5AA with Leon Byner - South Australia needs more kids in trades

  • Assistant Minister for Education

LEON BYNER: Going back some years we had a minister for education called David Kemp and what Mr Kemp did as a matter of policy was something subtle but it had a profound effect on trades and education.  He combined traineeships and apprenticeships.  Now apprenticeships are very different to traineeships.

A traineeship can be working in a hairdressing shop sweeping the floor and watching the hairdresser who is fully qualified do his or her work and maybe, maybe be going to TAFE or getting some on the job experience.  Or it can be working in a sandwich shop cutting sandwiches and sweeping the floor.

But of course the way these traineeships have been used - and I'm going to quote a bloke here who I don't doubt, he's a former employee ombudsman Gary Collis - Gary has told me as an industrial advocate that a large number, a very large number of traineeships are nothing more than cheap labour.  They don't really train anybody to do anything.  They're more kind of a paid work experience with not much at the other end and that's been the case now over successive governments.

Now, we have a skill problem in Australia and we certainly have one in South Australia.  My next guest is arguing that this state needs more school students taking up a career in trades and training if the nation is to tackle the skill shortage.

Now this politician - you'll meet her in a moment, her portfolio includes vocational education training and schools - is in Adelaide working on a round table of experts from industry, training, education and government.

Now, look I'm a very optimistic person but I'm also a realist and I don't know how many times we've had discussions about this but nevertheless if we could get more people in the trades, like into plumbing, into gas fitting, into auto mechanical and other things it would be fantastic.  But somewhere there is a problem in us doing this.  So let's talk to the Assistant Minister for Education Sussan Ley.

Sussan thanks for joining us today.  Tell me, what's gone wrong over previous years because what you've put in your press release I could find in dozens of press releases from successive governments time over time.  So what's really gone wrong here?

MINISTER LEY: Thanks for having me on the program Leon.  I'm here with Matt Williams, Member for Hindmarsh in Glenelg.  We've got our South Australian round table on trades and training here this morning.  Lots went wrong with the previous Labor Government let me tell you - with the uncapped demand system for university places, we saw too many kids drift into university, come out with a degree that's not worth much at all.  Forty per cent of those now finding they can't get a job.

Meanwhile we know that these skills - the skills need for this country for the next generation are huge and the productivity of our economy depends on some of the skills you have a shortage of here in South Australia.  Particularly carpentry, electricians, concreters, bricklayers…

LEON BYNER: [Interrupts] Well Sussan I think a former Liberal Government made a very big mistake some time ago by trying to suggest that traineeships were almost parallel with apprenticeships and they're not; they're very different.

MINISTER LEY: Look they're different but they still are a vocational pathway and that's the point that I want to make.  That it may be that you go into a four year traditional apprenticeship and a trade or a retail traineeship or you work in beauty or hospitality.  But these are all the alternatives to high education and the pathway out of school into university.

So that's the key difference and the mission that I'm on is to increase the recognition of the trades and training.  We still have parents, we still have society saying [unclear 0:03:47.2] if we stream you into vocational ed as opposed to a pathway to uni.

And this sort of whole culture of if you haven't made it to university you haven't made it all; it's all nonsense.  You and I know that but we need to promote that pathway with students, with schools and with the education…

LEON BYNER: [Interrupts] Okay, well why has the take-up been so pathetic with fifteen to nineteen year olds not taking a career pathway into the trades?  What's happened here?

MINISTER LEY: Look many of them are still doing vocational ed, they're not in a school based apprenticeship and I agree, the number is too small…

LEON BYNER: [Interrupts] So why is that do we know?

MINISTER LEY: Part of it is that industry is saying that the product of the school based apprenticeship training system is not valued by industry, does not meet industry needs.

So the main thing that's come out in this session this morning is let's get industry at the table and have more industry and employer involvement in the actual training, so that the two systems tend to be side by side.

There's the employer flat out in a small business - I mean ninety per cent of business here in South Australia is small business - flat out.  They don't necessarily have time but they recognise that they need to have that involvement with the school and with the…

LEON BYNER: Okay, I'll tell you, this is the feedback I get from the people ringing me and it's twofold and you've probably heard it too.  One is from the boy or girl's point of view doing the apprenticeship that they've got to go through a very long financial wilderness while their friends are earning a lot more money pulling beers at a hotel somewhere or something like that or being a croupier.

The other thing is that businesses tell me that they can't afford to hire apprentices because there are lots of things that used to be that don't exist - and some of them are state, some of them are federal - where it is a lot of effort and work for them to hire a trainee or apprentice and get the value out of them to justify the kind of money that they would be comfortable with.

MINISTER LEY: Mm.  It is true that the increase in apprentice wages is making it harder for small business.  There are organisations, group training apprentice centres that can help you.

But can I say one of the reasons for the low completion rate of apprenticeships is that the student has ticked the wrong apprenticeship in the first place. And that's where we come back to career advice to try a trade, to having someone come into your school in year nine and year ten to actually direct you into the right trade. So if you stumble into an apprenticeship and you're not sure why you got there the chances are you won't make it through year one or two.

Look the wages thing is important but it's not as big as it was.  So many people now are looking at finding it hard to get a job at all that they're not being fussy if you - and I'm not saying not going into an apprenticeship is being fussy - but they're not being fussy so much about the money. They're recognising that a trade will set them up for life, they're just not sure how to get there.

Once they drift off the pathway - if you've been out of school and out of work for 18 months you're the most difficult person in this country to get a job.

LEON BYNER: Okay, let me give you this question.  Let's say a constituent comes to you and says my son is seventeen, he wants to be an auto electrician.  Where would you send him?

MINISTER LEY: Look, I would send him to a group training provider or an apprenticeship centre, or if he was out of work into an employment agency or a job [unclear 0:07:00.3] network which the systems tends to direct that person into.

LEON BYNER: [Interrupts] Sussan, you know, we don't really know each other very well but I can tell you we've done a lot of work on the job network and I've had a very professional career psychologist and Gary Collis, former employee ombudsman in this state, deal with these.  Let me tell you they're not very good options for setting people up in apprenticeships.  Trust me.

MINISTER LEY: The best option there is actually the career advisor at school and the school system didn’t - had that student on the right pathway from year nine or ten and that way they've got it worked out for them.

One of the things we should be doing - and we're doing this morning - is encouraging industry to go into the schools and talk to the students.  They do want to do it; it just needs sort of the framework for it to happen so that students in year nine or ten say this is what I want to do. And they don't end up drifting off the path and then having to go through these other agencies which as you and I know they don't work ideally in the real world.  And the School to Work option has got to be made tighter, it's got to work better; it's got to promote the trades and training so that they're not seen as second best.

LEON BYNER: Alright, Sussan Ley, Assistant Minister for Education. Now I've got you a question. Have you wanted an apprenticeship and not been able to get it or gone from pillar to post?  Or did you have one and then it finished because the people that you worked for couldn't afford to keep you?  Or indeed are you a business looking for a trainee or an apprentice and you're having trouble managing that responsibility?  I'd love to hear from you on 8223 0000.

For more information

Media Contact: media@education.gov.au
Non-media queries: 1300 566 046