TAFE students offered ‘degree apprenticeships’ to tackle skills gap

Chalmers is promising the employment white paper will reflect about 70 actions that have been implemented, another 80 that are under way, 31 “broad reform directions” and nine new policies.

Australia had 377,665 apprentices and trainees undergoing training at the end of December last year, an increase of 8.1 per cent on the previous year as the country emerged from the pandemic, according to the National Centre for Vocational Education Research.

But the latest figures show a sharp drop in the number of young people starting an apprenticeship, with commencements down 33.5 per cent to 33,745 in the December quarter.

Skills Minister Brendan O’Connor outlined the TAFE Centres of Excellence policy earlier this year as a way to get colleges to partner with industry, universities and governments in sectors that gave Australia a “sovereign capability” or helped with fields such as care and support.

The National Skills Agreement offers the states and territories an additional $4.1 billion over five years from January 2024, including a base of $3.7 billion and another $400 million to deliver Labor’s election pledge on fee-free TAFE courses for thousands of students.

“For the workers of the future, it doesn’t necessarily have to be one or the other – TAFE or uni ,” said O’Connor ahead of the employment white paper.


“It can be a combination of technical skills development and conceptual knowledge.

“We want students of all ages to be able to move more easily between vocational education and higher education to develop skills, boost productivity and meet the skills challenge that confronts the whole of the economy.”

The government is describing its new measures as a “turbocharging TAFE” plan, so young people have skills that are in demand and attract good wages.

“It will help to ensure employers get the people they need and workers are the beneficiaries of change in our economy,” said Chalmers.

The government announced other elements of the employment white paper in recent days, including $9.1 million to prepare a business case for creating the digital skills passport.

The key policy question for the paper is whether the unemployment rate will rise from its current level of 3.7 per cent and whether it would have to reach about 4.5 per cent to be at a level that does not cause inflation to increase.

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