TAFE launches free courses during COVID-19
A CHANCE to upskill a hibernating workforce and truly resuscitate the vocational study sector is being squandered in favour of a lip service program called Isolearn.
The COVID-19 outbreak is expected to increase Australia's unemployment rate to 10 per cent and push the country into a recession - but the figures will likely be much worse for a tourist destination like Cairns.
Economist Bill Cummings recently estimated the Cairns jobless rate could hit 20 per cent before the pandemic is overcome and the country, state and region's borders are finally reopened.
The figures would be much worse had the Federal Government not intervened with a $130 billion JobKeeper wage subsidy program, but the truth is a lot of people benefiting from that funding have nothing to do.
Even if collecting a reduced wage and remaining technically employed, it is impossible to pluck work out of thin air when a good portion of the planet is under lock and key.
People are at home, and they are getting bored.
Backyard gardens are looking the best they have in years, walls are getting painted and people are spending more time with their families - but none of those good things help the economy in the long run.
Queensland needs as many unemployed and underemployed workers as possible to use their time in isolation constructively so they have the skills needed to rebuild the ravished economy once this all blows over.
The current answer: Isolearn.
TAFE Queensland has followed TAFE NSW's lead and launched a suite of free education and training to support individuals and small, medium and large businesses.
They are helpful, but they do not go anywhere near achieving what could be happening during this very weird time.
Free "micro-credential" courses range from digital literacy lessons to basic data analysis skills.
There are six of them, and they typically take about an hour to complete.
Isolearn also includes a range of "skill sets" covering sectors including health, farm labouring and food service - although very little detail has yet been published - and "financial resilience webinars" for small and medium business owners.
That is all good stuff but it is a drop in the bucket compared to what TAFE Queensland could be offering to this captive statewide audience.
TAFE NSW has a full 20 fee-free courses on offer during the coronavirus shutdown, each of which can be completed over a matter of days or weeks (rather than an hour).
Students can get statements of attainment in pharmacy training, medical administration, e-marketing for small business and a long list of other growth sectors.
Then there is Victoria's TAFE sector, which did not need any specific COVID-19 course subsidy measures because Premier Daniel Andrews just announced another $261 million funding package.
TAFE is currently free in Victoria for students in priority job areas including accounting, allied health, construction, concreting, dental assistance, tourism, disability work, early learning and 34 other courses.
It also offers 21 free Certificate II apprenticeship pathway courses.
Queensland does not need to go the whole hog and become a flag-waving socialist state like Victoria, but offering free one-hour courses in how to turn on a computer is not enough.
We want people to bounce out of this with real qualifications and passion to enter the workforce in growth sectors - and we cannot ask them to stump up the full cost for tuition when they are already surviving on drastically reduced wages.
The Queensland Government has the power and the money to make a real investment in TAFE for workers who have no idea if their jobs will exist in six months' time.
It just needs the intestinal fortitude to pull the trigger.
You can find TAFE Queensland's Isolearn program here.
Originally published as TAFE Queensland launches free courses during COVID-19