Release type: Transcript


Interview - ABC Radio Sydney, Mornings with Sarah MacDonald


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

Topics: Jobs of the future, Vocational Education and Training opportunities, skilled migration.

SARAH MACDONALD, HOST: The Minister for Education Jason Clare was telling us on Monday the government wants 80 per cent of Australians to have a degree or a vocational skill training by 2050, and we chatted a lot about schools and universities with him. Brendan O'Connor is the Skills Minister, and with me now on ABC Radio Sydney. Good morning, Minister.


MACDONALD: Where are the jobs of the future we need to upskill and train our young people for?

O'CONNOR: Well, half of them will come from the VET sector. That's the amazing thing and what Minister Clare was talking about when he said 80 per cent finishing a tertiary education, half comes from the VET sector, supplying skills to the care sector of our economy, to the energy sector, to housing construction, as you just mentioned, to hospitality and tourism. So, it provides almost pretty much an equal share of the skills to our labour market. And there's some fantastic careers that come from the acquisition of skills acquired at a TAFE.

MACDONALD: I'm imagining also in clean energy skills and construction.

O'CONNOR: Absolutely. Well, what we're going through, of course, is a remarkable transition, decarbonising our economy, and there's a great opportunity for people to enter that sector of our economy and have high skilled, well paid, secure work. And you're seeing people now looking at that area and saying, well, my debt will be less, I'll acquire the skills earlier, I'll get paid better earlier and I'll have secure employment. So, you are seeing young people now looking towards the VET sector even more than usual. And I think what we need to really explain to parents, sometimes even teachers, that it is not a second option, it's an equal option with great opportunities.

MACDONALD: What would you do if you were a young person of 17-18 now?

O'CONNOR: I was always told when I was that age, some time ago now Sarah, that university was the way to go. I think increasingly people are realising there are two pathways to acquire accreditation and into the labour market. And people are realising that tradies and other people in sectors of the economy get very good opportunities. And I think what my advice to a young person would be is follow your passion. If you get to be paid well and do what you love, you've won the lottery.

MACDONALD: But then we also hear people saying, oh, if you get a university degree, you'll end up earning more. Are they talking about long term or is that not true anymore?

O'CONNOR: It just depends. I think the fact is people that set up their own business as a tradesperson make as much money as a professional. Some professionals make more than other professionals, and it's not just about money. If you're getting good money, secure employment and you enjoy what you do. So, I think it really comes down to a combination of things. But what I really want to make clear to your listeners is that half the opportunities in the labour market, in the area of very good, secure, skilled employment come from the VET sector, not just TAFEs, but other providers too. And so, there's two great pathways. But what we do know is this. It really is important for people, if they have the opportunity to either get a degree or get an accreditation from the VET sector, because if they have skills and knowledge, their employment is more secure, their career path is more secure, there are more opportunities. And I think my advice to people is follow your passion, but make sure that your skills, your knowledge are in demand and of course, that will provide you a good life.

MACDONALD: Brendan O'Connor is the Skills and Training Minister for the federal government on ABC Radio Sydney. We’ve spoken to you before about Fee-Free TAFE and that has led to some higher enrolments. How much are you expanding that?

O'CONNOR: We’ve been really pleased by the take up of Fee-Free TAFE. We announced about 18 months ago that we wanted 180,000 Fee-Free TAFE places for 2023. Well, we nearly doubled that. 355,000 Australians enrolled in Fee-Free TAFE last year. And, of course, we have a further 300,000 from this year on. And we're also now moving into different sectors of the economy. Julie Collins, the Housing Minister, and I announced only a week ago that we'll have a further 20,000 Fee-Free TAFE places in housing and construction. And you'll hear more from Minister Bowen, the Minister for Energy and I, on the energy sector. So, the take up has been remarkable. The opportunity of removing cost barriers so people can enrol in courses to acquire skills that are in demand in our labour market right now has been critical to supply skills, given that we inherited one of the deepest and broadest skill shortages in 50 years when we came to office.

MACDONALD: I want to talk about that skill shortage now because a couple of people are texting in saying the high level of skilled migration is undermining job prospects for people who are studying at TAFE. And unis have been undermined by it too. How are you balancing this, the need to bring in skilled migrants versus upskilling Australians to take those jobs?

O'CONNOR: Well, there was a suspension of immigration due to a global pandemic, which made perfect sense, but it meant that we had dire skill shortages across the economy. But as we've made very clear, the net overseas migration is tempering and will be halved within a year. Because we need to make sure that we manage skilled migration. And of course, my focus, the government's focus, is ensuring that Australians get the skills they need to get employment. But we have to balance it and that's what we've done in this Budget, announcing the halving of net migration over the next 12 months.

MACDONALD: But Peter Dutton said last night he wants to go even half of what you're proposing.

O'CONNOR: I came into parliament with Peter Dutton. He's the most negative and aggressive politician I have to say I've witnessed. He really had no answers last night. No plan. He mentioned a cutting to migration, had no costing, no details, not explaining where the skills would come from, not explaining the cost to the economy. Really, that was his third effort to give Australians a chance to understand his plan for Australia's future and I think he fell short.

MACDONALD: Brendan O'Connor, before you go, with this renewed focus on TAFE and vocational training and the Fee-Free places, are we starting to see a drift away or not a drift, that's the wrong word. But are we starting to see young people divert away from university into the sector? What kind of impact has it had so far?

O'CONNOR: I don't think it's a diversion from one sector to the other. We need to increase the skills and knowledge of the labour market. We need to increase the proportion of people that either get a university degree or a trade or a certificate from the VET sector. And I think that's what we're seeing here. We're seeing an elevated interest in enrolling in TAFE to get great skills for our economy, whether it's the energy sector, whether it's hospitality, whether it's the manufacturing sector. With this great opportunity for a Future Made in Australia. We're seeing opportunities in both tertiary sectors. To me, they're equal sectors with great pathways to very good employment.

MACDONALD: But are more starting to go to TAFE rather than university? Or is it too early to tell? Because the HECS debt is starting to bite people. And I know there's been a change in the indexation, but I'm wondering if it's having an impact.

O'CONNOR: Well, you know, we announced a removal of $3 billion in debt for students in the Budget. That was important to make it a bit easier for them.

MACDONALD: Yeah, but the numbers.

O'CONNOR: What we're seeing is an increased number of people acquiring skills in tertiary sectors. We need to make sure a higher proportion of our labour market has skills and knowledge coming out of both tertiary sectors. So, you're not seeing just diversion from one to the other. You're seeing an increased proportion of people finishing secondary school, either getting an accreditation from the VET sector or getting a qualification from university.

MACDONALD: Thanks for your time this morning.

O'CONNOR: Thank you, Sarah.

MACDONALD: Brendan O'Connor on ABC Radio, Sydney. The Minister for Skills and Training.