• Minister for Skills & Training, Brendan O’Connor.
    Minister for Skills & Training, Brendan O’Connor.

The nationwide Fee-Free TAFE initiative is continuing to exceed targets, removing financial barriers and creating more tradies.

New figures reveal 355,557 Australians enrolled in Fee-Free TAFE across Australia during 2023, smashing the initial first-year target of 180,000.

Fee-Free TAFE – which is funded by every State and Territory, and the Commonwealth - removes financial barriers for training in areas facing significant skill shortages, with enrolments prioritised for groups excluded or under-represented in the labour market.

Priority groups were strongly represented with the enrolment of 80,000 job seekers, more than 26,000 people with disability and more than 23,000 First Nations people.

Some 62 per cent of enrolments were women and students from regional and remote areas made up more than 66 per cent of total enrolments.

More than 76,000 Australians who speak a language other than English at home also took advantage of Fee-Free TAFE.

The federal government is providing a further $414.1 million over 2024 – 2026 to States and Territories to fund the delivery of at least another 300,000 Fee-Free TAFE and VET places.

Minister for Skills and Training, Brendan O’Connor, said Fee-Free TAFE is helping to address a critical skills shortage.

“It is also delivering the skills that are vital to the future prosperity of our businesses and the economy,” he said.

Meanwhile, Master Builders Australia (MBA) released its supplementary Budget submission Finding Australia’s missing tradies: Harnessing our skilled migrant workforce.

The building and construction industry needs more workers to build 1.2 million homes over the next five years.

MBA CEO Denita Wawn said Australia needs to attract 90,000 tradies in the next 90 days.

“The domestic workforce cannot keep up with demand in the short term. Skilled migration represents a vital piece of the workforce puzzle,” Wawn said.

Today, workers who were born overseas make up about 24 per cent of the total workforce. However, those who arrived within the last five years only represent 2.8 per cent.

“When seeking to attract more skilled trades into Australia, it is important to look to migrants who are already in the country," she said.

“This is an underutilised cohort of potential workers who could fill workforce gaps in the short term.  

“Some are waiting on skills assessments or qualifications recognition, which, according to the Parkinson Migration Review, could cost nearly $10,000 and take up to 18 months,” she said.

“For many, it is simply too hard to have their professional capacity recognised to work in a trade in Australia, and they are instead in roles that present fewer hurdles to obtain.

“Master Builders believes more support is needed and the Federal Budget provides an opportunity to get the ball rolling.”

One MBA recommendation is to expand eligibility for the graduate visa and graduate visa extension to all Australian Qualifications Framework Certificate III and above qualifications.