A new report from the Australian Council of Trade Unions calls for the reinvigoration of Australia’s TAFE by guaranteeing a minimum of 70 percent public funding, as well repairing almost a decade of damage to our apprenticeship system.
The report, Skilling the Nation: Addressing Australia’s skills and migration needs now and intro the future, explains that for Australia to prepare for the challenges that lie ahead, we need a highly skilled workforce.
Our skills systems are broken, after almost a decade of deliberate underfunding of TAFE and adult education by the former Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison Government.
Skilling the nation through a reinvigorated training system
The former Coalition Government mismanagement spent almost a decade slashing public funding to VET and the report highlights some of the brutal consequences for workers.
Since 2013, 70,000 apprenticeships and traineeships have disappeared from the Australian economy. As a result, tens of thousands fewer skilled workers are entering the workforce each year.
Completion rates for apprenticeships and traineeships are at their lowest. With our VET system so neglected, it’s no wonder some industries are facing massive skill shortages.
The decreased public funding has also taken a toll on TAFE workers themselves. In Victoria and NSW (home to the two largest TAFE systems), 9,000 full-time staff positions were cut from 2012 to 2020.
The report recommends 18 structural reforms including a guaranteed minimum of 70 per cent public VET funding for TAFE as well.
Another recommendation is for a Commonwealth funded 50 per cent wage subsidy for employed apprentices, with a quarter of the subsidy to go the apprentice as a retention bonus.
A wage subsidy will encourage more young people to start and complete their apprenticeship. Better support for apprentices is crucial for industries such as energy, tech, care, health and transport as Australia’s population ages and our economy evolves in the face of climate change.
We know decent public funding of TAFE benefits the community and workers in ways that cannot be expressed in numbers. Whether its improving regional economic development or allowing workers more equitable access to fulfilling work, a well-funded TAFE and decent apprenticeships should be the backbone of education and training.
The strongest way forward for all workers
The VET system must meaningfully engage with industry – employers and workers – to ensure that the system is meeting the needs of industry and preparing workers for new opportunities in clean energy industries like hydrogen and renewables, ongoing pandemic management and recovery, and expanding the care sector to meet the needs of an ageing population.
These are far from hypothetical challenges. The pandemic has pulled back the curtain on our struggling health and aged care systems and workers have had to confront gigantic climate change disasters this year during the NSW and Queensland floods.
The report lays out a comprehensive plan to fix Australia’s skills systems, focussed on lifting wages and providing secure jobs.
Our skills system is underfunded and at breaking point. But workers in unions are powering forward to fix the system in a way that benefits all workers.