Federal Labor has promised to provide 5,000 free TAFE places for information technology and digital courses if it wins the May 18 election, giving the Australian community the “skills that businesses are crying out for”.
As part of its digital skills pitch, Labor would it would provide 5,000 fee-free information and communications technology TAFE places and work with the ICT industry to provide a better pathway into the digital workforce.
The ICT course placements were a part of Labor’s previous commitment to fund 100,000 TAFE places.
Shadow digital economy minister Ed Husic, Victorian Innovation Minister Martin Pakula and Labor candidate for Chisholm Jennifer Yang made the announcement at Box Hill in Melbourne’s east on Monday morning.
“We know right now that we have a shortfall of digitally-skilled Australian workers. We know that technology will be used more and more by businesses to improve productivity and also strengthen firms,” Mr Husic told the media on Monday.
“But we know with technology as well, it’s going to change the skills expectations for Australians in the workplace.”
“And what we’ve seen under the Coalition is not just a massive cut to the investment in skills and education … but they simply have no sense of urgency about making sure that Australian workers have the skills that will hold them in good stead for the years to come.”
Labor would also require that half of the free course offerings to go to women. The courses would be selected in consultation with the states, but are likely to include IT networking and systems administration, software and website development and user experience/user interface skills.
If it wins on Saturday, Labor would direct its Apprenticeship Advocate to “refresh and expand the digital traineeship pathway to help tackle digital skills shortages” through partnerships with industry, unions, TAFE educators and exports.
It would also work with these partners to “ensure high standards of on and off the job training” to create transferable skills and qualifications.
The new policy is an effort to combat a growing skills gap in the Australian tech sector and to upskill local workers to help with combat job losses from automation and disruption.
The Opposition pointed to an Australian Computer Society and Deloitte Access Economics report last year that found that 100,000 extra ICT workers are needed by the end of 2023, but only 5000 students are graduating from ICT university courses annually.
The announcement is part of a Labor drive focused squarely focused on human capital and skills, rather than businesses and direct funding.
“This is the type of initiative where governments can make a big investment in human capital. That translates not just to help our businesses be strong and be able to prosper into the future, but also it prepares Australians for the changes ahead,” Mr Husic said.
Other announcements from Labor during the election campaign include $25 million for regional digital skills hubs, $4 million for an artificial intelligence centre, $3 million for a blockchain academy and $2 million for a cybersecurity training centre at Broadmeadows TAFE.
Labor has accused the government of “ignoring” digital skills since the “failed” National Innovation and Science Agenda in late 2015.
It also criticised the government’s regional startup hubs, funded through the Entrepreneurs’ Programme, as being too narrow and not focused on digital upskilling, reskilling and engagement.
Policy costings revealed late last week showed that Labor is planning to cut funding from the Entrepreneurs’ Programme and the Industry Growth Centres if it takes office this weekend.
As part of its digital skills package, the Opposition has also said that it will put large government IT suppliers on notice, and require them to have one in 10 of its employees on government jobs be digital apprentices and trainees.