The NSW skills market is upside down. The Federal Government has over-invested in university places, with a growing number of unemployed teachers, lawyers and scientists. The State Government has under-invested in TAFE, creating technical and trade skill shortages that are being filled by migrants (permanent and temporary).
Youth unemployment remains high in some suburbs and towns, leaving employers frustrated that they cannot fill apprenticeships and traineeships with local staff. Out of necessity, they have had to turn to temporary visa workers to keep their businesses going. This is a huge frustration across NSW: Why are we spending billions of dollars on the education system each year but then relying on migrants for workforce skills?
One Nation’s policy aims to correct these imbalances. In particular, TAFE is in need of urgent repair, both in terms of teaching standards and student outcomes. The problems in universities are of a different kind, relating to censorship and restrictions on intellectual freedom.
TAFE has lost is core functions as a high-quality training provider, while universities have drifted away from their core role in fostering active debate and higher forms of learning. Across the board in NSW post-secondary education, major policy reform is required.
Among the many public sector failures of the NSW Government, none is worse than TAFE. The sector has been plagued by funding cuts, senior management instability, falling enrolments, IT system failures, staff casualisation and declining standards and results. TAFE lost more than one-third of its staff between 2010 and 2016. Everything that could go wrong under the Liberal and National Parties has gone wrong.
The funding situation is so bad there have been reports of TAFE teachers having to bring their own toilet paper to work, and also having to barter for access to stationery. None of this has made the system more flexible or successful, with employers still complaining that TAFE managers are unresponsive to the needs of small-to-medium-sized businesses.
In large part, the ‘marketisation’ of TAFE has had the wrong financial incentives. The first priority for TAFE teachers is now the maintenance of student numbers in a contestable market – in effect, holding on to their own jobs. Student completion rates have become a higher priority than quality instruction and the development of sophisticated workforce skills. Three-quarters of TAFE staff are non-permanent, meaning that teachers in particular are easily dispensable.
The focus on completion rates has encouraged a ‘tick-and-flick’ assessment style, passing through as many students as possible. In fact, most TAFE courses no longer have grades; students either pass or fail – or in the system’s PC language, they are deemed “Achieved Competent” or “Not Yet Competent”. The latter term is used as the word ‘fail’ is said to be too “upsetting to students and hinders educational outcomes.” Like the rest of the NSW education system, TAFE has been over-run by PC nonsense.
Within this incentive structure, everything is done to avoid non-course-completions. Students with poor writing skills, for instance, are allowed to take oral tests and assessments, known as the ‘reasonable adjustment’ policy. Serious people inside the system know it has become comical, a case of churning through under-prepared students simply to maintain contestable training dollars.
One Nation wants to give NSW TAFE a role and status in skill development no less prestigious than the university system. It needs to be developed as an attractive alternative to higher education, especially given the growing importance of trades in the NSW economy. The crisis in TAFE needs to be turned around urgently, with a new funding model for the sector.
In the lead up to the State and Federal elections, the major parties are scrambling to undo the damage they have caused to TAFE and the vocational training system. Some of these initiatives are worth endorsing. In particular, Pauline Hanson’s One Nation supports:
The 2018 State Budget initiative funding 100,000 fee-free apprenticeships in NSW over the next four years.
Senator Pauline Hanson’s success in October 2018 in convincing the Federal Government to create a $60 million Regional Australia Apprenticeship Program, which will see 1600 new apprenticeship positions made available. Under the program, the government will pay employers 75 percent of the first year’s wage, followed by 50 percent in the second, then 25 percent in the third year.
NSW Labor’s commitment for 70 percent of VET money to go to TAFE, with the remaining 30 percent allocated to a contestable market.
Other policy changes are needed to uplift and improve TAFE. One Nations supports:
Increasing the proportion of permanent teaching positions so they can concentrate on quality instruction rather than student throughput.
Reintroducing grades in all TAFE courses as a way of improving standards and competition between students. Employers will also benefit by having a more accurate guide to the ability of the person they might hire.
Within the TAFE system, shifting a component of funding from student-based to performance-based financing, thereby rewarding colleges and courses that maximise the number of students finding jobs. This means measuring and reporting on how TAFE succeeds in getting students into employment – the key reason why TAFE exists. Performance-based funding will also make the system more responsive to the needs of business.
Urging the Federal Government, after years of promising, to finally get tough on young unemployed people turning down job and training opportunities. One Nation supports a ‘one-strike’ policy – one opportunity turned down and welfare payments cease.
Slashing the number of temporary work visas in Australia, so that the products of an improved TAFE system can find jobs.
A concerted crackdown on dodgy private training providers in NSW.