Vocational Education and TrainingSpeech
This government has no plan for the youth employment, education and skills crisis besetting this country. The glowing reference in the motion to 140,000 young people finding work is disingenuous. Right now, nearly 17 per cent of 15- to 19-year-olds, and 8½ per cent of 20- to 24-year-olds, are unemployed. That is 250,000 young people who are looking for work but who can't find it.
During the last six years, these youth unemployment rates have been even higher. Certainly, they are higher than when the coalition took office. The 2019 budget does nothing to rectify the manifest failings of the VET system. The proposed skills package of $525 million in the budget, and lauded in this motion, has been picked over at Senate estimates; they found that only $55.4 million is actually new money. And if things are as good as this motion makes out, then why are the government's own mates starting to become so restless?
It started in August, when Innis Willox, CEO of the Australian Industry Group, pleaded with the Prime Minister to fix the skills crisis. Mr Willox is right to be concerned, because the pipeline of infrastructure work over the next few years is slated to be bigger than the mining boom of 2012 to 2015. On 8 August, The Australian quoted research by Ai Group which found that 75 per cent of employers were having difficulty recruiting qualified or skilled workers to fill vacancies, with the biggest shortage amongst technicians and trades workers. Further, the article said that apprentice and trainee numbers had fallen from 450,000 in 2012 to 260,000 last year, which Mr Willox blamed on a number of policy changes, including the removal or reduction of many employer incentives.
It is no wonder that, of the 259 businesses who responded to the New South Wales business workforce skills survey, 55 per cent said they were experiencing a skills shortage. New South Wales Business Chamber CEO, Stephen Cartwright, said in TheSydney Morning Herald on 26 August:
More must be done to train the next generation to ensure the economy has the requisite skills to sustain existing and future economic activity.
But it's not just the drop in commencement rates that is worrying. Recent data from the National Council for Vocational Education Research reveals that completion rates for apprentices and trainees in all occupations have decreased to 56.7 per cent, and to 54.5 per cent in trade occupations. The coalition has had six years to improve the skills system but has failed to take action at every turn. Instead, it has taken $3 billion out of the system and reduced commencements by over 150,000 since 2013.
If one can't believe the employers, then how about the CSIRO? In its June 2019 Australian National Outlook, the CSIRO said:
Technological change … is transforming existing industries and changing the skills required for high-quality jobs. Unless Australia can reverse its recent declines in educational performance, its future workforce could be poorly prepared for the jobs—
of the future. This is all the end result of cuts to school funding, a lack of focus on vocational pathways, closing TAFE campuses and allowing dodgy for-profit providers to gouge the system. Yet the minister, Senator Cash, boasted in a speech on 11 July: 'Our agenda is ambitious.' Ambitious for what, I ask. The recent budget package will make hardly a dent in the crisis that we face. Ten new regional training hubs are important as a link between schools and technical education, but 10 across Australia is just over one per state and territory. We need one in each state, focused on areas of economic activity.
This motion lauds the creation of 400 VET scholarships and the doubling of the Australian Apprentice Wage Subsidy Trial, but makes no mention of the drop of 150,000 commencements over the last six years. These feeble initiatives neither repair the damage done nor address the challenges ahead. So instead of patting itself on the back for doing very little, let's address the challenges ahead. The government must invest in high schools to encourage students to undertake VET. It must arrest the massive decline in apprenticeship and trainee commencement and completion rates. It must restore the role of TAFE in setting the skills agenda, rather than relying on a failed market system.
This motion is false news for our young people and Australia's businesses. As with all bad motions, it should be consigned to the dustbin of history.Share Tweet