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Free TAFE courses in identified areas of skill shortages is an economic reform that would help Australia build back stronger after the COVID-19 pandemic. TAFE is a greatly respected institution in Australia and is integral to the nation’s vocational education and training system. Yet it has been run down since around 2012, depleting Australia’s pool of skilled workers.

In the period since 2012 leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic the Commonwealth relied heavily upon migration to deal with skill shortages in preference to training Australian workers. This has not been possible during the pandemic, resulting in businesses increasingly reporting skill shortages.

While skilled migration can form part of an overall strategy to ensure Australia has the necessary skills for the modern world, much greater effort should be devoted to the vocational education and training of Australian residents.

New skills will be needed in the digital age. The caring professions of child care, health care, aged care and disability care will require many more well-trained workers. Australia’s vocational education and training system is not currently equipped to help Australia meet this forecast skills shortage.

This report outlines how the expansion of free TAFE courses could create greater opportunities for Australian workers and position the country to build back better after the COVID-19 pandemic.

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