The “jobs gap” marks the distance we have to travel as nation when it comes to getting women into good secure jobs. Government has a critical role to play in bridging that gap by prioritising targeted investment in skills and training.
During the pandemic, women of childbearing age gave up study in record numbers. The biggest fall in higher education enrolments in more than 15 years occurred at the height of the first lockdown as caring responsibilities made it hard for women to continue study. Over 40,000 fewer Australian women aged 25-44 were enrolled in study than the same time the year before. Enrolments for men grew by about 35,000 over the same period.
Skills and training are a critical pathway to participating in work for many women and could be for more. Reducing barriers to that training by dropping the cost of qualifications is a game changer. In Victoria, the number of women accessing vocational education and training increased by 118 per cent following the introduction of Free TAFE.
The number of women taking on apprenticeships has halved under this government. There are 50,000 fewer female apprentices under this government. But last year’s Budget had nothing in it to get more women into work and nothing to make vocational education and training more accessible.
Instead, men were three times more likely to benefit from wage subsidies for existing apprenticeships than women, who only make up a quarter of Australian Apprentices.
Instead of investing in the skills system, the government cut $3 billion out of vocational education and training before the COVID-19 pandemic. That has meant fewer women taking on vocational education and training. Now is not the time for patchwork solutions on skills training – that won’t arrest the damage done over the past eight years.
Women dominate critical high-demand occupations like aged care, child care and disability services, which rely on vocational education and training, but these are all areas the Government has been reluctant to fund and support.
The Morrison Government’s Job Ready Graduates legislation has put women further into debt. Women make up two thirds of the students starting university paying more for their degrees – up to $60,000 for a basic degree. The Budget papers confirm that Government funding for higher education will fall because of Job Ready Graduates, while student debt levels are driven up.
Caring responsibilities and pay inequity mean women are often slower to pay off their HELP debts – accumulating more interest and ultimately paying more for their degrees. Women will face higher student debt levels under this Government and it will now take some students a decade longer to pay back their higher fees, while entering into an uncertain, post-recession job market.
At the same time, Scott Morrison’s exclusion of universities from JobKeeper resulted in tens of thousands of academic and professional staff losing their jobs. This has disproportionately affected women who make up nearly 60 per cent of the highly casualised university workforce. This Budget has failed to improve the financial security and working conditions of the women employed in Australian universities.
Young people are crying out for more support to keep them safe – more than 3,400 schoolgirls have recently shared stories of their sexual assaults as students and over 35,000 have signed a petition calling for reform of the sex education curriculum. This problem continues into university where recent years have seen revelations of a sexual assault crisis on campus.
Teaching our kids about respectful and healthy relationships should be a national priority, but when it comes providing age-appropriate consent and respectful relationships education to Australian students, the Morrison Government has failed again.
After a six year delay delivering the program, last Budget, the Government attempted to use COVID as cover to slash funding for the RespectMatters program in half, placing milkshakes and metaphors over meaningful conversations with our children about healthy, respectful relationships.