Release type: Transcript


Interview - ABC Radio Melbourne, Drive with Ali Moore


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

ALI MOORE, HOST: For the second year in a row, Victoria has recorded one of the lowest satisfaction rates with the quality of vocational education and training, out of all the states. And at the same time, if you look at something like a Cert IV in Plumbing, only a tiny proportion of students who register for that certificate, actually completed the training. And there are some pretty low completion rates across other courses as well. So, what does it mean for trades in Victoria? We certainly know that we need the trades when it comes to housing, we can’t build more houses without them. Brendan O'Connor is the Minister for Skills and Training. Brendan O'Connor, welcome back to Drive.


MOORE: Can I start with that low completion rate? Things like a Cert IV in Plumbing that I think has a 1 per cent completion rate. There's one in engineering, it's about a 10 per cent completion. There's one in construction pathways that's got about a 24 per cent completion. Are you worried about that?

O'CONNOR: On the face of it, of course it sounds concerning. But plumbers need Certificate III to become plumbers. 90 per cent of people undertaking Cert IV are already employed, and often their employers require just a number of components or course subjects without having to finish. That's what most plumbers do. And for that particular course, that's why that number looks very small in terms of completion. But they're still acquiring skills and they're still improving and upskilling. Does it look good? On the face of it, no it doesn't. But once you start understanding the way in which it's used by the industry, picking up the particular relevant subjects and components of the course, I'm pretty relaxed about it.

MOORE: What about the satisfaction rates?

O'CONNOR: Look again. We can always hope to see 100 per cent satisfaction. Nationally in 2023, 89 per cent or just over, of all government-funded VET qualification completers indicated that they were satisfied. In Victoria, look, it's right to report it's the lowest, but it is at 87 per cent satisfaction. So, what it really speaks to is people are getting a lot of fulfilment and a lot of benefit from acquiring skills in demand through the acquisition of courses at TAFE and other VET providers. Because if 87 per cent is the lowest satisfaction, then again, I think that speaks to a sector that's doing pretty well.

MOORE: Do you read or can we read anything in or is there any link, I suppose, between the fact that they're free courses? How does that connect through to completion and satisfaction? I mean, is there an element of free versus buy-in, if you like?

O'CONNOR: Look, that proposition that if you've got skin in the game, you're more likely to stick with it, I think it's worth testing. But again, just to be clear, completion rates in this country are low. There some very legitimate reasons why people leave - changing courses, their life circumstances, and at the moment the number is 54 per cent. But just compare it with the four-year national average for domestic university students. It's 13 per cent higher than university students completing, right. And Fee-Free TAFE, in fact, is the highest of the completions. So, for example, I'll just take Victoria. Completions in Victoria for 12 months ending 30 September last year, compared with the same period in 2019, show that there's been an increase in completions over that time. And of all those completions, Fee-Free TAFE is not significantly higher, but is actually marginally higher than the rest. So, the proposition that removing cost barriers for people to access skills is somehow going to lead to lower completion rates doesn't seem to stand up to scrutiny. 

But having said all of that, Ali, I think we do need to do better with completions. And that's why I've commissioned a root and branch review of completions of apprenticeships in the entire country, including, of course, Victoria. And I've got former Fair Work Commission President, Justice Iain Ross, and a former Department of Employment Secretary, Lisa Paul, conducting a review as we speak on what are the reasons for the completion rates. How do we improve them? How do we make sure that apprentices are getting the support and the mentoring they need? And how do we connect them to jobs so that they will complete what are very important skills for our labour market. In some areas you can do three quarters of a course and go work in a kitchen of a restaurant, but you can't do that as a sparkie. You have to be accredited. And same with plumbers and same in the care sector.

MOORE: And just on that, Minister, let's take the sparkies and let's take the plumbers in Victoria, do you have any understanding of what the completion rate is? Those who go in to start a course, and I'm not talking about the Cert IV, which they need if they want to run a business, but the Cert III, how many who go in for plumbing and sparkies come out plumbers and sparkies?

O'CONNOR: And that's what I'm saying. It's around nationally, and I'm told it's the same or pretty much similar in Victoria, is around 54 per cent.

MOORE: See, that's bad, isn't it? I mean, that's a low completion rate.

O'CONNOR: That is the national completion rate that we inherited when we were elected to government two years ago. And that's why we've invested, we've started to remove cost barriers, we're trying to provide more support. We've just, in this budget handed down by the Federal Government, provided more money for employers and apprentices for them to complete their apprenticeships. But I still don't think that's enough. I think there are complex reasons why people don't finish. When you've got a labour market which is tight and you've got wages going up in real terms, people will sometimes leave to take a semi-skilled job rather than finish a full degree because of cost of living pressures. That's why all apprentices are getting a tax cut on July 1. We're providing more access to loans for people doing, for example, traineeships in the care sector, where we need more skills. And as you said, you know, we can't have a three-quarter qualified electrician. 

So, that's why I've commissioned the review. That review will be complete in August and that will inform further decisions by the Federal Government and no doubt potentially state governments, to increase the completion rate, particularly for those courses where you need the accreditation to undertake the work.

MOORE: Minister, thank you very much for talking to us and I look forward to talking to you a little later in the year when that review is complete.