GRANT DREHER, TasTAFE CEO: Welcome, everybody. It’s great to have you all here at our Clarence Campus here in Hobart, and it’s especially fantastic to have our two ministers, Minister Ellis and Minister O’Connor, to launch the Fee-Free TAFE initiative here in Tasmania for 2024.
I’d certainly like to hand over firstly to Minister Ellis to say a few words. Thanks, Minister.
FELIX ELLIS, TASMANIAN MINISTER FOR SKILLS, TRAINING AND WORKFORCE GROWTH: Thanks, Grant. Look, we’re living through one of the largest skills and labour shortages in our country’s history, and what that’s meaning is in Tasmania a good problem – there’s more jobs than people. But what we need to do is ensure that we’re upskilling the next generation to take advantage of those incredible opportunities that we have at the moment.
So in partnership with the Federal Government we’re delivering for 2024 $8.9 million of funding for more than 4,000 Fee-Free TAFE places. That will be in critical areas of our economy like agriculture, of which Tasmania is a nation leader, or the care economy, which is just so critical for making sure that we’re looking after our youngest Tasmanians and our senior Tasmanians as well.
This is a great partnership. It’s bringing together both levels of government and it also coincides with national skills ministers from around the country meeting today in Hobart and also our national skills and training awards which will be held tonight here in beautiful Tasmania. It’s a real showcase and a celebration of the very best of the vocational education sector, and I think as well it’s a strong signal that we are waking up to the fact as a country that you don’t need to go to university to have great opportunities in life. TAFE really unlocks those possibilities for the next generation, and that’s why we’re proud to partner in delivering those opportunities for so many Tasmanians.
Any questions on you guys on this one before I pass over to Brendan? Or do you want to go now.
BRENDAN O'CONNOR, MINISTER FOR SKILLS AND TRAINING: Thanks very much, Felix. And thanks. It’s great to be here. It’s great to be in Hobart, in Tasmania. And as the Minister made very clear – and he’s right – the Fee-Free TAFE initiative that was initiated out of the Jobs and Skills Summit about a year ago has been a fantastic success in Tasmania and, in fact, across the country. We wanted to ensure that we supplied the skills that are in demand. We wanted to make sure that we filled the skill shortages. As Felix just made very clear, we’ve had a very significant skill shortage in this country – as deep as it is wide. And the only way we can fix that or one of the most important ways to fix that, is to invest in education and training in areas of existing and future demand, to fill the vacancies that are there.
A very tight labour market and Minister Ellis is absolutely right in saying there are lots of job opportunities, but provided people have the skills that they need to get into meaningful work and provided businesses, who are crying out for skills, have a skilled workforce that they can employ to make their business more profitable, this economy in Tasmania more productive and, indeed, our nation’s economy better as well.
So the initiative has been, of course, the first initiative was 3,800 TAFE and VET places. From 2024 it’s 4,600. Commonwealth investment of $8.9 million, working with the Tasmanian Government. This is a fantastic example of two governments working together to deliver the skills that our workers need, that businesses need and our economy needs. And for that reason I’m very pleased to be here.
And on top of that, as the Minister referred to, we have a Ministerial Skills Council today in Hobart, bringing together all the ministers across the country to this great state to talk about the implementation of a National Skills Agreement that will take effect from January 2024. A very important agreement that will drive the reforms in the VET sector, that is important. I’m absolutely of the view that the VET sector, with TAFE at its heart, is absolutely as good a choice to enrol in as universities are. And these two tertiary sectors are just as important and are absolutely critical to supply the skills for our economy today and in the future.
The National Skills Agreement will certainly enable us to focus on the reforms that are necessary, including higher apprenticeships, centres of excellence, bringing the VET sector and universities closer together with industry to supply what’s needed for our economy, a modern economy. So great stuff.
And, of course, tonight Minister Ellis and I and other ministers will be joining hundreds of finalists in the Australian Training Awards. These award nights are critical. They come about only once a year. It really is the best of the best on show tonight. Apprentices and trainees, exemplar employers who’ve done such great work training these kids and then giving them opportunities, mentors that have also been critical to the development of these apprentices and trainees. So it will be a great night tonight. And it is hosted in Hobart, in Tasmania, which again, is a fantastic opportunity, I think, for the state and underlines the collaborative nature of this sector and the fact that it can only succeed if the Federal Government is working closely with state and territory governments. And I think that’s been pretty evident to date. And that’s why this announcement today on the 4,600 Fee-Free TAFE and VET places from 2024 is such an important initiative.
I’m happy to stop there. Ask any questions of me, anything to do with other matters or if you want Minister Ellis’ views on this initiative, please go directly to him. So we’re all good? Okay.
ELLIS: Bewdy. Anything on this one?
JOURNALIST: What has been demand for this program been like, how did you come to the number of 4,000 places?
ELLIS: Yeah, so there’s really strong demand for training in Tasmania at the moment. And we’ve seen over the last five years more than 30 per cent increase in terms of apprenticeships, for example, because there are huge opportunities in our growing economy at the moment. So as part of that partnership, delivering even more opportunities through our TAFE system is going to be critical. Obviously there are areas of increasing need in our economy. We’re talking things like delivering the clean energy that our country needs to make sure that we are able to reduce our emissions. It’s about delivering the care economy so that we meet the needs of an ageing population and also a more caring community. And it’s also about ensuring that the best digital skills, including cyber security, are brought online so that we can tackle the major threats that we have in that space from actors that would look to do us harm in the digital area, but also take advantage of some of the opportunities that come too from digital inclusion and making sure that our business processes here in Tasmania are at the cutting edge globally.
JOURNALIST: The AEU were fairly critical yesterday. They’re saying you’ve gone back on your original GBE legislation promises you’ve made. The new enterprise agreement that you’re trying to get through is cutting some of their rates and penalties and whatnot. So how can you fill these teacher places when that’s happening?
ELLIS: So, aware that there’s enterprise bargaining negotiations going on a moment between TAFE and their staff. TAFE want to ensure that their staff get a pay rise that’s fair and affordable. And that’s really important. We want to back them in. We currently have employed 40 new teachers in the TAFE space with 60 more to come. And ensuring that we’re delivering a great enterprise bargaining agreement will be key as part of that.
JOURNALIST: So there is 60 teacher spaces unfilled at the moment?
ELLIS: No, no. So that’s our hundred teacher commitment by 2025. And we’re really keen to deliver that. And of course, striking a great deal with our TAFE staff through the enterprise bargaining process that delivers a fair and affordable pay rise will be important as well.
JOURNALIST: The 4,000 places of this program, how do you decide who’s eligible? Is it, you know, people who are disadvantaged or vulnerable? Are they – do they get first pick or how does it work?
ELLIS: Yeah, sure. So all Tasmanians that are interested in getting a great education through TAFE can apply. Now, in terms of the actual courses that we choose, we try and align those with areas of particular needs in our community. So as I mentioned before, things like agriculture, the care sector, cyber security and digital are key for us in that space. And for anyone looking to take part in some of those Fee-Free courses they’ll be able to look online next week for the full list of what’s coming up next year.
JOURNALIST: Isn’t this going to exacerbate the problem of teacher shortages? I mean, adding 4,000 new spaces or students, isn’t that going to worsen the problem?
ELLIS: Well, it’s a great opportunity. We want more people coming to TAFE and we want more TAFE teachers. So by being able to deliver more TAFE courses for areas that are in demand, those are the kind of problems that we want to tackle. We want to tackle the problems of a growing economy and a society that sees more opportunities, particularly for higher education. So we’ll grab hold of that with both hands and working, of course, in partnership with our partners in the Federal Government.
O’CONNOR: I might just add to that answer on workforce.
O’CONNOR: Look, today at the ministerial council we are discussing the Workforce Blueprint for Vocational Education and Training. We understand there are some real shortages, and we have to focus on the shortages that are actually existing in the VET sector. I mean, that has to be critical. If we don’t have enough teachers and trainers across the country, this is not a challenge just for Tasmania; this is a challenge for the entire country. And that’s why our focus today includes a focus on improving attracting and retaining trainers and teachers in the VET sector. And that is going to be an ongoing item for the ministerial council, so that we get that right.
If we can’t get enough teachers and trainers, well then we certainly can’t supply the skills to other sectors of the economy. And also there’s some work done by Minister Clare, the Federal Minister for Education, in attracting teachers as well across all education sectors. So there’s a big effort being made by the state ministers today with myself as obviously part of that, and the Federal Government is also looking at other areas where there are shortages, because we need to make sure we have a sufficient number of teachers and trainers.