TAFE & Adult Provision Funding future skills in TAFE

With less than 100 days till the state election, the AEU is calling for bold action from government to ensure quality education for all Victorians. Every student has the right to access high-quality, properly funded public education – and a qualified, well-supported education workforce is the cornerstone of this provision.

This was the focus of my address to the AEU Annual Conference on 31 July, which was attended by Premier Daniel Andrews, the new Minister for Education Natalie Hutchins, and the Greens spokesperson for education Sam Hibbens. Victorian Liberal leader Matthew Guy did not respond to our invitation.

There, I presented the AEU’s Ten-year plan for staffing in public education, which outlines our recommended strategies to attract and retain staff, provide better pathways, and meet workforce demands, especially in areas of skill shortages.

The cumulative effects of COVID-19 and other illnesses, on top of already intense workloads, is leading to stress and burnout – and an increasing likelihood of retirement or resignation – among staff throughout the public education sector.

Central to this plan is the need for government to address unsustainable workloads, salaries, insecure employment, the impact of additional fee-free TAFE, and the status of the profession – most of which requires greater investment.

The cumulative effects of COVID-19 and other illnesses, on top of already intense workloads, is leading to stress and burnout – and an increasing likelihood of retirement or resignation – among staff throughout the public education sector.

To go some way towards addressing these critical shortages, the AEU is calling for a retention payment for all existing staff in kindergartens, schools and TAFE as an incentive to remain in the system.

Manageable workloads and rewarding career structures will play an important role in attracting and retaining qualified staff. While some of these issues, including salaries and workload, were partially addressed in the TAFE Teaching Staff Agreement 2018, there is more to be done as we negotiate a new agreement.

In a 2017 survey, TAFE teachers reported working 6.8 hours of unpaid overtime per week, and three-quarters had considered leaving TAFE in the previous 12 months. In a 2021 survey, more than 77% of TAFE teachers said there had been an increase in their workload, with 44.3% saying this increase was significant.

Despite significant investment in vocational education by the Andrews government, TAFE still lacks the financial stability needed to provide the education and training that the community needs.

Government needs to provide better support for new teachers transitioning from their respective industries through funded mentoring programs akin to those provided in early childhood and schools.

State and federal governments also need to create several thousand studentships bonded to the public education sector, with a focus on rural, regional and hard-to-staff areas. These studentships would help students meet course fees and other living costs, offer job security for graduates, and provide a guaranteed stream of employees.

Longer term, through partnerships with universities, we urge government to consider establishing a TAFE teacher qualification similar to the ‘Hawthorn model’ of the 1980s, whereby tradespeople were employed in TAFE settings whilst undertaking their teaching qualifications, with concentrated support.

These are just some of our key recommendations for specific initiatives to attract and retain teachers, provide better pathways, and meet workforce demand, especially in skill shortage areas.

Despite significant investment in vocational education by the Andrews government, TAFE still lacks the financial stability needed to provide the education and training that the community needs. As the Future skills for Victoria Report (Macklin Review) noted, current subsidies for VET courses still do not reflect the real costs of quality provision. The 2021–22 state budget allocated $99 million over four years to increase the hourly funding rate for courses, which equates to about 25 cents per hour. Given Victoria’s hourly rate is currently $3.43 behind the national average, this is not enough.

Better funding for student support services in TAFEs is also essential to help all students complete their courses.

Following the launch of the Victorian Skills Plan, the approaching state election provides an opportunity for the Andrews government to meet its mantra of “saving TAFE” and commit to allocating at least 70% of VET funding to public provision. Without this, quality provision for all students is at risk.

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