Federal Labor has announced a $1 billion investment into reviving the ailing TAFE sector and encouraging uptake of apprenticeships in areas of significant skills shortages in a bid to “supercharge” the economy.
Opposition leader Bill Shorten has used his budget reply to highlight the chasm between the two major parties on the issue of skills and apprenticeships, unveiling a detailed package of measures designed to reverse the decline in the TAFE sector.
They include $334 million to incentivise an additional 150,000 apprentices, $200m to rebuild and upgrade TAFE campuses across the country, and a waiver of upfront TAFE fees for up to 100,000 people.
“A Shorten Labor Government will supercharge the skills economy by reversing the decline in apprentices and restoring TAFE as the centrepiece of Australian vocational education,” Mr Shorten said.
“Under the Liberals, more than $3bn has been cut from TAFE, skills and apprentices, and Australia now has 150,000 fewer apprentices and trainees than when Labor left government in 2013.”
Mr Shorten, who has previously promised to call a national inquiry into Australia’s post-secondary education system within the first 100 days in the event he is elected in May, also hit out at Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s claim on Tuesday that he was increasing vocational education funding as “nothing more than a cynical and desperate exercise to cover their cuts”.
The budget featured a $525m skills package that promised to create an additional 80,000 apprenticeships in industries with skills shortages by doubling incentive payments to employers and providing a $2000 payment to apprentices.
However, Treasury department officials confirmed that just $55m of that was new funding, the rest was rebadged funding that had previously been promised to Victoria and Queensland.
Mr Shorten said the 80,000 additional apprentices represented a downwards revision of the 300,000 places projected by the government two years ago.
“The reality is the government has done absolutely nothing to address the decline in apprenticeships or the 24.5 per cent drop in TAFE enrolments on their watch,” he said.
As part of Labor’s skills plan, support will be provided for 10,000 young people to do a pre-apprentice program, as well as support for 20,000 older workers to retrain through an advanced adult apprenticeship. Eligible workers will be given credit for their existing skills and training will be catered to filling gaps in their skill sets.
Labor will also guarantee that at least two-out-of-three dollars of public funding goes to public TAFE and will require at least 10 per cent of jobs on all major infrastructure and defence projects be filled by an apprentice.
The offer of free TAFE courses resembles a similar initiative in Victoria announced in last year’s state budget.
From January 1 2019, eligible students are no longer required to pay tuition fees for more than 30 TAFE courses in in-demand areas such as aged care, disability and trades, including concreting, plumbing, building and construction.
A range of pre-apprenticeship courses also offer free tuition, including furniture making, glazing, automotive body repair technology and signage and graphics.
A national inquiry into the post-secondary education system will consider ways to encourage students to consider TAFE in the same attractive light as university.
A new Building TAFE for the Future Fund will seek to re-establish facilities in regional communities that have lost campuses and develop new ones in regions and suburbs where the population is growing and industry is changing or expanding.
Mr Shorten said Labor would fund its promises by “making multinationals pay their fair shares and closing tax loopholes sued by the top end of town”.