The new report by the Centre for Future Work at the progressive Australia Institute think tank, shows TAFE has produced $84.9 billion in annual productivity benefits, including $25 billion in tax revenue. It has also produced $6.1 billion in wages supporting 48,000 jobs and purchasing of goods and services and $1.5 billion in social benefits including lower unemployment.
The total annual costs of the TAFE system are $5.7 billion.
“Historic investment in quality TAFE education supports an ongoing flow of total economic benefits worth $92.5 billion to the Australian economy in 2019 – 16 times greater than the annual ‘maintenance’ costs Australia currently reinvests in the TAFE system,” the report said.
Australian Education Union federal president Correna Haythorpe said the report showed TAFE had made a “huge contribution to Australia’s economic prosperity, despite years of what can only be described as policy vandalism of the vocational education sector”.
The report recommended a long-term 50 per cent wage subsidy for employed apprentices on the condition that they are still employed with their host employer one year after completion of their training program.
Business NSW has urged the federal government to offer employers a wage subsidy of up to 90 per cent of new apprentice wages (or $540 a week) for the first year of training to support apprentice commencements.
Business NSW chief executive officer Stephen Cartwright said the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic had been severe on apprentices at a time when their numbers were already low.
“Without intervention, there will be significant impact on apprentice numbers for the foreseeable future,” he said.
Australian Industry Group chief executive Innes Willox said skills were going to be essential to a post-COVID economic recovery.
“Companies will need to be supported by a responsive, and well funded training system, with strong, high quality TAFE colleges partnering in this process,” he said.
“Increased funding for TAFE will be important. However, increasing the quantum of funding without other industry-driven reforms will leave us a million miles from delivering the required outcomes.”
The TAFE NSW-university taskforce will work on providing jobs for the next generation of engineers and deliver training in science, technology, engineering and mathematics related trades and professions.
The taskforce will develop what it calls a “Multiversity” to deliver job-ready graduates to meet skills needed in western Sydney, including for the Western Sydney Aerotropolis, during an economic recovery.
Western Sydney University vice-chancellor Barney Glover said TAFE NSW was “essential” in helping deliver high quality education and research needed for the Western Sydney Aerotropolis and another initiative that aims to create 200,000 knowledge jobs in the region by 2038.
Steffen Faurby, managing director, TAFE NSW said skills training would play an important role in the state’s economic recovery.
“The joint taskforce will complement our work in responding to emerging industry needs, and we look forward to closely collaborating with our university partners,” he said.
The Morrison government is providing a subsidy that covers 50 per cent of wages for existing apprentices until March next year and access to free, or low cost training through the $1 billion JobTrainer fund in partnership with states and territories.
Employment and Skills Minister, Michaelia Cash said strengthening Australia’s skills and training system was “a priority as we come out of the COVID-19 pandemic and look to support businesses to create jobs as they reopen”.
“The Morrison government is proud to be investing in reforming our skills sector, and paying to clean up the disaster left by Labor’s failed VET FEE-HELP program and cuts to employer incentives,” she said.
Anna Patty is a Senior Writer for The Sydney Morning Herald with a focus on higher education. She is a former Workplace Editor, Education Editor, State Political Reporter and Health Reporter.