Sep 7, 2004

Training funds cut as skills shortages worsen


MEDIA RELEASE: Anthony Albanese – 7 September 2004

A new analysis conducted by the Australian Council of Trade Union (ACTU) reveals that the Howard Government policy of starving Australia’s vocational and education sector (VET) of funding has produced an acute shortage of skilled workers.

Today’s report shows just how much damage the Howard Government has done to Australia’s VET sector – the very sector that trains the skilled workers businesses are crying out for. Since 1997, annual Federal Government funding to the sector has been cut in real terms by more than $100 million.

But surprise, surprise – just days after calling an election, Mr Howard now laments the growing shortage of skilled workers. Some estimate skill shortages will cost the Australian economy $9 billion over the coming decade. Just last Sunday Mr Howard was telling television viewers:

“We … need a strong technical education sector, and we tend in this country to over-emphasise university education – virtuous though it is in its own right – to the detriment of skilling our population for the future. And the skills shortage in this country is one of the huge challenges over the next 10 years – a very big challenge.”

(Source: Channel 7, Sunday Sunrise, 5 September 2004)

Has Mr Howard no shame? After cutting funding to training, he now cries crocodile tears over the shortage of skilled workers.

Along with the peak business groups, Labor has been warning about emerging skill shortages for some time. Last year Labor instigated a Senate Skills Inquiry – but despite damning evidence, the Howard Government didn’t feel the need to respond to it.

What’s more, if Mr Howard’s concerns were truly sincere he would have ensured his Minister for Training, Brendan Nelson, didn’t walk away from negotiating with the States and Territories a new three year ANTA Agreement.

Labor not only recognises the challenge before Australia, but has policies to meet it head-on.

Labor’s Aim Higher Policy will invest $88.4 million to create an additional 20,000 TAFE places every year to help ease skill shortages. A Latham Labor Government will also invest $700 million under our Youth Guarantee and $212 million under our Greater Opportunities, More Security for Mature Age Australians policy which includes:

• Abolishing all TAFE fees for students wanting to learn a trade while still at high school;

• Offering a wage and training subsidy worth up to $10,200 to businesses wanting to take on and train early leavers;

• The creation of a Training Partnership Fund to help employers re-train their older workers;

• Providing a $2,000 Learning Bonus to mature age jobseekers who take up an apprenticeship in areas experiencing skills shortages; and

• Funding 125 Mature Age Workplace Trainers in key industries to develop and implement workplace training plans.

These initiatives are a down payment on Labor’s commitment to create a vibrant and industry-responsive VET sector.