Training should take precedence to address Australia’s shortage of workers.
COVID-19 shut Australia’s borders, resulting in a skills shortage as immigration slowed. According to PSA/CPSU NSW Assistant General Secretary Troy Wright, a properly funded TAFE system is primed to fill the skills gap.
Since the Liberal/National Coalition came to power in NSW, enrolments at the state’s TAFE system have dropped by 70,000 students. The biggest decline was in regional areas.
“TAFE has been attacked a number of ways under this government,” said Mr Wright. “The first and foremost is the disastrous funding model.
“Essentially it is a voucher system; so rather than TAFE receiving block funding, where it receives a certain amount of money to teach a certain amount of students at a certain number of campuses.
“Instead the funding is attached to an individual, who chooses where they study.
“Suddenly NSW was awash with all these funny little private providers popping up to teach particular programs. The most obvious ones were ones teaching personal training. We didn’t have a skills shortage in personal training, there are no jobs in personal training, but this is what the Liberal Government thinks the market will decide.
“Meanwhile TAFE is left with the heavy-industry stuff, like vehicle courses or commercial cookery. They were too capital-intensive for private operators that just stole the cheap end of the market.
“We saw a lot of providers collapse and people graduate with worthless qualifications.”
Mr Wright said this resulted in a skills shortage that the previous federal government was happy to plug with immigration. However, COVID-19 cut that flow of labour, leading to businesses scrambling for skilled workers.
“Training and skills shortages cannot be solved by a market-based system, it needs the heavy hand of government,” said Mr Wright. “It is not enough to do it the State Government’s way, which is ‘go study what you want, with whoever you want’.”
Mr Wright said vital sectors such as aged care and disability support have been let down by the free-market free-for-all.
“A couple of years ago TAFE was cutting back on health-related courses,” said Mr Wright. “This is a problem across NSW, but particularly in regional NSW, where campuses are being replaced by Connected Learning Centres (CLSs). These are little buildings with a classroom with a video screen.
“You can’t teach a lot of the practical skills through a TV screen.”
Mr Wright said the town of Scone, for example, had a local TAFE that suited the area’s thriving equine industry. However, this was replaced by a CLC and the state-of-the-art TAFE campus was sold off.
At the recent Jobs and Skills Summit, 60,000 new fee-free TAFE places were promised, by the incoming Albanese Government with an additional 120,000 existing courses made fee-free to address shortages in the employment market.
The CPSU NSW TAFE Departmental Committee welcomed the new fee-free courses, but the Executive expressed concern that current staffing levels will be overwhelmed by the influx of students.
The Committee has moved that the State Government needs to increase staffing to match the new places.