The NSW Opposition Leader John Robertson has hit out at changes to the TAFE funding model, saying cuts will make it harder for the Illawarra to recover from mining and manufacturing job losses.
Mr Robertson was in Wollongong on Friday, flanked by local Labor MP Ryan Park and candidate for Heathcote Maryanne Stuart, to highlight the effects of Liberal government education reforms on the region's TAFE students and teachers.
He said a strong vocational training sector was vital for regions such as the Illawarra, which had lost more than 500 mining and manufacturing workers in the past six months.
"As the economy goes through transition, historically we have relied on TAFE to provide people with the opportunity to enhance their skills or get a new set of skills."
Mr Robertson said TAFE had been "gutted" by the NSW government's Smart and Skilled reforms, which were announced in late 2012 and will be rolled out across the state next year. Designed to make the sector "more responsive to business and industry", according to Education Minister Adrian Piccoli, the reforms mean funding is no longer guaranteed for TAFE courses, and public institutes have to vie with private training providers.
"The government is cutting $800 million. We've seen 800 jobs cut, including teachers, and the length of courses is being cut back, particularly in trade areas, which means ... apprentices aren't getting the skills they need," Mr Robertson said.
The welding and fabrication course would be cut from 36 weeks in 2013 to 19 weeks under the reforms, he said.
During his visit, Mr Robertson noted a contrast between his own visit to the region and that of Premier Mike Baird, who will next week drop in to Albion Park to race a V8 supercar driver at a go-kart racing centre.
"I think it speaks volumes about priorities," he said.