Sydney Live 2GB – Merrick Watts

Subject/s: VET Sector, skills shortages

MERRICK WATTS: Under the $525 million plan, up to 80,000 extra apprenticeships will be created over the next 5 years which is extraordinary. All the areas were skills shortages as the Skills Minister Michaelia Cash joins me now.

MINISTER CASH: Absolutely fantastic to be with you and hello to your listeners.

MERRICK WATTS: Michaelia can I ask you, do you think there’s a stigma attached to TAFE in this country and obviously an undeserved one?

MINISTER CASH: Look, certainly there was. When I became the Minister last year, that was what was raised with me by the sector. It goes back to unfortunately some policy decisions that the former Labor Government made that we have been cleaning up, but but those decisions left students basically in courses that we’re never going to deliver them an outcome and many of them with bad debts. What this did was drain the confidence in the VET system. So what we have done is progressively cleaned up that mess and I’m absolutely delighted that feedback from the sector now is that confidence is well and truly being restored. And if someone said to me today, Michaelia, it is VET’s time to shine.

MERRICK WATTS: Yep, absolutely. You can’t argue with the statistics. When you look at what the tradies are earning, bricklayers for example earning on average $2,000 a week last year.

MINISTER CASH: Oh look, this is one of the great myths, isn’t it? That if you do a trade, you’re not going to get paid as well as someone who’s undertaking a university degree. Well, that’s just wrong based on the evidence, I mean what we want to see in terms of Australia’s VET sector is I want to aim to make it the first choice in post-school learning for millions of Australians. It is a valuable choice. Industry tells us it is becoming their preferred choice because people are basically job ready from day one. And I have always said, a VET qualification should not be seen as something less important than a university degree.

MERRICK WATTS: I couldn’t agree more. Absolutely spot on. I don’t like the stigma attached to it and I never have understood it. I didn’t go to University myself, nor did I go to TAFE – I barely went to high school to be honest. So I certainly don’t have an issue with it, but can you tell me how bad is the skills shortage at the moment?

MINISTER CASH: Unemployment is at 5.2% and the economy is creating jobs. As you know, almost 1.4 million new jobs have been created since we were elected in 2013 – that is great news for Australians. We’ve also committed to an additional 1.25 million jobs over the nextfive years. As a Government, our role is to ensure that our training system – and that is the VET system – is delivering the skills for the jobs of today and tomorrow. And that’s why we are focusing on vocational education and training, and also areas with identified skill shortages and areas that demand for skills is shifting – for example, from manufacturing to the services sector. We also have emerging industries like advanced manufacturing, ICT and cyber security. We need to ensure that both employers and potential employees are incentivised to take up these roles in demand.​

MERRICK WATTS: Yeah, absolutely. Can I ask you, if you’ve got your parents listening now, or young people who are looking to finish school this year and thinking, what can I do? What’s going to be a growth sector? Yes, they aren’t sure about what they want to do but obviously they are going to want to go into a sector that is going to grow – what would you kind of recommend? What are some of the industries should they would be looking?

MINISTER CASH: Well look, certainly anything to do with our health system and anything to do with aged care. Now, you know, that is anything from a doctor through to someone who might actually work in the catering facility. The growth potential there is phenomenal. But at the same time, when you look at those emerging industries, and this is really exciting for our young people. You know, ICT, cybersecurity, FinTech- I mean these are industries that are now growing. They growing at a rapid pace. So certainly, there were so many opportunities, not just for our young people, but you know, if there are any Australian who’s looking at upskilling or reskilling, for the future.

MERRICK WATTS: You said this could assist people in getting additional skills as well. People who have already been in the workforce and maybe they are looking to, not necessarily get out but maybe compliment the skills they’ve already got as well.

MINISTER CASH: Absolutely, the Government has a number of programs already in place in particular focusing on the mature aged person. Amazingly that is actually 45 and above, who think, I’ve got a certain skillset and I don’t know how far this is going to take me looking forward, what’s the opportunity now to actually reskill or upskill? And certainly that is exactly what a VET qualification provides you. In fact, it was actually described to me, it is a system as opposed to just a course. It’s a lifelong learning system that actually allows people to go in and out of the workforce as they choose, whilst at the same time ensuring they have a relevant skillset.

MERRICK WATTS: Yeah, well my mother used to say that all the time. And she did, she said you should have some sort of a qualification or some sort of skills to fall back on. Unfortunately I didn’t take her advice and now I work in media.

MINISTER CASH: Hold on, you’re not doing too badly. You’re getting a national profile doing this. You’re not doing too badly at all.

MERRICK WATTS: Oh, I’m hanging in there, as well as being complimented. Michaelia Cash the Federal Minister for Skills, a great initiative. It’s great to see we’re trying to destigmatise the idea that TAFE is not as good as University and that your job prospects aren’t as good.

MINISTER CASH: It’s complete, total and utter nonsense. And in fact what am I hearing from industry – People with VET qualifications are highly regarded and they are sought after by employers. So if you are thinking, you know, what am I going to do when I leave school – Absolutely have a look at what a vocational education could offer you because there areso many different fabulous pathways that it can take you down.

MERRICK WATTS: And parents get your kids to have a look as well. If they get picky about, you know, transitioning out of high school this is a good option.

MINISTER CASH: That is what I say to people. You know, if you need a plumber at midnight on a Sunday, they set the rate and you take it because you need the plumber at midnight on a Sunday.

MERRICK WATTS: Yes, I know. Trust me, I don’t feel sorry for plumbers on a Sunday. Federal Skills Minister Michaelia Cash, thank-you very much for your time.

MINISTER CASH: Great to be with you.

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