The Hunter is attracting investment in renewable energy developments, decarbonising industry, and new sectors such as battery manufacturing, green hydrogen and offshore wind.
The region can be a global leader in clean energy and manufacturing.
But to secure this future, the Hunter needs a job-ready workforce to fill crucial skills gaps and attract further investment. Now is the time for the government to be funding quality public vocational education.
This week, the Hunter Jobs Alliance (HJA) is launching a campaign for a TAFE new industries training centre for the Hunter.
Renewable energy and clean manufacturing will be the economic anchors for the future prosperity of NSW. We can see this in the recent growth of renewables. Decarbonisation investments in industries such as aluminium, steel and ammonia have followed. And the foundations of new sectors, such as green hydrogen and battery manufacturing, are being laid.
An enabling state policy environment has flipped the switch from aspiration to reality.
One of the Hunter's standout advantages is NSW's vocational education and training system. Providing workers with opportunities to acquire high-quality skills needed by industry, and creating deep wells of "human capital" to attract investors, are historical strengths.
The race is on, however. The Hunter is well situated, but so are other states that are proving more flexible in directing specific training investments to attract workers and investments in clean industries.
One example is the Federation TAFE Asia Pacific Renewable Energy Training Centre in Ballarat, Victoria. Another is the $50 million Queensland government investment for renewable and hydrogen facilities at TAFE, and apprenticeship centres and schools in Brisbane, Beenleigh, Townsville and Gladstone.
The Hunter has the advantage of a favourable policy environment. The creation last year of the Hunter-Central Coast Renewable Energy Zone (REZ) is one example. The Hunter is well-linked to other new REZs in Central West-Orana and New England. The REZ means a new focus on energy generation and storage. The new offshore wind zone also offers massive opportunities for jobs in energy and manufacturing.
To that end, the Hunter Jobs Alliance believes there is a strong case for public investment in a TAFE new industries training centre based in the region. This would create clear paths for workers, address skills shortages, and attract investment in sectors where labour and skills significantly influence developers' location decisions.
Such a centre would draw on industry participation and data-driven workforce planning. That is, the centre would be strongly linked to industry, and the jobs that energy transition and clean manufacturing will need.
It should be established and operated as part of the TAFE system to make use of existing and emerging expertise, and provide consistent workforce development and training for a long-term growth industry. It should also partner with the University of Newcastle, which has a track record of working alongside industry locally to facilitate innovation, and recently received $16 million in federal funding for infrastructure for new energy skills education.
Such a partnership could help seamlessly blend TAFE, industry and university courses, maximising opportunities for students. With such fertile ground, there is a compelling case for establishing such a centre in the Hunter using existing facilities.
We can build on current training system strengths. TAFE is an excellent asset that needs reinvestment. The NSW government's commitment to reinvesting in TAFE is both welcome and essential. TAFE must be restored to its rightful place as the centrepiece of vocational education.
This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to undo decades of reckless, ideologically-driven vandalism of the public provision of vocational education. Vocational education is a critical part of Australia's public education system, and restoring TAFE is essential to realising the full potential of the system.
This is a crucial time and opportunity for the region, and a targeted investment in a TAFE new industries training centre for the Hunter will provide a major prosperity boost to the region - and the state.
Jack Galvin Waight (NSW Teachers Federation Hunter organiser) and Liam Phelan (National Tertiary Education Union, Newcastle branch) are founding members of the Hunter Jobs Alliance.
WHAT DO YOU THINK? Join the discussion in the comment section below.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.