NSW TAFEs will receive a “record” $2 billion recurrent investment as part of a $2.8 billion state government skills and training splurge that authorities say has been designed to usher in a “golden era of investment in skills and training”.

Announced as part of the state budget, the investment is designed to dramatically upgrade the state’s TAFE capabilities in a nod to the increasing challenges faced by industry that need well-trained workers more than ever.

This year’s budget – which has been marketed as “a transformational plan of reform for NSW that will continue to unleash the great productive potential of the people of the state” – complements the $2 billion ongoing investment with a $318.9 million capital investment designed to modernise teaching equipment, facilities and digital infrastructure.

The investment includes $108.5 million in recurrent expenses over the next four years to support the new Institutes of Applied Technology at Kingswood and Meadowbank.

There is also $29.6 million for TAFE NSW Coffs Harbour, and a $32.7 million allocation designed to “significantly expand” the courses in areas like healthcare and electrotechnology through TAFE NSW Kingscliff.

The state government will also subsidise apprenticeships, traineeships, and priority qualifications to the tune of $82.7 million, providing free training for 70,000 additional workers in industries that have most keenly felt the shortage of skilled workers – including automotive, construction, engineering and electrotechnology roles such as telecommunications and electronics.

“This budget cements the golden area of investment in skills and training in NSW, delivering more opportunities than ever before to help people get the skills they need for the jobs they want,” said NSW Minister for Skills and Training Alister Henskens in announcing the new funding.

“NSW continues to lead the nation in creating a pipeline of skilled workers for the future, and this budget invests in everything from employment pathways for young people through to cutting-edge training in new and emerging industries.”

Doubling down on skills – but which ones?

The state government’s TAFE investment marks one pillar of a broader commitment to lifelong learning that includes the implementation of the Educational Pathways Program (EPP) in 145 state high schools after successful pilots that began in fiscal 2020-21.

The EPP provides eight programs that trialled new ways of improving outreach to students in areas like careers education, apprenticeship mentoring, industry connections, and transitioning early school leavers into TAFE NSW courses.

NSW’s latest budget also includes a $15.9 billion commitment to early childhood education and child development – designed to both improve early education, and provide more ways for parents to get back to the workplace.

It’s part of what Minister for Education and Early Learning Sarah Mitchell called “once-in-a-generation reform” designed to start building lifelong learners during what she called the “crucial” first 2,000 days of life.

The investment is the government’s latest tilt at a growing skills crisis that has been fuelled by issues such as long delays in securing visas for skilled migrants that were marginalised during the pandemic.

It is also a reversal of a long trend of budget cuts to TAFE spending, which primed the skills shortage by cutting $3b from TAFE funding and reducing the number of trainees in the pipeline.

Those policies fuelled what has been called a “decade of neglect” that, one recent survey found, left TAFE teachers “demoralised” and cut courses for 68 per cent of TAFE staff.

The state opposition was unimpressed by the timing and magnitude of the cash splash.

“What I see is a 12-year -ld government that is now spending money hands over fist to solve problems that they’ve ignored for more than a decade because they are in fear of losing the next election,” NSW Shadow Treasurer Daniel Mookhey said in response to the new budget, which will deliver a deficit of $11.3 billion.

“The short summary of this budget is that it’s a ‘buy now, pay later’ budget.”