Fee-free Tafe places to entice more women into construction

Labor will encourage women into construction jobs and men into aged care work by utilising fee-free Tafe places and targets in the skills guarantee, the federal skills and training minister has said.

Brendan O’Connor made the pledge after last week’s announcement at the jobs and skills summit of $1.1bn in co-funding to bring forward 180,000 fee-free Tafe places to 2023.

On Thursday, the prime minister, Anthony Albanese, will address the Committee for the Economic Development of Australia (Ceda), describing equality for women as being “at the heart of our vision for a better future”.

Albanese will note that the government’s $5bn childcare package will take effect from July 2023 and flag that a Productivity Commission review of “affordable, universal child care” could be adopted as government policy “in the great tradition of universal Medicare and universal superannuation”.

Albanese believes the “substantial common ground” achieved on investment in skills and Tafe was one of the concrete outcomes of the summit.

The 180,000 Tafe places were approved by national cabinet as part of an in-principle agreement to strike a new five-year skills funding agreement to begin in 2024, which O’Connor revealed on Sunday would involve $3.7bn of commonwealth spending.

Asked if the government was considering a quota for women in the extra Tafe places, O’Connor replied: “We are … we’ll talk to state and territory governments about providing more opportunities for women to train in what have been traditional trades that have been predominantly male-dominated.”

“We want to see more women – and so do employers and unions – in construction, in the traditional trades.

“There are more opportunities for them: there’s such good pay, security of employment, they’re in demand. It makes for a much healthier workplace to have women and men – a workplace representing the community is far better.”

O’Connor said the government would also like to see more men “encouraged to take up roles in aged care”.

O’Connor said Labor’s skills guarantee, which states that one out of 10 jobs on federally-funded worksites must be apprentices or trainees, would include “specific sub-targets for women”.

He flagged the government was considering further measures to help women hoping to change jobs mid-career and acquire skills not gained due to periods out of the labour market.

In his Ceda speech, Albanese describes removing “the structural barriers that have denied women equal participation in the economy” as one of the “clearest threads” through last week’s jobs and skills summit.

“Equality for women – in participation, in pay, in leadership opportunities, in financial security – is an essential precondition for Australia’s future economic growth,” he says in the speech seen in advance by Guardian Australia.

Albanese describes closing the gender pay gap as “a key economic priority for our government”, citing its submission to lift pay in aged care, and new bargaining laws to allow multi-employer bargaining.

O’Connor said employees who undertake training at work, such as a retail worker who undertakes a digital literacy course, “deserve to have accredited the skills they acquire in a workplace if they’re of sufficient standard”.

“There has to be regulation around what employers are doing … you can’t have Mickey Mouse courses, there has to be a level of competency that can be measurable and accredited.”

O’Connor also said the government needed to do more to boost the completion rate of apprenticeships, lagging at a “very low” 55%.

“We’re talking about billions of dollars of investment. We need to understand what apprentices and trainees need to complete their qualifications. It’s … not value for money [if they don’t finish].”

O’Connor signalled the new agreement would include greater funding of non-vocational support programs and should include an investment in state-of-the-art equipment to train on.