fee-free tafe courses

Timothy Burt: Policy Manager, Workforce Skills - Business NSW 

8 May, 2020

Figures announced recently show the NSW Government’s initiative offering 21 fee-free TAFE courses has been a huge positive, at a time when positives are hard to find.

There have been over 85,000 enrolments in the free online courses to date. Of those, more than 33,000 people who enrolled were studying at TAFE NSW for the first time.

This is a great program at a time of much need, and the Government should be commended for offering a suitable range of courses that help people build their core skills in a range of areas including information technology, administration and business management.

Perceptions are one key factor why fewer people were previously choosing a Vocational Education and Training (VET) qualification; it is hoped that the 33,000 people having their first experience with TAFE will lead to longer term increases in the numbers of people making a VET qualification their first choice.

It's hard to believe that less than nine months ago, the Business NSW 2019 Workforce Skills Survey found that over half of employers across the State were experiencing skills shortages – compared to recently released Treasury forecasts stating that unemployment will now exceed 10 per cent by June.

Any previous data on skills or workforce needs should now come with a very large caveat until life starts getting back to normal, businesses reopen, and we can get a better understanding of the longer-term effects of COVID-19 on workforce needs.

It is impossible to predict labour market or skills growth because so many businesses, existing and new, will undergo further rapid changes in the skills they need. The VET sector must ensure that it is able to respond to these changes, whatever they are, and that it is flexible and responsive to different industry needs.

To do this, the VET sector will need to pivot, just like many other businesses, to operate in the new environment.

Governments will need to work together to undertake a rapid review of the future workforce to ensure that the training system is able to meet business demands. More training will move online, but hopefully not entirely at the expense of face-to face-training.

Most of all, the system by which national VET qualifications are developed will need a significant overhaul to ensure it can quickly satisfy business needs. If they don't, they risks being left behind by employers and training providers working directly together, quickly developing the qualifications that will ensure student outcomes meet industry requirements.

It's only right, therefore, that the NSW Government has delayed its Review of the NSW Vocational Education and Training Sector until after this crisis to ensure the sector can meet these changing demands.

TAFE and private training providers are all going to play a critical part in the rebuild of NSW. It's a welcome sign that people are already turning to the sector to upskill.

Please contact policy@businessnsw.com if you have any feedback on the fee-free TAFE courses, or let us know what other courses you would like made available.

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