TAFE budget focus welcomed by trades industry

The 2024/25 Victorian Budget has allocated $555 million to the vocational training system. Picture: ON FILE.

By Mikayla van Loon

A total of $555 million has been allocated in the Victorian Budget for the TAFE education system, training and workforce pipeline, a welcome investment from the trades industry.

Majority of the funding, $394 million, will go towards the widening of free TAFE positions, while $113 million will be allocated to support services, training delivery and help for students.

A further $32 million will be put towards the upskilling and retraining of workers.

Mooroolbark qualified electrician and apprentice plumber Michael MacDonald said free TAFE was a blessing as an adult apprentice with a family to support while upskilling.

“Wealth shouldn’t be a barrier to education. Someone’s financial status shouldn’t limit them to accessing education and this initiative, I’ve certainly benefited from,” he said.

“Because of free TAFE, I’ve actually been able to almost complete my licensing modules, I still have a couple more to go. But at the end of the day, it means I’ll be able to become a licensed plumber and gas fitter.

“Without free TAFE, it would have been probably almost impossible for me to make a sacrifice to upskill.”

Attracting more people to not only the building and construction industry but to hospitality and other vocational training courses, Mr MacDonald said will go a long way to reducing the workforce shortages.

“There is a skill shortage across the country and in Victoria…when people are weighing up decisions, whether to go to university, or to do a TAFE course, one of the benefits of going to TAFE is that you’re earning while you’re learning,” he said.

“If you do a TAFE course, particularly with free TAFE, you come out with a head start in life. So I think it’s going to attract people.”

The skill shortage, Mr MacDonald said, is the worst he’s ever seen so any step to bridging the gap will “make a big difference”.

“There is a high demand for skilled workers, particularly the licensed trades, plumbing and electrical.

“There are employers calling out for quality people and unfortunately, a lot of people are struggling to fill the gaps they need in their workforce.”

Although building and construction won’t be the only industry benefiting from the budget, with an above average participation rate in TAFE and training, it will impact the region significantly.

Vocational education and training in the Yarra Ranges was recorded at above state and national averages in the Australian Bureau of Statistics 2021 Census.

It showed that 3,786 (8.7 per cent) people were attending TAFE, compared to the state’s 7.9 per cent and the national percentage of 7.8.

Empowered Women In Trades (EWIT) founder Hacia Atherton also welcomed the announcement but said wellbeing support for apprentices was an important piece of the puzzle to ensure completion rates improve.

“The increase of $555 million, particularly the expansion of free spots, is a step in the right direction for attracting more people to trades, especially women and girls,” she said.

“However, to improve the completion rate and promote longevity in the industry, we need to prioritise psychological wellbeing at TAFE and at the workplaces of apprentices.”

Master Builders Australia found that over the year to September 2023, 42,333 apprentices started a career in the building and construction industry.

This, however, was a 25 per cent decrease on the previous 12 month period.

Completion rates also dropped 7.9 per cent, with 21,814 students finishing their training over the year to September last year.

“Teaching apprentices positive psychology principles will empower them to build the resilience needed to navigate the challenges of an apprenticeship and effectively handle stress and burnout,” Ms Atherton said.

“It’s not just about mastering technical skills; we must also invest in equipping apprentices to thrive psychologically and emotionally.”

Evelyn MP and shadow skills and training minister Bridget Vallence was a bit more critical of the budget, saying the funding didn’t make up for the 10 years of poor investment.

“Victoria has had the lowest funded TAFE system in the country for 10 years. Labor has been in

government for the last 10 years,” she said.

“This Budget reveals the number of enrolments under the Allan Labor Government in the Free TAFE for priority courses has fallen, as did the number of government subsidised apprenticeship course enrolments.

“This State Budget has fallen well short of addressing the required pipeline of workers to tackle the dire shortage of skilled workers in Victoria.”