Govt skilling program could improve approach

The Rudd Government's $1.9 billion push to improve workforce skills risks is being wasted on cheaper-to-produce training in areas such as security, retailing and hairdressing if Canberra does not boost the amount it is offering for courses.

Leaders of Technical and Further Education (TAFE) have warned that in some high-cost courses, such as technology and engineering, the money the Government is offering to fully fund the training and skilling of unemployed people is half what it would cost a TAFE to deliver.

While it is early days in the Productivity Places Program, the sector has warned that so far it is the small private providers that are picking up places by focusing on cheap-to-deliver courses.

"The program needs to be halted until these issues are addressed, otherwise there will be vast amounts of money allocated and spent on low-skilled occupational areas,'' warns Martin Riordan, head of TAFE Directors Australia.

He said he was disappointed the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations had rejected an earlier offer from the sector to collaborate on the implementation of the initiative.

Mr Riordan said a key problem was that the Government was offering flat prices when the costs of delivering varied from course to course.

TAFEs currently provide around 80 per cent of the country's vocational training, and they generally face higher costs than small private providers because they are set up to deliver a range of courses and supporting facilities such as libraries, campuses and counselling services.

The cost of delivery for TAFEs is also set to get higher as TAFE teachers in Victoria push for a pay rise of 20%, in line with school teachers, in what would be their first pay rise since September 2006. NSW TAFE teachers are meanwhile seeking a 5% wage increase.

"There are very few programs being picked up because the TAFE institutions would be running the programs at a substantial loss,'' Victorian TAFE Association chief David Williams said.

But the Government asserts that its program is on track to deliver and that it is seeking value for money.

"If they are suggesting we are playing hard ball, then yes, we are,'' a spokeswoman for Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard said, adding that there had been significant take up in areas of skills shortages and that more higher-level courses were being taken up than under the Howard Government's previous Work Skills vouchers.  The federal Government is promoting the use of market forces to drive the supply of training. All the places it plans to offer over the next five years under its Productivity Places Program will be contestable between TAFEs and private providers.