TAFE cuts, fee increases hit young people hard in economic downturn

With the local economy in recession, it’s tough for everyone trying to find a job right now. But if you’re a young person trying to start your career in Western Australia, it’s become even more difficult.

Recent Australian Bureau of Statistic figures have revealed that youth unemployment has hit 11.5 per cent, compared with a 6.5 per cent overall unemployment rate in WA. And those figures only capture part of the problem.

“The under-employment and casualisation of the workforce aren’t captured in the statistics,” said Youth Affairs Council of WA chief executive Ross Wortham. “The state of the economy has a flow-on effect in many ways and one direct impact of our current economic climate is that it is harder for young people to find work — it is more competitive and there are fewer opportunities to build experience.”

To make matters worse, the crisis has been exacerbated by TAFE fees increasing more than 600 per cent in the past three years. The fees for a Diploma in Nursing were $1862 in 2013 but they’ve now jumped to $9361. An Advanced Diploma of Engineering (Electrical) has increased from $2203 in 2013 to $12,712.

The State Government has slashed support for TAFE, with the 2016/17 state budget confirming a further cut of $120 million to the training budget this financial year and an additional $50 million to be cut in the next financial year. This comes on the back of more than $100 million worth of cuts from TAFE institutes collectively between 2008 and 2014.

Adding insult to injury, the largest course fee increases have been in areas currently listed on the Skilled Migration Occupation list, which fast-tracks overseas workers into WA jobs. It takes a lot of nerve to suggest there’s a skills shortage here that requires foreign labour, while at the same time making it harder than it’s ever been for locals to gain the skills we need to address that shortage.

If the State Government is going to slash funding and hike fees for TAFE courses, it doesn’t take a genius to see that it’s going to be harder for young Western Australians to access or afford the training opportunities they need to start their careers.

Disturbingly this has now been realised, with recent figures released by the National Centre for Vocational Education Research on training and apprenticeships showing that State Government funded vocational education training (VET) was down 12.6 per cent in 2014-15, making WA the worst performing state in the country. Female apprenticeships and trainees fell more than males with a decrease of 13.4 per cent. The decrease in 15-year-old enrolled VET students was the largest at 18.6.

The combination of increasing youth unemployment, skyrocketing TAFE fees, and decreasing VET enrollment and apprenticeship numbers, should clearly raise the alarm with the State Government. There is nothing more important for our economy than ensuring all Western Australians have access to quality, affordable public education and training.

If we are serious about creating jobs in the industries of the future, we need to ensure that all of our young people get a great education, and that it’s easy and affordable for workers to learn new skills.

The cuts the State Government has made to public education and training over the last eight years are short sighted and are having a real negative impact on our economy. They may have saved some dollars in the short term but the long-term cost to the state budget of eroding the knowledge and skills base of its workforce will be significant.

We all remember industry telling us that there weren’t enough skilled workers at the height of the resources boom, and that they should be allowed to bring in more workers from overseas. Investing in education and training is critical to ensuring this doesn’t happen again, so that we have the skilled workforce our economy will need in the future and that industry has no excuses to employ overseas workers, at the expense of locals.

We need a plan for WA jobs that backs young West Australians with accessible and affordable training through TAFE and apprenticeships. The future of our state depends on giving our young people the opportunity to develop their skills and build the economy of tomorrow.

To read more about our plan for accessible and affordable training through TAFE, click here.

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