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Why education providers should forge closer industry partnerships



In early 2023, the University of Wollongong welcomed the first cohort of students enrolled in its new and innovative Cyber Academy program. A partnership between Deloitte, University of Wollongong, TAFE NSW and Swinburne University, the program offers UK-style ‘degree apprenticeships’ in cybersecurity, where students sponsored by industry and government employers undertake a three-year university course at the same time as undertaking on the job training.


This is just one of many initiatives from both education providers and industry to draw closer together. For a long time, Australian tertiary educators have sought closer alignment with industry, partly in response to criticisms that students were graduating with gaps in their job readiness. Both educators and industry have seen the benefits of a closer relationship, which would help educators deliver skills and jobs for students and employers get the workers and skills they need.


Key statistics from ReadyTech’s Voice of VET Survey 2023 shows this trend is continuing in Australia’s vocational education sector. Industry and employer engagement is named as an important aspect of improved student learning, training and experience by 87% of the Registered Training Organisations (RTOs) we surveyed. Meanwhile, 73% said that their RTO already engages with industry to ensure close alignment and better student job outcomes.


How education providers benefit from partnerships with industry


Industry partnerships range from fully fledged development of bespoke programs for industries or individual employers, to collaboration on course curriculums, internships and guest lectures. The goals, essentially, are to provide students with the right learning and experience while also providing industry with a pipeline of well-trained and educated workforce.


The benefits of industry partnerships for education providers include:


Curriculum development


Australian vocational education and training is highly regulated. Training packages are specific in what providers need to deliver their students. However, close industry relationships and partnerships can ensure this training is ultra-fine-tuned to the changing needs of industry, even between Training Package updates. For example, microcredentials can even be offered to fill gaps or acquire specific valuable skills that students and employees both need.


On-the-job work experience


Employers are clamouring for candidates that have on-the-job experience in their areas of training - and this is where industry partnerships can really deliver for students and their future employers. By giving students a chance to apply their knowledge in real-world settings, often through internship-style placements in the workplace, these arrangements go a long way towards bridging the gap between what is taught in the classroom and what will be required in the workforce.


Student career opportunities


Abundant graduate work opportunities are a key selling point for education providers. Students today are more discerning about where their investment in study is likely to lead them, and paying work is a key factor in their decision making. By forging closer partnerships with industry, providers are able to demonstrate and offer ways for students to develop their networks and increase employment prospects through close relationships with employers.


Access to technologies


For some providers of training, the acquisition of technology or equipment may be too expensive or difficult, especially in a time when this is changing quite quickly. Through close relationships with industry, training providers offer students access to job-specific resources that provide opportunities for those students to access industry best practice, while making this more cost-effective for providers of training themselves.


Economic development


Close relationships between industries and training providers are likely to yield benefits for communities and the whole economy, including through productivity gains. As training providers deliver the skills that students and employers need – in particular, the rising skills bar as a result of the growth of AI and automation – employers and industries are better able to ensure that their skills match the needs of their industry in the now, fostering thriving and prosperous communities.


A leading example of industry partnerships for digital skills delivery


One Digital Sklls Organisation pilot project in the technology industry is a great example of what close industry partnerships can deliver. Bringing together Bendigo Kangan Institute (BKI) TAFE and key tech employers in Victoria, such as, the project is delivering entry-level digital professionals in a specific location through a custom program involving both training and industry experience.


The landmark project is meeting specific industry challenges head-on to deliver real solutions. Just one of these challenges is the difficulty of these tech employers in finding enough entry level digital professionals within their community, in areas that include programming, digital design, UX and UI, quality assurance, project management and cybersecurity.


Pairing a TAFE with industry means the DSO project is benefitting from providing on-the-job experience, ensuring it will deliver powerful and fast-tracked training in a specific area of industry need. It  helps both the students and employers involved, as well as the fortunes of the local industry. Educators are key beneficiaries of such partnerships.


Are industry partnerships the future?


Training providers will encounter many challenges when seeking to create mutually beneficial industry partnerships. Aligning goals and objectives at the beginning can be difficult, and keeping the relationship on the rails over the longer term can require careful attention.


But it is clear that the future lies with closer industry engagement – and those educators who move first will have the advantage. By engaging and forging closer ties with employers and industry, education businesses are in effect creating sustainable training organisations that will be able to adapt with their industry, capitalise on opportunities, and attract a new generation of students.


Interested in learning more about how we partner with tertiary education providers to provide next generation student management technology? Learn more here.