Every NSW Premier has a legacy. The Neville Wran legacy was not completing the Eastern Suburbs Railway line. Nick Greiner’s was a severe cut back in government services, along with greatly increased charges. Bob Carr’s was not building the M5 tunnel with anything like the capacity required. It seems Barry O’Farrell’s legacy is going to be the destruction of TAFE and the loss of effectively trained personnel.
As a baby boomer, after completing my electrical trades course, I was encouraged to do a TAFE electrical engineering course in the 1970s. The fee was $26, roughly equivalent in today’s money to $300. While doing this course I was encouraged by dedicated TAFE teachers to go on to university. This gave me the skills, knowledge and desire to complete an electrical engineering degree at the University of NSW.
As a young engineer designing power stations I realised I needed to know more about the mechanical side of power stations so I completed several mechanical engineering subjects in the Mechanical Engineering Certificate at TAFE. I considered myself fortunate to have the necessary resources for what I considered essential training.
The state governments of the 1960s, and even the 1880s, realised the importance of having a skilled workforce and they made affordable engineering courses available in most NSW TAFE colleges. These courses gave tradesmen the skills and knowledge to become draftspersons, technical officers, technicians, power station operators and project officers in the engineering field.
Today, it is a very different picture. The electrical engineering course has been watered down to two courses, an Advanced Diploma in Electrical Engineering and a Diploma in Electrical Engineering.
The fee for the advanced diploma has been increased to $1818 and is only available from one college, Granville. The diploma fee is $1514 and is available from six NSW colleges, Granville, Ultimo, Muswellbrook, Newcastle, Wyong and Wollongong.
Younger people are turning their backs on TAFE because of increased fees and fewer locations. They have no desire to complete a part-time, six-year engineering course at the University of Technology Sydney. This has resulted in our younger generation being denied the chances of further knowledge and skills in their trades.
Employers have responded by going overseas, using 457 visas for example, to get trained technical staff.
Our society will pay for this as we should be encouraging and training young people to ensure they have necessary trade and engineering skills.
Many 457 visa technicians are not as competent as those trained in-house. Just one example is technical staff that do not have the necessary operating experience and cause expensive mistakes.
Countries like Germany don’t put university courses above TAFE and place high priority on having workers, TAFE and university educated, who are well trained.
Australia has an urgent need for a well-trained and educated workforce, yet the O’Farrell Government through its policy of closing TAFE courses and ramping up fees, appears to be moving in the opposite direction.
If we want an expanding 21st century economy we must increase productivity and this can only be achieved by an educated workforce.
Increasing TAFE fees and abolishing courses is not the solution.