MOVES to prevent Gippsland from “dying of a thousand cuts” has forced the region’s key representatives to devise a plan of action.
A “crisis meeting” organised by the Gippsland Trades and Labour Council was held on Friday, which brought together about 40 local government, union and education representatives in a bid to secure the region’s future.
Recently announced cuts in the 2012/13 State Government budget to the TAFE sector, and a shortfall of apprentices securing jobs in the region, were catalysts for the meeting.
GTLC secretary John Parker said regional areas were under stress from the government’s “mindless cuts”.
“Facilities such as (GippsTAFE’s Waratah training restaurant) and the high quality of training they provide have been dumbed down,” Mr Parker said.
“We want to make people aware of what these skilled cuts mean and try and encourage people to assist us with ensuring the future direction of Gippsland is protected.”
Nearly 30 young unplaced Gippsland apprentices were suspended by Apprenticeships Group Australia last month, while GippsTAFE recently announcing it may be forced to cut back on some of its courses.
At the time of the announced suspensions, an AGA spokesperson said while the stand down was “painful and very upsetting”, it was only a “temporary measure”.
A few weeks after AGA announced its suspensions, the State Government allocated an additional funding on $1 billion over four years with a majority targeted towards the apprenticeship sector.
As a result, AGA training manager Phil Backman said the organisation would now be able to provide more employment opportunities to its students.
However, Mr Parker said larger government organisations failed to employ apprentices, saying “we waste half our money training our apprentices in a system that is just not good enough”.
He added many Gippsland students fell under the non-apprenticeship sector, which covers lifestyle courses.
This sector is currently facing millions of dollars in State Government funding cuts.
Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology senior lecturer and GTLC delegate Darryn Snell, who also attended the meeting, said comments from the government the future of the apprenticeship sector was secure because of the funding increases “was a bit naive to suggest”.
“The importance of today is to get discussion and communication networks going, and to see what these impacts might be,” Mr Snell said.
“We need to decide what the next course of action is.”
This action, according to Mr Parker, will involve organising two other meetings before expressing the community’s concerns to the government.
“We’re going to have some strong proposals to take to the (state) government and if they prove to be inadequate then we’ll just have to take it up with the Federal Government,” he said.
Central Gippsland Institute of TAFE chief executive Peter Whitley, who addressed representatives at the “crisis meeting”, said he was comforted to see “more people taking an interest in our community”.
“The entire community was represented in one form or the other, so there is obviously concern in the community about what these cuts mean,” Mr Whitley said.
“TAFEs are the social fabric of society and people don’t want to see (them) end.”
However Victorian Skills Minister Peter Hall’s spokesperson James Martin said GTLC’s comments “appear to be politically motivated and at odds with commonsense”.
Mr Martin said the government found apprenticeships and higher level training in important skills areas “critical to the future of the Latrobe Valley”, which instigated the government to invest more funding in these areas.
“The government is increasing subsidies in these important areas, in which TAFEs traditionally have a very strong market share while reducing subsidies in areas of over supply or that don’t necessarily lead to positive employment outcomes,” Mr Martin said.
He added the government’s focus on “delivering training that led to real jobs” would culminate in Mr Hall making a key announcement in relation to the Gippsland Tertiary Education Plan later this week.