The Labor Plan - focus on skills fee-free TAFE courses

by Anthony Albanese, Leader of the Australian Labor Party

As the old saying goes: Give a person a fish and you feed them for a day; teach a person to fish and you feed them for a lifetime.

Likewise, if you teach people skills, you give them opportunity for a lifetime. In 2021, too many Australians are missing out on skills training.

Over nearly a decade in office, the Liberals and Nationals have stripped $3bn from the TAFE sector. There are 85,000 fewer Australians engaged in apprenticeships and traineeships than when they took office. The underinvestment has created a skills deficit that has forced employers to look offshore for workers. The shortage is acting as a handbrake on economic growth.

We must do better.

Labor’s Made in Australia Skills Plan will revitalise the Australian training sector with TAFE at its heart.

We’ll provide fee-free TAFE for 465,000 Australians and create up to 20,000 new university places in areas of skills shortage. Our plan will prepare a new generation of mechanics, construction workers and engineers. It will train people in resources, digital and cyber security and advanced manufacturing.

And it will invest in a new wave of early childhood educators, registered nurses, teachers and aged-care and disability care professionals. The National Skills Commission’s research is clear – in coming years, demand for nurses, aged carers, disability workers and childcare workers will skyrocket. The pandemic has reminded us how important it is to maintain an effective and well-resourced health system.

The work of care is often done by women, operating in full sight but without due recognition. We should be treating care workers as the national assets they are and investing in their education and training. We can meet Australia’s caring needs while giving tens of thousands of Australians good, long-term careers.

Labor’s training focus will also target the huge opportunities that come with the global shift to clean energy.

Our abundant natural resources, including sun, wind and minerals such as lithium and copper, mean Australia can be a renewable energy superpower. We can use cheaper energy to drive a new era in Australian manufacturing.

But to achieve this ambition, we need an appropriately skilled workforce. That’s why Labor’s fee-free TAFE plan will apply to skills training in science, engineering and advanced manufacturing. To prosper in the 21st century, Australia must invest in education and training. The reinvigoration of Australian manufacturing, the birth of new 21st-century industry and the creation of hundreds of thousands of new jobs require government investment and policy leadership.

Also read: Minerals Are part of the Solution

Labor will provide that leadership. We’ll partner with business, training organisations and unions to ensure our training effort is fit for the 21st century.

To guide that collaboration, we will create Jobs and Skills Australia, an independent organisation to work with business, unions and training bodies to ensure our training system is geared to meet the needs of the future.

Australia has no shortage of inventors and entrepreneurs with the ability to develop new industries that can drive decades of economic prosperity. But they deserve a government with the vision to provide them with a pipeline of skilled workers.

Thousands of young Australians will have new opportunities with Labor’s fee-free TAFE plan. But we are equally determined to retrain older workers whose jobs are eliminated by technological or other change.

It is a disgrace that almost 40,000 Australians aged over 45 have been unemployed for more than two years. A majority are older women.

These workers have much to offer employers. It is wasteful and wrong to throw people on the scrap heap when they could be retrained to fill the gaps in our skills base, giving them a chance to develop a new career and set themselves up for retirement. Australia faces great challenges in coming decades. The global economy is transforming, bringing new challenges and new opportunities. Investing in training will allow us to grasp these opportunities.

This opinion piece was first published in The Daily Telegraph on Friday, 10 December 2021.

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