State of our TAFE


29 April 2024

The AEU’s State of Our TAFE survey was completed throughout November 2023 with more than 30 per cent of the AEU’s TAFE membership responding and representation from every TAFE institution in Australia.

The vast majority, (95 per cent) of responses came from those in teaching and training roles, and those with a high level of experience, averaging 14.5 years’ experience in the sector.

The survey also reveals new burdens arising from the Commonwealth’s landmark investment in Fee-Free TAFE.

These challenges for TAFE teachers include the continuation of unacceptably high working hours and workloads, the changing nature of TAFE jobs and how expectations for workers to provide vastly increased levels of support to students, more students with greater needs in less time and without additional institutional support.

Although the large investment and commitment to TAFE made by the Albanese government has been seen as very welcome, there are still significant concerns among TAFE teachers on workload, job security, and the level of support required by students accessing the expanded Fee-Free TAFE program.

Working hours and intensity

Full time workers reported an average of 42.6 hours per week, 19 per cent higher than their average contractual working hours of 35 hours per week. This equates to more than an additional day of unpaid work every week.

Part time workers reported that they are the most likely to work hours that substantially exceed their contracted work time. The average part time TAFE employee stated that their work time exceeds their contracted hours by an average of 28 per cent.

Those employed on very small fractions (0.2-0.4 FTE) are most likely to report working well above their contracted hours and reported that they work 140 per cent of their contracted hours on average each week.

Sixty per cent of respondents said their working hours had increased over the last two years, half of whom said that their working hours have “increased significantly”, a mere 8 per cent said that their working hours had reduced and nearly a third indicated that their working hours had remained the same.

TAFE teachers are seeing increased workload intensity, with 85 per cent of respondents telling us that the pace or intensity of their work has increased over the last two years - 65 per cent significantly.

Respondents were asked to rank the top five contributing factors to their current workload. The most frequently selected areas were:

  • Increased administrative work – 85 per cent
  • Widening of duties within my area of responsibility - 65 per cent
  • Reductions in staff 57 per cent
  • Impacts or reorganisation or restructuring - 48 per cent
  • Increased student numbers – 45 per cent

The increased intensity of work and the burden of additional tasks has real and substantial impacts on the ability of TAFE teachers to continually develop their teaching practice, maintain their industry currency, to update and develop curriculum and to provide sufficient time for students to learn and practice skills.

Almost two thirds said that the burden of additional tasks impacted on their professional development (63 per cent) and their ability to maintain their industry currency (65 per cent), 79 per cent said that their ability to devote time to curriculum development was impacted and more than two thirds (69 per cent) said that their ability to provide sufficient time for students to learn and practice skills was limited by their workload.

The impact of Fee-Free TAFE

The interim 12-month Skills Agreement introduced almost $1 billion of additional funding split between the Commonwealth and state and territory governments to support the delivery of an initial 180,000 Fee-Free TAFE places across Australia.

The interim agreement has now been followed by a ‹ve-year National Skills Agreement (NSA) which includes $414 million in Commonwealth funds for a further 300,000 Fee-Free TAFE places over the next five years. Enrolments have exceeded expectations to reach 295,000 by September 2023.

Fee-Free TAFE is designed to address areas of national priority and provides places in care (aged care, childcare, health care and disability care), technology and digital jobs, hospitality and tourism. Construction, agriculture and sovereign capability.

Further, the Fee-Free TAFE program aims is to provide training to priority population groups including:

  • First Nations Australians
  • young people (17-24)
  • people who are out of work or receiving income support payments
  • unpaid carers
  • women facing economic insecurity
  • women undertaking study in non-traditional fields
  • people with disability
  • certain categories of visa holders.

The AEU welcomes the Commonwealth Government’s commitment to TAFE as the anchor institution for Australia’s jobs and skills strategy and supports the introduction of Fee-Free TAFE.

However, the State of Our TAFE survey reveals that the implementation of Fee-Free TAFE has presented some additional challenges for TAFE members.

The survey shows that students enrolling in the Fee-Free TAFE cohort have significantly higher levels of additional needs than the TAFE student cohort overall and that TAFE institutes are generally not currently resourced to support those needs.

When TAFE teachers were asked what additional needs were more prevalent among the new Fee-Free cohort of TAFE students:

  • 74 per cent said there are more students with mental health needs
  • 79 per cent said there are more students with additional literacy and numeracy needs
  • 66 per cent said there were more students with additional digital skills needs
  • 60 per cent said more students from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds have enrolled in Fee-Free TAFE.

The impact of Fee-Free TAFE also extends to workload. In the survey 51 per cent of TAFE teachers said that the pace and intensity of their work has increased since the extended rollout of Fee-Free TAFE and 32 per cent have already seen an increase in their working hours at an average of 6.9 additional hours per week.

Over half (55 per cent) of survey respondents said that their TAFE institute had not allocated additional services to support students enrolling in Fee-Free TAFE, and the National Skills Agreement does not currently provide for an increase in standard support services in response to Fee Free TAFE.

It is imperative that this oversight is urgently addressed so that TAFE workers and institutes accommodate the diverse range of new students that TAFE has welcomed in 2023, and those that it will continue to welcome in coming years.

Teacher attrition in TAFE

More than two thirds (69 per cent) of members said they had considered leaving the sector in the last year, with 45 per cent of TAFE teachers planning to remain on the job for less than five years.

More than three quarters (77 per cent) said that workload has a major impact on the recruitment and retention of TAFE teachers form industry, followed by pay (67 per cent) and employment conditions (59 per cent).

Among those who said that they

had considered leaving TAFE in the past 12 months, when asked which factors would drive their decision to leave, workload (55 per cent) and lack of support from their TAFE institute (54 per cent) were the primary drivers.

When asked to select the top three things that would encourage them to stay in the TAFE sector, 67 per cent cited a reduced admin burden, 60 per cent cited improved pay and 57 per cent selected better treatment from their employer as changes that could encourage them to remain.

Overall findings

The State of Our TAFE survey clearly shows that despite significant renewed investment in TAFE over the last year, the legacy of the underfunding of the TAFE system and the decimation of the permanent TAFE workforce over the last two decades has left a lasting impact on the sector.

Workloads continue to grow, and the addition of hundreds of thousands of new students through Fee-Free TAFE, many with greater support needs than the traditional student cohort, has left TAFE teachers struggling to manage.

More student support and more teachers are urgently needed, alongside improving conditions to stem the tide of those leaving the sector in despair. This can only be done by providing decently paid secure jobs that protect and respect teachers’ pedagogical expertise and professional autonomy. TAFE teachers need more support from their employers and better remuneration.

Attracting new teachers from industry can be supported through a defined and regulated career pathway for experienced people from industry to transition into TAFE teaching jobs that are appropriately renumerated, and a concerted national effort is required to rebuild the attractiveness of TAFE teaching to experienced practitioners from industry.

Rampant casualisation has resulted in a highly mobile workforce that not only lacks security but is rarely offered the opportunities for professional development and advancement that secure employment provides.

The AEU calls on the Commonwealth to match its investment in TAFE students with an equally ambitious investment in the TAFE workforce, additional support for students and investment to renew campus buildings, equipment and infrastructure. These investments should include:

1) A strong investment to implement a TAFE teaching workforce renewal strategy, with a focus on addressing insecure employment, improved professional development, and unsustainable workloads.

2) Funding for wraparound support services for students with increasing complex needs enrolling in Fee-Free TAFE to improve student engagement, retention and completions and reduce workload pressures that supporting these students is creating for TAFE teachers.

3) A capital investment strategy to match the significant funding commitment that the Commonwealth has made in the National Skills Agreement to rebuild TAFE.

By Jonathon Guy, AEU Federal Strategic Research Officer

This article was originally published in The Australian TAFE Teacher, Autumn 2024