Interview: 702 Perth with John McGlue

  • Assistant Minister for Education

Topic: Apprenticeships

JOHN MCGLUE: Let's talk about apprenticeships and one of - it's a big issue in Western Australia, particularly around the time of the mining boom and skill shortages that beset some of the big mining companies. I think one of the natural consequences of the higher education for all policies that have been in place in Australia in recent years, is that the attraction of the trades and apprenticeships for the trades has dipped considerably which is strange in a way given the demand which is there, as I say, for very specialised trades people and not only in the hard rock mining area.

So what's to be done about it, because even though the mining boom has peaked, there's still massive demand for specialised skills? Now I know many of you will have strong views in relation to this, young people who find it difficult to get an apprenticeship and employers who are just fed up training people only to see them on qualification dash off to the mines and earn a lot of money.

1300 222 720. Let me have your views on the trades and apprenticeships and the difficulties you face, be it as a young person trying to get into the trades and find an apprenticeship or maybe as an employer who's wrestling with Gen Y. 1300 222 720.

I'm joined on Drive by Sussan Ley. She's the Federal Assistant Minister for Education and she's got a very special interest in this area. Minister, welcome to Drive.

SUSSAN LEY: Thank you for having me, John.

JOHN MCGLUE: Why are apprenticeships now just not as popular as they used to be say ten years ago relative to the attraction of university?

SUSSAN LEY: Look, there's lots of reasons and to some extent I blame careers advisors in schools. They tend to push kids into higher ed. rather than apprenticeships and trades and there's not enough “try a trade” for those kids in school so they can see what it is they want to do. Lots of people talk about the low wages and yes they're a factor but often you find that young people end up in an apprenticeship that doesn't suit them so that turns them off the whole deal. And what we need to do is make sure that from a pathway in say Year ten, they're directed into a career in the trade that suits them and it's not happening to the degree that it needs to.

JOHN MCGLUE: There's a joke running around Western Australia that if you want to end up as a millionaire at the end of your career, make sure you become a plumber or a carpenter or an electrician.

SUSSAN LEY: People say that but you know in schools, while everyone makes the - you know the joke - and it's not necessarily a joke about the income that someone in the trades earn, they don't necessarily see someone doing a trade as smart and that's what I want to change because you are just as smart.

So you see the students that go into the VET stream and there's a general acceptance that maybe they're not quite as bright and that's what we've got to overcome. Because if you tend to be academically inclined and you look at the curriculum for a vocational trade, chances are you can't actually do it at all. They are completely different and they use different areas of the brain and one is not better than the other, we know that, but we've got to increase the pool of people in the trades so that we don't have this drain next time there's a surge in mining employment and we've got many more kids suited, doing what they're actually suited to do.

JOHN MCGLUE: Sussan Ley is my guest on Drive, she's the Assistant Minister for Education. We're talking about the problems besetting the trades and young people getting into apprenticeships. She as the Minister is saying it goes all the way back sometimes to the career advisors in high schools who are telling kids - well persuading and channelling them towards universities and perhaps a little bit away from the trades. Sussan Ley, it sounds like there's a bit of snobbery involved here rather than economic common sense?

SUSSAN LEY: Look, I think the snob factor still exists. I've done vocational training and higher ed. myself. I'm a qualified pilot and I did that in the TAFE setting - at least I did the theory for it. That gave me something that I could apply in the real world but is unsurpassed when you compare it to say a qualification in economics which doesn't exactly enable you to walk into a job the next day. But somehow our system is pushing more and more students into higher ed. and we need to emphasise the trades.

Actually my son's a sparky. He's just started in the Pilbara in WA working for the Compass Group, so he's made the trip from the eastern states with a trade qualification to the mines in WA but my goodness it takes a long time to get there. It's not easy and there were times when it was quite disheartening to go through the process. But it's great when you get there but we still need more people entering those fields of training.

JOHN MCGLUE: Well one of the barriers to people getting there is cost and many people, we hear so many stories about the cost of TAFE courses associated with apprenticeships, the cost of those going up and we know the Federal Government is taking the big knife to education spending. So how do you balance those competing imperatives, trying to get more young people to get into courses but, related to the trades but finding that it's perhaps prohibitively expensive?

SUSSAN LEY: It is and sometimes it's $900 a semester and you just can't find that money and if you don't have parental support you really can't find that money. We've got a policy that we're introducing, we went to the election with, which is a HECS type loan for people studying for trades that they can pay back at a later date, similar to what operates at university and it won't just cover fees, it can cover other costs of living while you are a student because we don't want the cost to be a barrier. There's lots of traineeships. If you've been out of work, you can go through a job training provider and you can often have your training paid for. So persist if that's your situation because you don't necessarily have to pay the full cost.

JOHN MCGLUE: Okay. We've had a listener has phoned in and he wants to put this question to you. He's just put on an apprentice but the TAFE fees have gone up so much that it's now costing him more and he's wondering can you as the Federal Minister talk to your state colleagues, your state counterparts about that so that for people like Steven who's an employer wanting to put on young people, he's finding that the cost is just becoming - well it's becoming very high.

SUSSAN LEY: And that may well be, as he notes, that the State Government has removed incentives that previously existed and they often target those incentives towards areas where there are skills, demands and sometimes for budgetary reasons they take them off. The whole apprenticeship incentives system is a bit bolted on and a bit ad-hoc and does actually need to be reworked. I'm pushing for that at State and Federal level because it needs to recognise the cost to the employer as well as the employee.

JOHN MCGLUE: Okay, Minister, it's good talking with you today. Thanks for your time.

SUSSAN LEY: Thank you, it's been a privilege.

- ENDS -

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