OPINION Demise of TAFE will cost country dearly

Tony Morrissey is a part-time TAFE teacher in electrical trades and electrical engineering.

EVERY NSW premier has a legacy, and it seems that Barry O’Farrell’s legacy is going to be the destruction of TAFE and an irreplaceable 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 course fee was $26 – roughly equivalent in today’s money to $300.

 While doing this course, I was encouraged by the dedicated TAFE teachers to go on to university. This course 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 also completed several mechanical engineering subjects in the mechanical engineering certificate at TAFE. I considered myself fortunate to have all the necessary resources for what I considered to be essential training. 

Going back to the state governments of the 1960s and even earlier in the 1980s, they realised the importance of having a skilled workforce and made engineering courses easily affordable and available in most TAFE colleges in NSW. 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 into two courses, an advanced diploma in electrical engineering and a diploma in electrical engineering. 

The fee for the advanced diploma is $1818 and it is  available from only one college, Granville. (It may also be offered at Newcastle.) 

The diploma fee is $1514 and is only available from six colleges in NSW (Granville, Ultimo, Muswellbrook, Newcastle, Wyong and Wollongong).

Because of the increased fees and minimal locations, the younger generation are turning their back on TAFE and 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 opportunity of gaining further knowledge and skills in their respective trades.

Consequently, employers have been forced to go overseas for technical staff who are properly trained. Australian young people are being denied the opportunity of having a meaningful and challenging job. Our society is going to pay dearly for this – we should be encouraging and training our younger generation to ensure they have the necessary trade and engineering skills.

I believe overseas-trained technicians are not as competent as our own. Other countries, such as Germany, don’t put a university course above a TAFE course, and place a high priority on having workers, both TAFE and university educated, who are well trained. 

In this country, there seems to be an urgent need to have a well-trained and educated workforce, yet the O’Farrell government by its policy of closing TAFE courses and ramping up fees, seems to be moving in the opposite direction. 

Do we really want an O’Farrell legacy of having to bring in trained immigrants at the expense of Australians having jobs? If we want to have an expanding economy in the 21st century, we must increase productivity and this can only be achieved by having an educated workforce.

Increasing TAFE fees and abolishing courses is not the solution.

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