Originally published in The Ararat Advocate and Pyrenees Advocate on 26 April 2024.

Investment in TAFE is critical to supporting Australians who are looking to kickstart their careers, upskill or find a new career path.

Every government has a responsibility to ensure the TAFE system creates a strong pathway from training to the workforce, allowing Australians to pursue opportunities in sectors facing skills shortages.

Since coming to office two years ago, Federal Labor’s focus has been to put TAFE back at the centre of the vocational education and training (VET) sector after years of funding cuts and neglect from the previous Coalition government.

There has never been a better time for Australians to undertake a TAFE course thanks to the Albanese Government’s Fee-Free TAFE initiative.

Federal Labor partnered with state and territory governments to establish a $1 billion 12-month Skills Agreement to deliver Fee-Free TAFE and vocational education places from January 2023 – and there has been an overwhelming response.

Over 355,500 Australians enrolled in Fee-Free TAFE last year, exceeding the Government’s first-year target of 180,000 enrolments.

Among the enrolments, 62 per cent were women, 23 per cent were job seekers, eight per cent were people with a disability and seven per cent were First Nations people.

The program is also benefiting those from lower socio-economic and culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.

The most popular Fee-Free TAFE courses included early childhood education and care, electrotechnology, cyber security, nursing, and training and assessment.

In Victoria, over 48,500 students enrolled in the initiative last year, including more than 13,000 enrolments in regional Victoria.

That’s over 13,000 regional Victorians who will go on to work in high-priority sectors such as the care industry, construction, technology and digital, hospitality and tourism, and agriculture – and this number will continue to grow.

TAFE is central to many aspects of our society and we’re providing a further $414.1 million to states and territories until 2026 to fund the delivery of at least another 300,000 Fee-Free TAFE and VET places.

The program is removing cost barriers and saving students thousands of dollars in tuition fees.

For example, a Victorian training to be a nurse can save $15,000, so it’s changing lives by easing cost-of-living pressures, helping students gain the qualifications they need to fill in-demand jobs.

The Government is also working hard to attract more teachers to the sector to deliver the skills our economy and businesses need.

One of the things we learned from the pandemic was the importance of strengthening our country’s training system to create more opportunities in priority areas, and I’m proud to be part of a government that is putting the support and trust back into TAFE.