NARELDA JACOBS, HOST: Joining us now is the Federal Minister for Skills and Training. Brendan O'Connor, Minister, thanks for joining us. The job figures are a mixed bag, given many industries are still desperately short on staff, not just the building industry, but education, health, hospitality. So, what's the plan to fix it?
BRENDAN O’CONNOR, MINISTER FOR SKILLS AND TRAINING: The unemployment rate is good news, it's relatively low. But as you say, it's tempered with the challenge of supplying skills and labour to the labour market. We have skills that are in demand across our economy. And for that reason, the Albanese Government invested in an additional 180,000 TAFE places that will be Fee-Free for this year. And that will obviously, along with skilled migration pathways provide the supply of labour and the supply of skills that businesses are crying out for.
JACOBS: So, Fee-Free TAFE places, what's being done to attract people into those trades?
O’CONNOR: What we've done is focused on those areas that are in demand. So, where there are vacancies, where there is a desperate need to supply labour, to supply skills to areas of the employment market which are in demand. We have focused in those areas where I've worked with state and territory, governments. We've got state and territory government agreements in place for those places. And of course, there's been a big push late last year and also early this year, to attracting people to take those opportunities. Because there's no doubt if you fill a vacancy, if you are acquiring skills in areas of demand, you're not only likely to have better wages, you're more likely to have secure employment. So, it's good for workers and it's critical for our businesses, Narelda. We need to make sure we provide those skills to the economy so that the economy can grow. And so that businesses can thrive, and workers get opportunities in the labour market.
JACOBS: What about covering those skills, those areas of high demand now? Because once those students finish their trade at TAFE, that's going to be a couple of years down the track. What about now there's business owners that are crying out for red tape to be slashed to be able to sponsor skilled workers to come from overseas and fill those jobs, so what are you doing in that regard?
O’CONNOR: Well, that's right, we can't just do one thing. It's not a binary choice, we need to be doing both, we need to be restoring skilled migration pathways, and the government has been doing that. We've been processing the visa applications very rapidly. We are attracting people in areas of demand from overseas. But that, of course, cannot be the only focus, our focus has to be training Australians to do work. We are of course, whilst we have these additional TAFE places there are also people coming out of vocational education training now, that will be filling those vacancies as well. So, it's an ongoing focus on improving opportunities for Australians to acquire the skills that are in demand, but also working to ensure we have skilled migration pathways to fill those vacancies. So, it's the combination of both skilled migration pathways, investing in education and training that will deliver the skills that our labour market needs.
JACOBS: Let's talk about some of those other areas of need. Teachers, healthcare workers, they are also at crisis point. We talk about these a lot, jobs that need to be filled. So, what are you doing to fill these jobs?
O’CONNOR: You're right, you cannot train and educate Australians without enough trainers and teachers. And so, part of the supply of skills will be to provide more teachers, more trainers, for schools, universities, for TAFEs and the VET sector generally. So, there are allocation of places for people to engage in such professions. And as you say, again, a very significant area of demand is in the care sector. Whether it be aged care, disability care, there is a massive demand. And again, it's a combination of attracting people from overseas with the requisite skills, retaining workers here and that will be helped by increasing wages for aged care workers that's just been delivered by the Fair Work Commission, but also investing more in childhood education to see future workers enter those sectors of the economy that are really in need. I mean, we're talking about older Australians that need decent care, you can't provide decent care if you don't have qualified staff to provide the care that's needed.
JACOBS: Minister, just going to leave the job figures there for the moment. Lots of employers are offering staff the opportunity to work on January 26 and carry their public holiday over to another date of their choice. And you've lifted a Morrison Government restriction on allowing public servants to do the same. So, do you expect this to gather momentum across the workforce, in particular the public service?
O’CONNOR: Well, I understand it's a mutual agreement that there can be a day afforded other than this public holiday. That happens often in awards or industrial agreements where, provided it's consensual between employer and employee, you can take a day in lieu instead of that particular public holiday. I think that can be more flexible and provide opportunities for both public and private sector employers and employees. So, I think it's to be welcomed, but it's also a decision that's sensitive to the concerns that people do have around such a day, which for some, isn't one that fills them with great pride, because it's obviously historically a difficult day for some. There's no doubt about that.
JACOBS: Minister Brendan O'Connor, thanks for joining us on Midday. Appreciate it.
O’CONNOR: Thank you, Narelda.