Release type: Transcript


Press conference — CIT Bruce Campus, Canberra


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


ALICIA PAYNE, MEMBER FOR CANBERRA: It’s wonderful to be here this afternoon at the CIT Bruce campus with federal Minister Brendan O’Connor and ACT Minister Chris Steel to talk about Labor’s plan to address the skills shortages that we see. And when I talk to businesses here in Canberra, it is one of the major problems they face, finding employees with skills that they need, and we're of course very aware of the skills shortages in areas such as aged care, and in early childhood education, and some of the areas that we've been seeing at this fantastic campus here today where we'll be training students to take on those jobs. 

So, it's my great pleasure to introduce Minister Brendan O'Connor now to talk to that. Thank you. 

BRENDAN O'CONNOR, MINISTER FOR SKILLS AND TRAINING: Thank you, Alicia, it's fantastic to be here with Minister Steel, and the hard working member for Canberra, Alicia Payne, and be at this fantastic training provider CIT. It provides really important training that supplies the labour market with the skills that are in desperate need. 

Now, in September last year, the Federal Government called a Jobs and Skills Summit. All Premiers and Chief Ministers attended along with employers and unions, training providers and experts to work through the challenging issues we have in our economy nationally. That means in the end that we needed to provide more investment to provide the skills that are required across our economy. 

Upon election in May last year, the Albanese Government was confronted with very significant skill shortages as a result of the cessation of skilled migration, justifiably, as a result of the pandemic, but then as a result of some of the policy failures of the previous Federal Government not supporting temporary visa holders, we saw a flight of temporary visa holders, which meant that we had increased the supplies that were required to look after businesses, and also to ensure that our economy was strong. 

So, the response by the Federal Government, working closely with the ACT Government, other state and territory governments, was to deliver in 2023, 180,000 additional VET places, and those places be fee-free. That, as Alicia just said, removes the impediment where there may be one for those people who are looking to acquire skills in areas of demand.  We want to make sure that working people have opportunities in their employment, we want to make sure that they are acquiring skills in demand, so that they are more likely to have secure employment. We want to make sure that businesses that are crying out for skills, whether it's in aged care, disability care, IT, traditional trades, engineering, wherever you look in fact, we make sure that we are working through with industry to supply those skills, and today we are at this fantastic campus looking at the training that's undergoing, and also looking at the enrolments that are happening as a result in part of the decision that was taken by all of the Governments in Australia to supply the skills and to ensure greater involvements in the VET sector. 

So this is a great day today, in terms of the ACT, it's an additional $16.5 million, two and a half thousand extra places and in this case, extra fee free places encouraging people to study in areas of demand, and the important initiative, working closely, as I say, the one thing that the Federal Government understands is if we are going to do this right, then we really need to collaborate and work together as governments; we work with industry, employers and unions, but we work very, very closely with the TAFE and VET sector, with universities, to do the right thing here. 

Now, we've established Jobs and Skills Australia. Going forward we'll want to understand more precisely the nature of the labour market, but also be better at anticipating areas of emerging demand, so that when we make very significant investment in education and training, we're doing so with the knowledge that we know what the labour market is looking like beyond today, not just today. And today's efforts at least will supply skills the ACT economy needs. 

I'm very happy to be here with Chris and Alicia. In looking at the enrolments, of course we encourage every Canberran and everyone who has an opportunity to enrol in these places to do so. It's a great opportunity that should be taken, and I do believe if we see the enrolments in areas of demand, we'll see our economy grow; we'll see that our labour market becomes smarter and more knowledgeable, and everyone understands, in the global competitive marketplace, in a knowledge based global economy, countries need to have knowledgeable and skilled workers, and to do that we have to have the right types of courses, and we need to have the trainers and teachers, the dedicated professionals that can impart those skills so that our economy can be supplied with what is needed. 

Today is a great day, and I'm very happy to be here, and I'm happy now to hand over to Chris. 

CHRIS STEEL, ACT SKILLS MINISTER: Thank you Brendan, and thank you to the Australian Government for delivering a genuine partnership to support the role out of fee free TAFE training in the ACT. 

Fee free TAFE is about removing the barriers to study and training in areas of skills need, and it will be delivered through the Canberra Institute of Technology, high quality vocational education and training provider, providing support to students along the way, both academic and pastoral to make sure that they can get the skills that they need to move into a job.  

This will deliver around 2,500 training places across a wide variety of areas, 46 different qualifications, and pre apprenticeships that are provided by the CIT in areas like aged care, disability, early childhood, in hospitality, in construction, and also in digital skills and cyber security as well. 

So, there's a wide variety of courses on offer, and we encourage Canberrans, and those who are eligible to apply and have a look at the opportunities that are available to up skill and reskill to build a new career. 

This is a huge opportunity, particularly at a time when we have an unemployment rate in the ACT as of December of less than 3 per cent, 2.9 per cent, which is incredibly low based on historic levels. It's a very good thing, but it's also a really good thing for those who have struggled to, perhaps in the past, to get entry into the labour market. This is their opportunity to get skills and support to move into these key industries where their skills will be in high demand. 

Happy to take any questions, together with Alicia and Brendan. 

JOURNALIST: Perhaps a question for Minister O'Connor. Why fee free places rather than a HECS style scheme for courses that are in demand?  

O'CONNOR: Well, there are schemes in the vocational education training space that provide loans, and the capacity to pay back once you reach a certain income. It's been a troubled area in fact in previous years where there's been a lot of difficulties to fix those issues. There's been situations where students have been mistreated by the wrong providers. I'm glad to say they're in the minority, but there have been challenges. But there is a HECS way approach to loans for VET students and that sort of support will continue, as it must. 

But this is also about reducing upfront costs, which may deter people undertaking the courses that are on offer in areas of demand, and as Chris pointed to just a moment ago, it's a very tight labour market, and in terms of low unemployment, that's a fantastic thing, but it's a challenge because of the lack of supply of labour. The OECD has said that Australia has the second highest labour supply shortage in the developed world; that's where we're at, at the moment. 

It also is of concern to me that people might choose to take an unskilled job indefinitely, rather than look to go to a course. So we need to find as many ways as possible to encourage people to undertake courses that will give them the skills that will set them up throughout their working life, and we do believe by reducing or abolishing, taking away the fees for these courses, will encourage people to enrol, it will lift   it will reduce the cost of living pressures on those people who are making those decisions, and I think that's critical if we're going to get the right skills into the economy that we need, and we've got skilled migration pathways being restored by the Albanese Government after a long period of suspension, as things start to return to some level of normalcy post the height of the pandemic, but it's never been a binary choice.

We need to have our education training systems working in such a way as they're supplying the skills that are in need in combination with, in the more immediate sense, skilled migration pathways, and I think removing the fees as to the likelihood of people undertaking courses, to acquire skills that are currently [indistinct]. 

JOURNALIST: You touched on the [indistinct] labour market. A lot of people who are potential teachers in the VET sector may be able to make more money using those skills in the employment market. Is there anything more the Federal Government can do to bring those people into the sector to be teaching students?  

O'CONNOR: Look, there are people who – look, some teachers have, as we know, have borne the brunt of the pandemic, particularly in certain jurisdictions, as they've been on the frontline, certainly, probably less so in Canberra, I'm happy to say, they were more fortunate. The ACT was more fortunate than say Victoria and New South Wales, which had long periods of lockdown, remote learning, which put enormous pressure on teachers, and I think they were the frontline of the pandemic, along with, of course, health professionals, aged care sector and others in the care sector. 

So, there's no doubt there's been fatigue, and there's been teachers leaving the profession, and we want to see them come back. I think you need to dedicate resources, you need to   I think it's more likely, if you invest in sector properly, not just wages and conditions, but if you invest in capital equipment, you are saying to teachers and trainers that they matter, that their profession matters when you invest in education training generally. We'll always look at, of course, remuneration, and whether it's fair, but we of course want to see teachers stay in the profession, and we want to see the return of those teachers who may have taken a break. 

Teachers have generic skills, that's why they can go into other paths of the labour market, and no one begrudges people doing that if they're tired and they want to change. But we do hope that showing the priority of the Federal Government, state and territory governments in relation to the VET sector and schools and universities will see sufficient teachers and trainers. 

But I might add, in talking to Jason Clare and the state ministers, we understand that there are shortages in teaching and training, and training trainers, and therefore, one of the skills shortages is in fact, you know, ensuring we have a sufficient supply of teachers. You can't educate and train your workforce, or prospective workforce if you don't have sufficient teachers, and so there's work being undertaken there, working through the Ministerial Council to ensure we have an ongoing supply going forward. 

Thank you.