The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry has welcomed the commitment from the federal Opposition to expand vocational education and training and higher education to address the chronic skills shortages Australia is facing.
Andrew McKellar, ACCI chief executive, said the policies announced by the ALP over the weekend were a positive step towards developing the workforce of the future.
“Providing free TAFE courses and expanding university places are practical investments that will increase the number of trained workers who are available for skilled jobs. Increasing long-term funding in education is essential to creating a skilled workforce for a modern economy and increasing workplace productivity,” he said.
“Businesses right across the country are facing the worst skills shortage in more than two decades, which are only getting worse by the day. This commitment is a first step in growing our country’s skilled labour force and provides a pipeline of trained workers to meet future demand.”
The ALP announcement is one of its first missives in the lead up to a possible federal election in May 2022, and comes on the back of the government’s own announcement last week in regard to its JobTrainer Skills package.
Over the weekend, the ALP announced that if it was elected next year it would fund up to 20,000 extra university places over 2022 and 2023, and provide access to 465,000 free TAFE places in nominated areas of skills shortages.
Its new skills and higher education commitments are worth $1.2 billion, with the TAFE initiative expected to cost $621 million over the forward estimates, and the university commitment to cost $481.7 million.
Labor said providing free TAFE places in targeted areas would help rebuild the industries hit hardest by the pandemic, like hospitality and tourism, as well as meeting current and future needs in the care economy, including jobs in child care, aged care, disability care, nursing and community services.
The funding will provide more than 465,000 free TAFE places, including 45,000 new places. The package also includes a $50 million technology fund to improve IT facilities, workshops, laboratories and telehealth simulators.
“While government-owned TAFE colleges play an important role, we urge the Federal Opposition to similarly support quality training delivered by both private and public education providers. It is only through choice that students and employers not only have access to the very best providers but also the one that most suits them,” Mr McKellar said.
“Further emphasis on apprenticeships is also needed from the federal Opposition. We acknowledge the commitment for apprentices in new energy jobs but there are other sectors that also urgently need apprentices.
“The Boosting Apprenticeships Commencements program has been successful in reversing the fall in apprentice and trainee numbers. A commitment to continue the program at an effective level will give businesses greater confidence to take on new hires and grow Australia’s workforce.
“With our economic recovery contingent on enhancing workforce productivity, investment in education and training should grow the skilled workforce through a more holistic approach which recognises the benefits of private providers and includes more ambitious targets for apprenticeship numbers.”