Labor will not be able to meet demand for skilled workers unless it changes its election campaign policy on the TAFE sector, according to private training organisations.
Labor leader Bill Shorten and education spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek have promised to revive training by focusing on the public TAFE system, spending $200 million on building upgrades and offering 100,000 free places.
But the Australian Council for Private Education and Training said the majority of students in the training sector get their qualifications with private providers.
In 2017 (latest available) 4.2 million students were enrolled in the training sector, but of this the public TAFE system accounted for less than 682,000.
Chief executive Troy Williams said the public system had been run down by successive state and federal governments to a point where it no longer had the infrastructure to work with even if Labor poured money into it.
Canberra injects money into it through National Training Agreements which have relatively few conditions attached to them as far as state governments are concerned.
Or it can earmark money for specific purposes and get the states to sign up to National Partnership Agreement.
These have had limited success. The Coalition put $1.5 billion into the Skilling Australians Fund but Queensland and Victoria refused to sign up and eventually their share of the money was spent on other programs.
Private providers are self-financed or financed by state governments. They have no access to federal funding except through VET Student Loans.
Mr Williams said state and federal governments should make funding fully contestable and provider agnostic.
“The independent sector is more flexible in working with students and it has strong partnerships with business. Some industries have their own training schools, like Master Builders Australia.
“Private providers are more nuanced to local demand, whereas the bureaucracy of TAFE stops it from being responsive to demand.”
He said the Victorian government promised 100,000 free places in last year’s election but the state’s TAFE system was struggling to meet the demand.
“We’re pleased Labor has made vocational education and training a priority.”
— Jenny Lambert, director of employment, education and training, ACCI
The director of employment, education and training at the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Jenny Lambert, said Labor’s TAFE promise is pre-empting its own review of post-secondary education which is meant to investigate the balance between the training and university sectors.
She said TAFEs are structured not to compete with each other but to service regions instead. Private providers are able to meet short-term demand or shortfalls in skills. The training system would work best if public and private worked side by side.
“We’re pleased Labor has made vocational education and training a priority. VET is in desperate need of more funding and better planning. But focusing on the public providers without thinking about the private sector is a concern to us.”
The Housing Industry Association, which offers 1300 courses and had 6000 graduates from its own training organisation in 2018, said the success of different providers depends on the market they service and it should be student choice that determines where the money goes.