The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few…

THIS week AFTA reported a significant win for the workforce issues currently plaguing the travel and tourism industry, with the addition of Travel Consultants to the Federal Government's Skills Priority List. BRUCE PIPER reports.

IT’S NOT exactly an instant fix, but definitely a step in the right direction. In an extremely busy few weeks for the Australian Federation of Travel Agents, CEO Dean Long has, among other big moves, marked the first sitting week of Federal Parliament for 2023 with an initiative which allows the industry to access additional Government funding to help train new staff.

Like all overnight successes, this outcome is actually the result of concerted efforts over many months, and not just by AFTA’s energetic chief. There’s actually a consultative body called AFTA’s National Taskforce for Skills and Careers, a group of volunteers from the industry who have been actively lobbying for the changes, Long said.

“Chronic workforce shortages are holding back full recovery of the sector,” he noted, with the Taskforce having developed significant policy documents, and met with several Ministers from the newly formed Labor Government last year to ensure the industry’s needs were understood by those responsible.

AFTA Skills and Careers Taskforce

wdt_ID Name Company Title
1 Dwayne Good InTravel Group (CT Partners) Founder
2 Nicole Galliford Corporate Travel Management Head of HR Australia/NZ
3 Kylie Conboy Flight Centre Travel Group Flight Centre Accredited Training
4 Alisha Dopper Express Travel Group Head of People and Process
5 Emma Evans Webjet Head of People and Talent Acquisition
6 Moyra Makina The Travel Corporation Director of People and Culture
7 Erin Simpson Down Under Tours General Manager
8 Nicola Strudwick Travellers Choice General Manager
9 Kelley Matson Helloworld Travel National Training Manager

Minister for Skills and Training, Brendan O’Connor, actually called out the addition of Travel Consultants to the list, noting that “the Albanese Government is taking action to support apprentices and address widespread skills shortages by expanding a list of priority occupations that will receive additional financial support”.

O’Connor noted that the number of occupations now covered by the Australian Apprenticeship Priority List has been expanded from 77 to 111 – with the Minister noting that the expanded list “will benefit occupations and industries like Electronic Equipment Trades Workers, Screen Printers, Swimming Coaches, Shearers, Veterinary Nurses and Travel Consultants”.

He said the updated Priority List was based on independent analysis from Government agency Jobs and Skills Australia. The expansion “will increase the number of occupations eligible for additional support, including up to $5,000 for direct payments to apprentices, and a wage subsidy of up to $15,000 for employers”. O’Connor sounded a grim warning, noting that the current widespread skills shortages post “one of the greatest economic challenges in decades”.

“Providing targeted support to increase the uptake and completion of apprenticeships in critical sectors is essential to plugging the skills gap we face,” he said.

The latest figures for vocational training within Australia (below) make for sobering reading – particularly a decline in Government funded places within the key travel and tourism qualifications over the last few years. While that’s of course understandable given that three years ago no parent in their right mind would have suggested their children pursue a career in the sector, it underlines just how much that pipeline of new entrants and career development has dwindled.

VET Students in Australia

wdt_ID Year Total VET Students Cert III Travel Cert IV Travel & Tourism Diploma Advanced Diploma
1 2017 2,868,485 2950 3055 3130 555
3 2018 2,625,755 5360 2745 1670 430
4 2019 2,718,110 5060 3190 1745 615
5 2020 2,637,360 2940 2025 1560 385

Government-funded VET students in Australia

wdt_ID Period Government-funded students Cert III in Travel Cert IV in Travel & Tourism Graduate Diploma Advanced Diploma
1 Jan-Jun 18 835,705 930 625 530 40
2 Jan-Jun 19 898,855 1745 765 475 20
3 Jan-Jun 20 951,280 1510 710 455 25
4 Jan-Jun 21 1,051,170 400 455 360 20
5 Jan-Jun 22 987,765 385 270 225 20

The ongoing demand for increasing industry skills is particularly acute right now – but AFTA’s Taskforce is also working to tread the fine line between increasing capacity through training of local employees, and also potentially plugging gaps by bringing in staff from overseas. With a newly minted Labor Government, there is understandable sensitivity around foreign skills versus Australian-based talent, and Tourism and Trade Minister Don Farrell has previously stressed the importance of increasing local training opportunities in preference to plugging shortages through changes in Australia’s visa arrangements.

So the addition of Travel Consultants to the key list is a significant breakthrough. Dean Long hailed the contribution of Immigration Minister Andrew Giles, Trade and Tourism Minister Don Farrell and Skills & Training Minister Brendan O’Connor, as well as their respective departments, to the initiative, saying “we very much appreciate their support in getting the important role of travel professionals acknowledged”.

“We look forward to continuing to drive change on behalf of our members and the travel sector, given the ongoing massive challenge faced across the board as a result of the chronic workforce and skills shortages,” Long said.

AFTA will now be writing to the country’s State and Territory leaders to ensure the courses have the appropriate funding allocated as the industry seeks to rebuild its decimated workforce. Long noted that the National Taskforce Members who have helped achieve the win, have also highlighted the importance of ensuring alignment for funding across the country. “This will be firmly in our sights,” Long said.

He told travelBulletin that inclusion on the priority list actually provides better support than the previous pre-COVID traineeship incentives, giving access to wage subsidies of up to $15,000 as well as commencement and completion incentives for participating employees.

The full program guidelines can be accessed at

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