OPINION: Heavy duty fencing which surrounded the Gunnedah TAFE campus recently triggered some community discussion about plans for the facility. Perhaps it was the start of a redevelopment one mused or an injection of new funding, another pondered. 

Nope, apparently this was just “routine maintenance” according to the TAFE’s head office. The construction fencing, which skirted around the site’s Hunter Street perimeter boundary, was necessary while work was carried out on rubbish bins and gardens at the TAFE. Judging by the scale of the temporary fencing, it probably cost more to install it than it did to rejuvenate the gardens.

It comes as the government announces a $200 million shortfall in TAFE funding across the state amid a dire performance report – much of it the current Labor minister attributed to the previous Coalition government. According to a recent report, in the last decade to 2022 there has been a 45 per cent decrease in TAFE NSW teachers; since 2015, a 15 per cent drop in permanent teachers who were replaced by the equivalent number of casuals; since 2012, a 28 per cent decline in TAFE enrolment numbers; since 2011, a 33 per cent drop in the number of apprenticeship and traineeships started and a 67 per cent drop in TAFE completions since 2011.

The NSW Teachers’ Federation said the crushing evaluation of TAFE was hardly a surprise but its confirmation will deal a devastating blow to community confidence in vocational education, particularly at a time as NSW struggles to reverse skills shortages that are vital to rebuilding NSW after the recent bushfires, floods, pandemic and the current housing crisis.

“TAFE funding must be a priority, it is central to quality of life and future growth of the NSW economy and a skilled workforce,” federation president Angelo Gavrielatos said.

Hard to argue with that especially in a community like Gunnedah that is screaming out for skilled trades, has been for years. It seems no amount of labour is enough to fill the demand.

It makes sense to have the training based where the work is and more investment in the Gunnedah TAFE was forthcoming several years ago  when state MP Kevin Anderson announced a $3 million upgrade for expanded specialist trade workshops as well as specialist information and communications technology. But the million dollar question is how to incentivise more people to in-demand jobs that are not proving popular? And what is the future of TAFE and vocational education in this state and country?

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