“We want to see a skills system that breaks the cultural bias of sending everybody to university and making VET and TAFE a second-class citizen,” Ms Westacott said.
She said there was a major need to ramp up training in digital skills as a growing sector of the economy.
“We know we have got skills shortages in key sectors but that gap is particularly there in IT and IT development,” she said.
Ms Westacott said the money currently being spent needed to be used more effectively but there was “no doubt that TAFE and VET have been underfunded for a very long time”.
Jenny Lambert, employment, education and training director at the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said there were a range of key areas where more skilled employees would increasingly be needed.
She highlighted chefs and jobs in construction, telecommunications, technology, healthcare, aged care and disability services.
“They are all vocational training qualified jobs and they will all be in high demand,” she said.
She said there were major challenges in the skills sector but underfunding was “far and away” the biggest and there needed to be a commitment for governments to consistently increase investment.
“Nothing is more important than the inconsistent overall funding approach and that has been both the Commonwealth and the states,” she said.
The latest data from National Centre for Vocational Education Research found there were 1.1 million students at government-funded training providers in 2018, down 1.9 per cent on 2017. New enrolments in subjects fell 5.7 per cent.
Overall spending on vocational training has fallen significantly over the last decade. In his speech, Mr Morrison said he was “very interested and very committed to investing more in a better system” but putting more money into the current system would not be effective.
The foundation of the federal government’s funding is a $1.5 billion commitment under the skills and workforce agreement, which has not increased in line with the size of the working-age population.
Mr Morrison said funding needed to be tied more effectively to skills needs, and subsidies across the country needed to be better coordinated.
The opposition has accused the government of creating a training crisis and skills shortage in Australia and cutting $3 billion from vocational education and training.
“We heard no plan today – no extra dollars, no timeframe, no detail,” Labor’s education spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek said.
TAFE Directors Australia chief executive Craig Robertson said he welcomed the Morrison government’s skills push if it was backed by increased funding.
“If it’s an indication he wants to get the parties together, including TAFE, and look at a way to train people for future jobs and then strike some agreement for new investment, then we support the proposition,” he said.
“It has been the lack of growth in funding that has caused the decline in quality and therefore students being attracted to either go into work and go to university.”
A spokeswoman for the Victorian government said it welcomed moves to bring businesses, workers and all levels of government together to rebuild the economy.
“Building a stronger training and skills sector, and supporting jobs and job security, will be central to rebuilding our economy over the coming months — and we look forward to seeing more detail from the Commonwealth on the process outlined today.”
The Victorian government has invested more than $1.3 billion in TAFE since 2015, including $172 million in the most recent budget, to make 30 priority TAFE courses and 20 pre-apprenticeship courses free from 2019.
With Bianca Hall
Fergus Hunter is an education and communications reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.