New hope for the system, but…

Unions and educators have deliberately been excluded from skills policy decision making, but this looks set to change, based on announcements from federal Labor.

Prior to the election, Labor committed to:

  • ending privatisation by stealth, ensuring at least 70 per cent of Commonwealth vocational education funding is for public TAFE
  • a $50 million TAFE Technology Fund to improve IT facilities, workshops, laboratories and tele-health simulators
  • $100 million New Energy Apprenticeships to encourage and support 10,000 apprentices to train in new energy jobs and provide the additional support they need to complete their training
  • 465,000 fee-free TAFE places, including 45,000 new TAFE places. At the September Jobs and Skills Summit, the Albanese Government announced:
  • an additional 180,000 fee-free TAFE places, on top of the 465,000 places previously announced
  • $1.1 billion in federal funding for the new places that will be shared by the states, territories and the Commonwealth.

Unions, including the AEU and the ACTU, played a big part in these policy settings. The ACTU’s recommendations are available from australianunions., by searching from jobs summit”.

Labor’s improvements are in stark contrast to the neoliberal agenda of the Coalition during the previous 10 years. However, announcements are not enough; policy needs to be put into practice. The Federal Government will need to pressure unwilling Coalition states, such as NSW, to rebuild the TAFE teacher and support staff workforce in order to deliver on the promises made. In 10 short years, the TAFE educational workforce has been slashed from 17,104 in 2012 to only 8197 workers in 2022. That cut of 8907 TAFE teachers and related employees is more than half the workforce. Even more concerning is the reduction between 2021 and 2022, where workforce numbers fell by 2609.

The opportunity presented to reinvest in the future skills of NSW through high quality vocational education may be squandered, should TAFE NSW not be able to reverse the significant decline in TAFE teacher numbers.

Part of the problem lies in the current salaries, conditions, and workload of TAFE teachers, in much the same as it is in schools. A serious rethink of TAFE teacher salaries and workload will be needed to match the salaries of the trades and professions they teach, so that TAFE NSW can attract and retain the best of the best people that industry has to offer, as employers compete for skilled workers in the current climate of skills shortage.