Labor leader Anthony Albanese has unveiled a $1.2 billion ‘Made in Australia’ plan, promising to address the skills shortage in Australia through free TAFE courses and new university places.
And while any focus on skills will be welcomed by the small business and startup community, there are questions as to whether the plan goes far enough.
If elected into government, the opposition leader promised to invest in 465,000 free TAFE places, including 45,000 new TAFE places.
A Labor government would also create a $50 million TAFE technology fund, he said, which according to a statement is pegged for “improving IT facilities, workshops, laboratories and telehealth simulators”.
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Up to 20,000 new university places would be focused on closing the skills gaps in engineering, nursing, teaching and technology.
In a speech on Sunday, Albanese said Labor’s plan will “prepare a new generation of mechanics, construction workers and engineers”.
Training would be available for the resources, digital and cyber security, and advanced manufacturing sectors, as well as getting Aussies “in on the ground floor” in the growing renewable energy sector.
There would also be focus on the care sector, including early education, nursing, aged care and disability care, Albanese said.
“This isn’t just about closing a gap for today, it’s about setting us up for tomorrow,” he added.
“Make no mistake. When it comes to skills and knowledge — it is a race.”
A solid first step in bridging the skills gap
Labor’s plan is presented against a backdrop of a critical skills shortage in Australia, and suggests that training and upskilling could become a key election issue.
With skilled migration practically halted during the COVID-19 pandemic and the so-called Great Resignation looming, many business owners are struggling to find employees to fill vacant roles.
From a tech perspective, Airtree co-founder Daniel Petre says Labor’s plan is in essence a good one “and should be commended”.
TAFE has a huge role to play in offering pathways to tech careers both for young people and older people who are retraining, he explains.
Currently the main ‘feeders’ for the industry are universities, which can be limiting for students, depending on which degrees are on offer, Petre suggests.
“I’d like to see more money applied but also more spent in the school curriculum,” he notes.
“[It’s] a great first step but it won’t be enough to bridge the gap.”
Speaking to SmartCompany, COSBOA chief executive Alexi Boyd says the skills gap has been a key issue for years. The COVID-19 pandemic has simply exacerbated an existing challenge.
So anything that focuses on skills is “really positive” for the small business community, she says.
Crucially, however, she says we must find a way to ensure that skills training at all levels is in tune with the needs of small businesses — needs that have changed dramatically over the past two years.
Digital skills are no longer only relevant to tech companies. Practically every worker in every industry will have to have some digital skills, and those skills will vary depending on the business, but they inevitably change quickly.
Skills being taught in tertiary education institutions “are not keeping up”, Boyd says.
“There needs to be a very clear link between industry groups, and what the different needs are for the different industries.”