Release type: Transcript


Interview - SeaFM Devonport with Jess Bennett


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

Topics: TAFE Technology Fund investment at Devonport TAFE, Fee-Free TAFE, housing and construction skills, Vocational Education and Training pathways.

JESS BENNETT, HOST: Now, as promised, I'm joined in the studio this afternoon by our Federal Minister for Skills and Training, Brendan O'Connor, hello to you.

BENNETT: Yeah, good. Thank you so much for stopping by. Welcome to beautiful Devonport. We've turned on the sunshine for you, but lucky you brought a jacket or two, I would say today.

O'CONNOR: It was cool in the morning. It's a perfect day now, isn't it?

BENNETT: Yeah, it's come out beautiful. What brings you to Devonport today?

O'CONNOR: Well, I've been here with Senator Anne Urquhart to visit the TAFE at Devonport, because we really wanted to ensure that the investment we've made in our Tech Fund, a commitment we made upon election, was being realised to ensure that spray painter apprentices get access to the best possible equipment. And that's exactly what's happened. So, I want to firstly congratulate the TAFE in Devonport, the teachers, the students, because it's going to mean a world of difference for them in terms of acquiring skills using the equipment that's in workplaces, in shops around Tasmania. It's what the Tech Fund's all about, increasing investment in education and training by providing the best possible equipment to teachers, but certainly for apprentices, trainers and trainees. So, it's a good result and it's a great effort by TAFE getting it sorted out at a time when we really need skills in our economy.

BENNETT: Yeah, absolutely. And we're probably finding these days, more and more students are choosing to go down the VET pathway. And also, I think, really seeing a shift that more and more girls are taking up the opportunity in what used to be a male dominated workforce.

O'CONNOR: Well, that's true. I think people are coming to understand the real opportunities that arise from skills in the VET sector and that it supplies half the skills to our labour market. Universities provide half, the VET sector provides the other half, and you can have secure work, highly skilled employment, great career opportunities, and you can do what you want, you can do what you love. If you can actually find secure work and follow your passion, then you've won the lottery. We met the students today, they're very keen, firstly, very happy with the new equipment, very happy to acquire the skills, whether that be in spray painting, or we also met some hospitality students as well. We want to make sure that we remove cost barriers so that people can access education and training in areas of skills demand. And to date, we've really invested in Fee-Free TAFE, that's removing those fees when cost of living is a bit tough for people. Removing those cost barriers means that they acquire skills, and the focus is in areas of demand. What's in the economy now? What are the current and future jobs? And how do we make sure people have employment prospects and businesses get the skills they're crying out for.

BENNETT: Yeah, and it works kind of in a circular motion, doesn't it? We're talking also about skilling our construction workforce. We know that housing is a major concern to so many here in Tasmania, so I guess we have to start, you know, at the very beginning there, don't we?

O'CONNOR: Yes. So, of the 350,000 Fee-Free TAFE places in 2023, over 25,000 were for construction. But just recently, Minister Julie Collins and I announced a further investment in the housing and construction sector, a further $90 million investment for 20,000 more Fee-Free TAFE places in the housing and construction sector. That's going to, again, supply the skills to a sector so we can supply our housing stock, so we can build the homes that are needed across the country, including Tasmania. That's really important. It's a very significant goal of the federal government. And without the skills supplied to the labour market, we're not going to realise that ambition. But we know with that investment, we can do so.

BENNETT: Yeah. Wonderful. So, where to next? Is it back to the education system to encourage people to take these pathways?

O'CONNOR: I think the main thing to provide people is proper advice as to what their employment prospects are. For example, the whole point of Fee-Free TAFE wasn't just to remove a cost barrier, it was to encourage people to enrol in courses where the skills are needed today and tomorrow. And that's what's happening across the country. We're seeing people enrol in areas where they will find very good employment opportunities and businesses will find the skills they need. And ultimately, we have to lift our skills and knowledge as a labour market to be a productive, efficient country and economy. And we do that by being the most knowledgeable and skilled workforce in the world. That should be our aim as a country. And we want to make sure people get great opportunities in the labour market and the best way to do that is to have the skills that are in demand. So, I think there's a combination of things, you've seen Minister Jason Clare doing it, responding to the Accord Review, bringing in some very significant reforms in higher education and in the university sector. And we've got a National Skills Agreement now for the VET sector. And these two areas of reform are really ensuring that we make sure that the education and training sectors are sensitive to the needs of the labour market for businesses and for workers. That's the right approach. And to date, we're very, very pleased with what's happened. People are taking up these courses and it's providing them opportunities and it's providing the skills we need.

BENNETT: Yeah, fantastic, it's good to learn more. Where to next here in Devonport today, Anne, did you want to jump in and say hello? Have you got any other plans to go out and enjoy this sunshine and check out what the coast has to offer?

ANNE URQUHART, SENATOR: Well, I'm going back to my office to do an inquiry for the rest of the afternoon, so I'm going to be on the phone and working. But it's been fantastic to have Brendan here today and to see the progress at the Devonport TAFE. And obviously the new oven is there, it's getting installed, and it'll be ready in another couple of months, so that's very exciting.

O'CONNOR: Anne's an alumni of that TAFE campus as well.

BENNETT: There you go, that's really cool.

URQUHART: Yeah, that was my TAFE when I went many years ago and I'm very proud of it. And it's lovely to see some modernisation there.

BENNETT: Yeah, absolutely. I think the community will definitely agree. Look, thank you so much for your time this afternoon. 

O'CONNOR: Not at all, Jess.

BENNETT: All the best.

O'CONNOR: Thank you very much.