SA needs a strong and stable training sector if we are to build the sort of skilled workforce which is capable of tackling challenges and opportunities as they arise in years to come.

When public and private training  providers are allowed to compete on a level playing field, students have real choice in deciding which institution suits their needs best, based on quality,speciality and affordability. 

Governments have universally acknowledged that providing ongoing assistance for the training sector helps the labour force of the future. They have also historically agreed that those students enrolled at private institutions should not be denied assistance simply because they are not in the public system.

It was in this context that Premier Jay Weatherill willingly signed a 2012 agreement with then Prime Minister Julia Gillard which was designed to strengthen an “entitlement to a government subsidised training place… accessible through any registered training organisation, public or private, which meets state-based criteria”.

Yet when the SA Labor government unveiled its proposed WorkReady scheme on May 21, it set in train a boom-bust cycle for the training sector that effectively unwinds reforms.

In 2012, about 74 per cent of training in SA was contestable. Now, under the WorkReady scheme, 90% of students seeking to commence training in SA from July will need to enrol at tafeSA to receive a subsidised place. In other words, of 51,000 new training places which will attract a subsidy, only 5000 will be with private providers.

Unless Mr Weatherill and Higher Education and Skills Minister Gail Gago revisit their policy, the outcome will be less choice for students and employers and a weakened private training sector that is already talking redundancies and bankruptcy. This is not about preferring tafes or private providers – they both do a fantastic job in many areas.

We need to focus on giving students and employers the choice to access the highest quality, best value-for-money training.

Nowhere will the state government’s unprovoked attack on private trainers inflict more damage than in regional communities. Indeed, it is in our regional communities that many smaller, private registered training organisations exercise more flexibility than the public system and manage to play a pivotal role in filling gaps in the system.

Courses which offer forestry training in Mount Gambier, farm chemical certificates on Eyre Peninsula and heavy vehicle qualifications in the Barossa are uniquely placed to cater for the needs of their particular regions.

Sectors as diverse as fishing, nursing and building have outlined how their students and businesses will be devastated by Labor’s planned changes, with SA’s most reputable trainers like the Civil Industry Training Centre and Royal District Nursing Service Training among those to be unfairly impacted by WorkReady.

Stakeholders from Business SA to the South Australian Council of Social Services, the Pharmacy Guild of Australia and Sport SA have criticised the policy.

It is plain to most of us, including the industry’s key stakeholders, that this is not a good outcome for students, employers or private training providers.

Experience and research confirm that more student choice results in better employment opportunities and higher student satisfaction.

There remains $65 million in funding available to SA under the agreement Mr Weatherill signed. As a South Australian Senator, I want every dollar of it to be spent in SA. I sincerely hope the state government unlocks the Commonwealth funding package by conceding its WorkReady proposal is in clear breach of the agreement that they voluntarily signed.