Dr Jack Dusseldorp AOM speech

Honorary Awards Conferral Ceremony, 8 May 2009

Opening remarks

Thank you Chancellor. What a surprise, and what an honour!

Knowing RMIT is Australia’s leading dual sector university, makes this honorary doctorate particularly special to me as I’ve spent my working life advocating for a parity of esteem between vocational and general education.

I also accept it as singular recognition for the effectiveness of the work of the talented multidisciplinary teams I’ve led over the past 20 years at the Dusseldorp Skills Forum, and for somewhat longer at WorldSkills.

The Forum’s competitive advantage, if you like, has been our independence, which has given us the ability to cross the sectoral and organisational divides to harness the very best heads, hands and hearts around developing innovative solutions to entrenched problems and barriers.

And while education sees young people as students and industry sees them as future workers, we’ve been able to see them simply as young people finding their way in a globalising world.

Skill respect cultures

As president of WorldSkills International I’ve been able to get a sense of the worldwide role that VET plays in helping to launch the working lives of skilled young people who make such a difference to the capability of societies to produce and provide the goods and services we in the developed world have come to take for granted.

It’s not surprising that those countries with the strongest VET provision have youth unemployment rates much closer to the adult rate, unlike here in Australia. As I believe a country’s VET strength is directly related to whether it operates within a skill respect culture or not.

What we do well is world class, but we just don’t do enough of it.

Alain de Botton, the social philosopher who visited Australia recently had a lateral suggestion to make about how we should revalue work in society when he wrote,

“At a time when recession is reminding us how badly we need work, it should be the artists who teach us to discern the virtues of the furniture of contemporary technology.”

In a sense this is exactly what our young artisans and technology workers do at worldskills competition events where many people see vocational skills in action for the first time.

Sustainability, innovation and VET

And now, as Phil Toner has pointed out, VET occupations will be central to the development of innovations arising from the shift to sustainable production methods.

And yes, then VET’s essential value as the gateway to new skills for sustainability will widen further as the global demand for sustainable products and services inevitably increases.

RMIT’s motto, “A skilled hand and a cultivated mind” combined with the opportunity to acquire work which is both motivating and rewarding will go a long way to developing any young Australian’s identity in this challenging new century.

Closing the Gap

Yet all the research reveals that what separates those at the margins and those in the middle is educational attainment.

Nowhere is the gap wider than between Indigenous and non Indigenous Australians.

Despite the narrowing of the gap in school participation and Year 12 completion over the past decade, this success has not flowed on to any narrowing of the gap in post school educational attainment.

I note that the Bradley Review recommends that the government sets a 2020 target where 20% of undergraduate enrolments are those from low socio economic status (or SES) backgrounds.

Learning from success

According to Bradley, RMIT is currently ranked 24th out of 38 universities on SES student access and is well below the proposed 20% target.

This made me curious to find out what was behind the success of some of the higher ranked universities that are already above the 20% target.

In the case of Newcastle University (which is 4th in the ranking) I discovered they were the first to make a concerted effort to train indigenous doctors and have produced 60% of the 150 doctors now working across the country.

A leadership role for RMIT?

Then consider there are just 79 indigenous school principals in a total workforce of a quarter of a million teachers.

In the spirit of this occasion, and knowing RMIT’s commitment to ever higher standards of teaching, learning and research grounded in the needs of the real world, I can think of no better challenge to pose here today, than for RMIT to lead the way to a significant increase in the number of indigenous education workers and teachers.

They will be the vanguard to forge a sustainable reconciliation in Australia, which is needed now if we are to realise our full potential not only economically, but socially and culturally as well.

Thank you.