Release type: Transcript


Interview - ABC Hobart with Leon Compton


The Hon Brendan O'Connor MP
Minister for Skills and Training

Topics: Investing in the VET sector, Fee-Free TAFE, investment in capital equipment for training, clean energy skills, construction and housing skills.

LEON COMPTON, HOST: We talk a lot on Mornings about the opportunities. If you can get a young person into a trade, particularly a construction trade, in many cases, you've basically set yourself up for life. But somehow, in Tasmania, and it seems nationally, we're still not as great as we should be at making it clear to kids how that pathway looks out of year 10, or ideally out of year 12 and into a trade. So, is the Federal Government and its latest policies on this going to help? Brendan O'Connor, Minister for Skills and Training. Thank you for hanging on, Minister. I appreciate it.


LEON COMPTON: Well, I'll throw to you where talkback has taken us this morning. How can we do a better job of getting people who might be challenged by life experience, by the choices that they're making as young people, potentially interacting with the criminal justice system? And what role do you see yourself and your government playing in getting skills and training opportunities in front of those young people, to make better choices?

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: Well, we have to give them hope. We have to throw a lifeline to people who are on the margins of our society who have been dealing with challenges. Of course, people, if they do the wrong thing, there are consequences, but we need to provide opportunities. Pathways to employment are critical for young people and that's what, of course, I was announcing yesterday. Further investment in TasTAFE at the Devonport campus. A lot more investment to be made across Tasmania, as you were just mentioning, the construction sector and the energy sector, hospitality, in fact, right across the labour market. We need an investment in education and training so that young people, and in fact all Australians, have the skills they need to have secure employment, have a meaningful life, and that also will mean supplying the skills that our businesses are crying out for, and our economy demands.

LEON COMPTON: Specifically, what did you put on the table in Devonport yesterday, Minister?

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: Yeah, look, it was an announcement to invest in capital equipment. One of the problems with the VET sector, with TAFEs across the country, including Tasmania, there's been a depletion of investment. And in the case of the campus in Devonport, I met with the apprentices and trainees at that campus who welcomed the investment in spray painting equipment. What the problem we have in a lot of the TAFEs and VET providers is they do not have up to date equipment. Therefore, we have apprentices and students working on equipment that is not comparable to what they will find in workplaces. Well, yesterday, a million-dollar investment in Devonport. That's of course added to the Fee-Free TAFE initiative, which has been so successful across the country, including Tasmania, where people are having cost barriers removed so they can enrol in courses where they are acquiring skills in demand.

LEON COMPTON: Part of the issue in Tasmania's TAFE system, and my guest this morning is Brendan O'Connor, Federal Minister for Skills and Training. Part of the issue in Tasmania, is that we simply can't find the teachers that we need for many of the courses that are the backbone of trades in construction, we can't find the teachers that we need. Brendan O'Connor, what have you learned about that while you've been in Tasmania on the ground?

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: Yes, and it's not just a concern for Tasmania. We've had difficulty finding sufficient teachers and trainers in the traditional trades and other sectors of the economy. I'm working with industry now to make sure that we find a way, between government and industry, to supply the trainers and teachers so we can ensure that we're supplying the numbers of apprentices and the number of trainees that we need for different sectors of the economy. The announcement that Chris Bowen and I made arising out of the budget, for example, in the energy sector, is devoting $30 million to make sure we increase the number of teachers and trainers. Now that might be people coming off the tools in the sector and working in TAFEs and providing teaching, imparting knowledge to apprentices. It might mean that we'll have to accelerate the way in which we recognise people having the skills of teaching and training so that they can provide those skills to apprentices. There's a combination of options that we have on the table, but we have invested out of this budget, part of the investment has been to accelerate and increase the number of teachers and trainers we have in the VET sector, in TAFEs in particular.

LEON COMPTON: Even though that's a state responsibility.

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: The thing is, it's a combination. It is a responsibility of the Federal and State and Territory Governments. I've been working very well with Felix Ellis, the Minister responsible in the Tasmanian Government, and obviously he's just been returned and I wish him well. We're working together. In fact, I have a Ministerial Council of all State and Territory Ministers this Friday in Sydney, and that is about making sure that the Albanese Government works with all State and Territory Governments to deliver the investment needed for the VET sector. We just signed a National Skills Agreement, a $30 billion, five-year agreement which provides certainty for the VET sector, but also provides reforms that are needed to lift it. You know, Leon, half of the skills into our labour market come from the VET sector; half from universities, half from the VET sector. And we need to make clear to people, young people and others, that the pathway to the labour market is just as good, going via the VET sector as it is going through university -

LEON COMPTON: It is interesting because it's something that we talk about constantly on this program. And in the northwest, you will have met heaps of businesses that employ apprentices, that are working tirelessly to try and form connections between schools and their jobs, their employment opportunities, and yet we still don't seem to be able to get it right, Brendan O'Connor. To make it clear to young people what a trade looks like and what the pathway is and how to take the next step. What is - when does it work?

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: So, we need to intervene. Everyone has a different pathway to the labour market. The conventional pathway, finish year 12, choose university or choose a TAFE. That happens and that works. But it doesn't work for everybody. That's why the investment I made recently with Julie Collins, the Minister for Housing, we made an announcement where we have 20,000 additional Fee-Free TAFE places. Now, 5,000 of those are for pre-apprenticeship courses that will allow people in years 10 or 11 or 12 to enrol. It's really so they get an understanding as to whether they believe that's their pathway. Too often, people are not sure what they want to do. They enrol in an apprenticeship and find that it’s not for them. And we really need to give them a better understanding of what that trade means and what it will mean for them. Because, Leon, if we can get people with the skills they need, whether they go to university or TAFE, and they follow their passion. I mean, you've won the lottery if you get a good job and you love what you do. It's good for everybody, it's good for your employer, it's good for you, it's good for the economy. And we can do that if we actually reform the education and training sectors. So one, they're sensitive to the needs of the economy, but also they're tailored to meet the needs and aspirations of people, particularly young people.

LEON COMPTON: Brendan O'Connor, it'll be nice, it'll be good having Felix Ellis at the table because he's actually completed a trade. So, as you sit and look around, he'll have a lived experience of getting through his, getting through his trade and out into the wild and indeed out into parliament. It's good to talk to you this morning. Thank you for being part of Mornings.

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: Not at all Leon.