There has been plenty of discussion about the critical role the Australian TAFE sector will play in Australia’s economic response and recovery from COVID-19. A lot of the media focus tends to be on funding models and incentives, including ways for governments to make TAFE sustainable during a period of significant challenge.

While this focus on high-level funding settings is understandable, it doesn’t really provide an accurate picture of what’s happening at an individual institute and system level or adequately capture the opportunities for TAFE to capitalise on digitisation.

Cisco and its partner Optus commissioned a piece of independent research to better understand what was happening at an institute and system level. The research focused on answering three big questions:

  1. How will the role of TAFE campuses need to change in response to COVID-19?
  2. What are the must have technologies for contemporary TAFE in both the teaching and administration spaces?
  3. What needs to happen from a resource and capability perspective to capture the new opportunities in a fiscally constrained environment?

The answers to these questions are contained in the recently released report Changing the Design of TAFE for a New Normal: How Digital is Transforming the Training Experience, Campus Design and TAFE Operating Models. The report involved desktop research, targeted interviews, an international higher education roundtable and a comprehensive online survey that captured responses from five out of Australia’s seven TAFE systems plus stand-alone TAFEs and dual sectors.

Headline findings include:

  • More than 80% of TAFE executives believe COVID-19 has created a permanent change in the way TAFE campuses are designed and operated. This is driven by the need for TAFEs to be more resilient and adaptable, safer, more secure and more engaging for students and industry
  • The capacity of TAFEs to adjust to these future changes will be driven by their ability to implement digital innovation and accelerate a shift to a hybrid working campus. 100% of TAFEs say digital will be a more prominent consideration in campus design and over 60% say they are more likely to spend discretionary dollars on digital tools than capital works.

To succeed in the ‘new normal’ and reinvigorate the TAFE brand, the sector needs to make digital an executive-level priority and get the secure underlying platform in place.

Industry partnerships will be more critical than ever; a fact that was underscored by some recent work I have been doing  at the Tonsley Innovation Precinct in Adelaide. The Precinct is located on the site of the former Mitsubishi assembly plant and bookended by Flinders University and SA TAFE. The Precinct provides a window into the future of industry and future of jobs. As an example, the Line Zero – Factory of the Future facility at Tonsley provides insight into the role that digital will play in helping build next generation submarines and ships for the Australian Defence Force. While many of those working on these advanced maritime vessels will require traditional trades, they will also be expected to have high end digital skills and literacy. It’s likely that in 5-10 years’ time workers will be operating alongside `cobots’ – collaborative robots – who will be used for some of the most monotonous, repetitive and dangerous tasks.

TAFE has an amazing opportunity to be part of Australia’s economic rebound but it will require an accelerated approach to digital adoption. TAFEs’ industry partners – the destination for students that study at TAFEs – are being forced to change in response to new technology and the challenge for the TAFE sector is to do the same.


Reg Johnson

General Manager, Education

Cisco Australia and New Zealand