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THE Victorian government should “rethink” advertising TAFE courses as “free” when thousands of automobile apprentices and their employers have to pay upwards of $1500 a year for training, said the state’s peak automotive industry body.

The Victorian Automobile Chamber of Commerce (VACC) said “recent boastful announcements” by the Victorian government talking about “free” TAFE courses were not accurate.

VACC CEO Geoff Gwilym said automotive employers had been sidelined in this government exercise because they are still required to pay TAFE fees for automotive apprentices.

“It is galling for employers to read about ‘free’ TAFE, while at the same time being slugged with fees of around $1500 annually for their apprentices to attend TAFE,” he said.

“VACC urges the Andrews Government to engage with industry and rethink their ‘free’ TAFE strategy.”

Mr Gwilym said extensive lists of TAFE courses had been publicly posted in newspapers and government websites, advertised as being free. Missing from the lists, however, are automotive trade apprenticeships.

Geoff Gwilym

He said the automotive industry has experienced critical skills shortages for well over a decade – and the trend is getting worse – yet the ‘free’ automotive courses list does not include automotive courses that are at an apprenticeship trade level.

“If we really want enough mechanical and body repair technicians to keep Victoria’s transport and agricultural fleet on the move, we have to do more than sidestep the cost to business of engaging apprentices,” he said.

“Parents want their children in secure, long-term jobs. Trades provide this. If we are genuine about a skills-led post COVID-19 economy then we have to help industry employ and retain apprentices.

“If the government says it’s free, the fees have to be removed.”

By Neil Dowling