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Australia is probably not the first country that comes to mind when looking for similarities with the U.S. But when it comes to higher education ad job training, maybe it should be.
Both countries share goals of increasing the workforce skills of their population in the next 10-15 years—Australia looks to have 40 percent of residents attain a degree by 2025, while the U.S. is aiming for 60 percent over the same period of time.
The U.S. and Australia also realize that reaching those goals will require ensuring that nontraditional students— including low-income students, students in rural areas and displaced and incumbent workers—are included in the effort.
Both countries recently had two bellwether reports issued that are setting the agenda for those efforts: In the U.S., the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) this spring published Reclaiming the American Dream: Community Colleges and the Nation's Future, while in 2011 Australia released Skills For All Australians: National Reforms to Skill More Australians and Achieve a More Competitive, Dynamic Economy.
The two reports identify areas where the two countries might share challenges and best practices in education reform, said Mark Darby, counselor for education with the Australian Embassy in Washington, D.C.
“The synergies and similarities were striking,” said Darby, who visited this week with AACC staff.
Areas for collaboration
Darby said there are four key areas where the U.S. and Australia could collaborate to address their education and training challenges: policy development and funding initiatives; data sharing; best practices; and leadership.
Under policy development and funding initiatives, for example, the Australian government is particularly interested in AACC’s Voluntary Framework of Accountability, which seems to align well with the Australian Skills Quality Authority. And the U.S. Department of Labor’s Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training program is similar to Australia’s National Workforce Development Fund and Skills Connect program.
Filling industry demand
While Australia is better off economically than the U.S.—it has an unemployment rate under 5 percent compared to about 8 percent in the U.S.—it shares a challenge of finding enough skilled workers to fill jobs in growing and emerging industries, Darby said. Chevron wants to expand Australia’s $28-billion oil and gas industry—mainly to forge a 25-year contract to provide oil to China—but it’s facing a workforce shortage.
“Our biggest challenge is the need for skilled workers,” Darby said.
Similar to the U.S., Australia is seeing many of its residents who already have college degrees returning to college to upgrade their skills or to train for different jobs, Darby said. That’s partly why he’s interested in AACC’s Plus 50 Encore Completion program.
AACC already has a relationship with its counterpart in Australia. In 2010, AACC and the TAFE Directors Australia signed a memorandum of understanding for the organizations and their member colleges to collaborate on course and program articulations, lifelong learning, and student and faculty exchanges.
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