Huge fee-free TAFE package to fix up tradie shortage

Paul Eyers
By Paul Eyers
4 Min Read

The Federal Government will fund an additional 20,000 fee-free TAFE and skills training places as part of next week’s budget in a bid to fix up the construction sector’s growing tradie shortage. 

More than $90.6 million has been committed towards the plan, boosting the number of skilled workers desperately needed to address the nation’s housing crisis. 

The funding will deliver 15,000 free TAFE and VET places and 5000 pre-apprenticeships to help boost waning industry numbers ahead of Australia’s big Housing Accord build as the government targets 1.2 million new homes to be constructed by 2030. 

Australia’s lack of tradies has long been pinned as one of the key reasons behind the nation’s exacerbating housing crisis, with a recent report by Master Builders Australia projecting the shortage of skilled workers will reduce industry output by $50 billion over the next half-decade. 

Despite a sizeable workforce of 1.35 million, Australia’s construction industry has an annual exit rate of eight per cent while only replacing half of those with new entrants yearly.

Free TAFE places to reverse decline

Master Builders Australia CEO Denita Wawn says introducing 20,000 fee-free training courses was a meaningful step to bring those numbers back to parity. 

“If we are going to have any chance of building enough homes we have to prioritise capacity building of the industry,” Ms Wawn said.

“Workforce shortages remain the biggest source of cost pressure and disruption for the building and construction industry.”

The number of fee-free courses means industry and independent RTOs are set to play a crucial role in the education and training of the nation’s next generation of tradies, with Ms Wawn saying more needs to be done to ensure the RTOs were seen on a level playing field as TAFE. 

“The announcement of Fee-Free TAFE and VET places rightfully recognises the role of not-for-profit industry-led registered training organisations in training the next generation of tradies,” she added. 

“It’s now up to state and territory governments to ensure industry-run RTOs are held on equal footing with TAFE.” 

Independent RTOs to get free spots

The announcement was welcomed by the Independent Tertiary Education Council Australia (ITECA), the peak body representing independent skills training. 

Recently released data from the National Centre for Vocational Education Research showed the significant role independent RTOs play in delivering skilled worker training for the construction industry, accounting for nearly 50 per cent of total student enrollments. 

“Over the medium term, this additional funding will put more qualified tradespeople on construction sites around the country.  ITECA members are looking forward to delivering, alongside public TAFE colleges, the quality skills training to make this possible,” Troy Williams, ITECA Chief Executive, said. 

“ITECA welcomes the Australian Government’s approach that reflects the complementarity of both independent RTOs and public TAFE colleges.” 

The Construction, Forestry and Maritime Employees Union (CFMEU) praised the apprenticeships and traineeship boost. 

National Secretary Zach Smith said the announcement showed the government was serious about addressing skills shortages.

“This investment will mean more apprentices and trainees will get the training they need to build critical housing and infrastructure that Australia desperately needs,” he said.

“There’s an often-overlooked distinction between apprenticeships and traineeships, but thankfully, the government recognises the importance of both – critical to addressing construction skills gaps.”

The fee-free TAFE program will run over two years, starting January 1st, 2025.

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Paul Eyers has worked as a journalist for a range of media publishers including News Corp and Network Ten. He has also worked outside of Australia, including time spent with ABS-CBN in the Philippines. Stepping away from the media, Paul spent five years sharpening his tools in construction - building his skill set and expertise within the trade industry. His diverse experiences and unique journey have equipped him with an insider view of Australia’s construction game to dig deep into the big stories.

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