Significant investment into TAFE and skills-based education by state and federal governments has been welcomed by agricultural industry after years of neglect.
A five year funding agreement between state and federal governments will inject $3.8 billion to expand access to Vocational Education Training with the move applauded by regional agricultural manufacturing industries.
The funding, to begin in January, comes on top of $414 million already committed nationally for the delivery of 300,000 free TAFE places from 2024.
This comes as the NSW state government announced more than 16,000 teachers would be given permanent jobs, in the wake of a record 1854 educators resigning last year.
According to NSW Farmers Head of Policy and Advocacy, Kathy Rankin, vocational skills development and TAFE as an institution have always been critical to the development of a workforce that meets the needs of today and builds capacity for tomorrow.
"We welcome this additional funding, which comes at a time when skilled workers are sorely needed in rural, remote and regional locations," she said.
"The agricultural sector needs to see more opportunities for local skills development and training. Those entering the workforce as well as those looking to retrain need to be able to earn qualifications so we as a nation can continue to innovate and produce the food and fibre we will need going forward."
Roger Commins, Southern Cotton at Whitton, said the re-investment in TAFE was "wholeheartedly applauded".
"There has been a lot of focus university degrees but that doesn't cater to everybody and we need these practical skills to run a business," he said.
"We have become so reliant on overseas manufacturing but Covid and the shortage of available products were a wake up call for us that we need to promote our own manufacturing."
As the pool of labour shrinks businesses have been forced to use robotic pallet loaders as just one example, but of course this machinery needs people to manage that - and this requires education.
At Boss Ag, Inverell, demand from farmers for their new planting equipment is ever increasing and so too is their need for skilled labour. Under the existing NSW Government Regional Industry Education Partnership program, Boss has held training days for potential school leavers to see whether they want to work in manufacturing.
Head of human resources at Boss, Rosie Bloch, said growing a pool of skilled labour from the ground up was important to the burgeoning company and any new investment in growing skills through TAFE and other government programs was highly warranted.
"The funding for these programs is valuable," she said.
The Boss experience is special in that numerous trades are under one roof and potential apprentices can experience the floor during paid summer programs in which young employees can try their hand at welding, or sheet metal manufacturing. If they like the work there is a job for them and if they perform their pay packet increases.
"We pay apprentices the value they bring to the business," Mrs Bloch said. "We judge them on their quality, speed, punctuality and ability to move from one job to another."
Dubbo shearing contractor Hilton Barrett said the need for a galvanised TAFE training facility was critical for his industry. Currently training and retention of shearers is low.
"Other jobs require training, and it is no different for shearers," he said. "Shearing is physically draining on the body. By learning to shear correctly and safely, this reduces injury and helps with high turnover rates of staff."
He also stated, "the industry is experiencing a downturn due to a decrease in sheep prices and the looming threat of drought. Our shearers have decided to drop our rates from $4.50 per head to $4 to help accommodate the downturn. Once confidence returns, we will need shearers trained and ready to go. It takes a while for a shearer to go from zero to 150 sheep in a one day."
Chairman of Casino Food Coop John Seccombe said any measure to enhance the availability of tradespeople was welcomed, with an on-going requirement for electrical trades, fitters and carpenters along with meat processing staff at the Casino abattoir.
"It is difficult finding people. There is a real need to skill-up," Mr Seccombe said. "More staff will eventually equal extra shifts so we can process more cattle. At the moment we have a backlog."
NSW Minister for Skills, TAFE and Tertiary Education Steve Whan said the five year program would rebuild vocational training to "proactively manage skills shortages" and support disadvantaged students.
"TAFE has experienced years of uncertainty. This agreement will ensure its long-term stability," he said. "Through TAFE, we will be able to upskill in-demand workers and maximise opportunities in the skills system."
Minister for Skills and Training, Brendan O'Connor said: "This landmark agreement will kickstart real change"
"The TAFE sector has endured periods of underfunding, impacts of deregulation, loose rules of VET market entry, a lack of national cohesion and an obsession for competition at the expense of collaboration.
"By providing genuine national leadership in partnership with states and territories, we are building a system that is greater than the sum of its parts.
"A high performing and world class VET sector is crucial for achieving a fairer society and a stronger economy."
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