of their skills and duties. Employment of “Outdoor Adventure Guides” (ANZSCO 4522) increased from 1,203 workers in 2006 to 1,909 in 2011, and is expected to grow by 1.2% per annum through 2016-17. Further, this occupational category understates the number of outdoors field staff, many of whom identify as teachers, recreation officers, tour guides, managers, and other related occupations. Synergies economic consulting concluded that employment in outdoor recreation business – es in Queensland is five times as high as the reported number of outdoor adventure leaders. In Victoria, eight major employers alone report total employment of 612 staff with outdoor qualifications. However, nationally completions in the most relevant courses (Cert III, Cert IV and Diploma of outdoor recreation) have not kept pace with the growing industry. Combined completions for these courses has increased from 281 in 2002 to 337 in 2010. There was a significant spike in completions in 2011, however this is not expected to continue following an 84% cut to the subsidy for VET outdoors training in 2013 in Victoria, which will result in the closure of up to half of the Victori – an training spaces. April 2014 #1 Outdoor activity leaders are in high demand in Victoria, especially to meet the growing needs of school outdoor education programs. Restoring fund – ing for VET outdoor recreation programs would enable industry to meet this demand without further reliance on overseas-trained staff.

Because of the growing gap between supply and demand for skilled outdoors graduates, the industry is increasingly relying on overseastrained employees. For example, one major provider of outdoors education services reports that, of 189 new staff hired between 2011 and 2014, 49% were international staff with an international qualification. Without increasing resources for VET training for outdoor activity leaders, industry will not be positioned to meet the rising demand, driven in part by the integration of outdoors education into the Australian curriculum, the growth of nature-based tourism, and population growth. The Victorian Outdoor Employers’ Network is already reporting that a shortfall in skilled staff is being filled by lesser-skilled staff, international applicants, and even refusing poten – tial bookings. Training of outdoors activity leaders is relatively resource-intensive, justifying a higher subsidy rate. Because of the unique risks and close supervision required in outdoor environments, class sizes have to be smaller than average in outdoor training. Specialised equipment and travel further increase training overheads. Outdoor Adventure Leaders was further included as a “priority occupa – tion” under the National Workforce Development Fund. At the VET subsidy levels that applied until 2013, funding 50 Cert III, 150 Cert IV, and 50 Diploma spaces per year would require an invest – ment of $1.93 million per year. The reason for the funding cuts in 2013 was the practice of some training providers of gaming the VET funding system by increasing enrolments in certain components of outdoors recreation courses for students who were actually pursuing qualifications in fitness or sport. However, a system of industry endorsement of genuine outdoors recreation training providers could easily ensure that VET funding is properly targeted. Victoria’s outdoor community employs around 3,000 workers directly, and provides benefits to at least 800,000 Victorians annually. With a turnover of $250 million, and growth of 10% per annum in some sectors, it is a thriving part of Victoria’s economy. Outdoors businesses are particularly important for regional Victorian economies, with 80% of turnover generated by outdoors recreation spent in regional areas. The outdoor workforce is skewed towards younger workers and workers in regional areas, two demographics in which high unemployment is a major concern.