The marketisation and commodification of foundation skills: Processes of individualisation and responsibilisation in a neo-Liberal apparatus

Year: 2018

Author: Argent, Garry, Brown, Seth

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Foundation skills (Language, Literacy and Numeracy skills), became an issue for Australian governments after results from an OECD survey in 2006 revealed that only 56% of Australia’s working age population have literacy skills to the level needed to meet the complex demands of work and life in modern economies. In 2012, these concerns drove the introduction of Australia’s first foundation skills policy in over 20 years, the National Foundation Skills Strategy (National Strategy). The National Strategy included a target to increase literacy and numeracy skills percentage to 66% by the year 2022. The foundation skills training sector was given significant responsibility to meet the 2022 national target, having transformed from a small, community-driven ‘movement’ in the 1980’s to a complex, multiprogram framework spanning multiple levels of government. This paper argues that the National Strategy can be analysed in terms of the marketisation and commodification of skills, new forms of audit and accountability, and the individualisation and responsibilisation of skills development. The National Strategy strongly responsibilises individuals to access the foundation skills training opportunities as a means to engage in the workforce and ensure that the benefits of work and economic prosperity are shared by all. This policy approach is a movement from previous policy, the National Policy of Language (NPL) and Australian Language and Literacy Policy (ALLP), which focused on collective action between Commonwealth and State governments and the inclusion of foundation skills within broader processes of national social policy development. This paper - part of a larger study that deploys Foucault’s theories of genealogy and governmentality to examine the National Strategy, the NPL, the ALLP, and the guidelines of four major foundation skills programs that support policy, the Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP), Skills for Education and Employment (SEE), Learn Local and Victorian Skills First - will identify and analyse aspects of the consequences of the commodification and marketisation of foundation skills, and the implications of individualisation and responsibilisation on foundation skills development of certain populations. The findings reveal that the National Strategy emphasises individual accountability for foundation skills learners while concurrently ignoring socio-economic factors that influence their access to training and workforce participation. The findings have important implications for increasing participation in foundation skills training and creating an educated and prosperous Australian workforce, and the uncertain prospects in meeting the 2022 target.