Victorian attacks on TAFE will suffocate state’s productivity

NOTE: This post was originally published as a guest post on Cafe Whispers as “Victorian TAFE cuts will suffocate state’s productivity” on 22 July.

The Ted Baillieu Victorian government appears hell bent on dragging the state down in the short term and in the long term.

By attacking the technical and further education (TAFE) institutions in Victoria, the state government has illustrated scant regard for the state’s economy or future capacity to meet the growing need for technical and trades people. While there might be a mining boom happening in some states and plenty of opportunities for people with technical and trades training, the state government of Victoria is failing to see how it can respond when the boom comes to an end.

It would seem that for all the supposed ability to manage an economy, the Baillieu government is failing abysmally. Yet the breathtaking stupidity of attacking TAFE is there for all to see.

Within days of the state government announcing wide-ranging cuts to the TAFE budget because of private sector blow-outs and largesse, various universities that provide TAFE courses announced the closure of courses. It didn’t take long for established TAFE institutes announced they would have to dramatically scale back their offerings and ability to meet student demands on future course offerings. Not content were the current conservatives with the hikes in TAFE fees from the previous Labor state government, it was determined that slashing technical and further education would help the budget.

Unfortunately, the Liberal National coalition are simply running on ideology not on any practical policies supported by research and discussion. Like their federal counterparts, the state conservatives sense that they have a mandate to attack the institutions that make sure there is the ability to meet the growing demands for skilled labour.

Unemployment has gone up and is continuing to rise as more jobs are lost in manufacturing and Qantas’ plans to continue to off-shore maintenance work. And this is on top of the job losses in the public sector. The faux austerity measures are not improving the conditions of the state and are certainly not prompting an increase in business investment and growth. There definitely hasn’t been a cut in the cost of living; a key election promise of Baillieu’s campaign in 2010.

By limiting and restricting the growth of wind and solar energy, the state is losing out on growing a manufacturing base for renewable energy projects. This base can be developed relatively quickly given the potential of the existing manufacturing base. It can even spur some manufacturers to re-open plants and operations. However, because the state government is refusing to grow the economy, the state is losing skilled workers to other states or overseas.

As unemployment rises, people will seek to re-train or update their skills through institutions like TAFE. But with the state government’s slash and burn approach, courses are being dumped and fees are sky-rocketing. There are dwindling options available for re-training or career development while pricing more people out of the ability to pursue further education options; options like TAFE which used to be affordable. The ability to access affordable vocational and technical education has ensured people have employment options and to make available to the labour market skilled, educated workers. TAFE used to help produce the very workers being sought after in the mining boom; and the subsequent growth of regional areas.

The Baillieu government’s own employment and procurement practices have to be more closely scrutinised. Rumours abound that the government will continue to gut the public sector but then re-employ some of the same people through short-term contracts and labour hire firms. These kinds of practices lead to a shrinking corporate knowledge and stagnation in policy development; and more importantly stagnation in policy execution and follow-through.

Attacking our TAFEs is another example of the Baillieu Liberal government’s failure to develop a long-term vision for the state. The inability to meet Victoria’s need for skilled labour means that more businesses may end up leaving the state, costing more jobs. It’s clear there are no plans to improve the level of productivity through education and development and help improve the conditions for local businesses to innovate and continue to compete in the global economy. By attacking TAFEs the state government is effectively suffocating productivity.

The Baillieu government tinkers at the edges without a thought for the ramifications and calls it reform; after telling Victorians it’ll cost more to the taxpayer.

Victorians should think long and hard before giving the Baillieu government another term. It’s clear they are incapable of taking care of the state’s economy; or ensuring the state is capable of taking full advantage of the growing renewable energy industries.

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