SUBJECTS: Australia’s skills shortage; Morrison Government neglecting skills; fewer apprentices on the NSW Central Coast; TAFE; cost of living outstripping wages.

RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Well we’re at the Ourimbah Campus of the University of Newcastle, we’ve had a fantastic roundtable with businesses here. The consistent message is that there is a skills crisis which is facing the Central Coast. There’s something like 10 percent less apprentices and trainees today than there were in 2013, and that’s a direct result of the cuts of the Morrison Government to both TAFE and the VET sector. People simply aren’t pursuing trades now in the way that they used to. And this is something which needs to be fixed. This country is facing a skills crisis because of the Morrison Government, and we certainly are going to make this a major issue at the next election.

JOURNALIST: What can be done about this issue?

MARLES: Well, it’s firstly a question of resources and funding – the Morrison Government cut $3 billion out of TAFE and VET over the last eight years. And so it’s really important that the proper resources are put in. But I think it’s also important that there is a change of mindset, that we’re saying to our kids that going to university is great but it’s also great to pursue a trade, and that can be plan A. And in pursuing a trade and getting those skills at the end of it there’s really good jobs and a fantastic life to be had. And it’s really important that we are promoting that kind of education to our kids through our schools.

JOURNALIST: I guess moving into the future, what can we expect if nothing does change here?
Well what’s become clear from today’s roundtable, and we see this around the country, we’re certainly seeing it on the Central Coast that the opportunity for businesses to grow, to fulfil their ambitions, to generate the kind of productivity and growth that they would hope for, is being severely limited by not being able to get the skilled staff that they need. We hear it time and again, across a whole range of trades. And it is about getting more engineers, getting more people with university degrees, but it’s probably more about getting more people with those trades. Trades like being a chippy and a sparky, but like being a boilermaker as well, an industrial painter, we heard today. There’s a whole lot of trades across the skill set, which are really important for people to pursue, and great jobs to be had if they do that. But it’s so important in terms of growing the local economy and for that matter, the national economy.

JOURNALIST: Is there anything else [inaudible]?

MARLES: Yeah today we’ve also heard the wage figures. What’s clear is that again, in the last 12 months, we’ve seen a real decline in wages. That should be no surprise because Scott Morrison and his Government have baked in real wage decline over the next four years. Today’s wage figures make it clear that Scott Morrison’s plan for working families is to have low wages and that is what he is delivering and that must change.

JOURNALIST: Tell me about the shortages here on the Central Coast. How long have we been seeing these for, Emma?

EMMA MCBRIDE, MEMBER FOR DOBELL: These shortages have been going for a long time, but what we’re seeing is now we’re at a crisis point. On the Central Coast there’s 24,000 small businesses, if every one of them has a chance to take on one or two more skilled staff members, that would be hundreds of jobs across the Central Coast. We’ve heard today from Central Coast Industry Connect about some of the critical skill shortage that they’re experiencing. They’ve got jobs, and they’re talking about not jobs for the future, but jobs for today. What they want is a workforce for today. They know that we need to build a pipeline for the future. But what they want is workers here on the Central Coast today. Before COVID, 45,000 people commuted outside of the Central Coast each day. This, as much as a crisis, is an opportunity for us on the Central Coast to have a better future, a strong local economy and good secure jobs.

JOURNALIST: So you want to see people staying here and having jobs locally here?

MCBRIDE: Absolutely. I mean, I grew up in Wyong, you know, to see Ourimbah Campus of the Central Coast really invest in the future of our local economy. We want to see people be able to grow up on the Coast, to be able to pick up a trade, to be able to go to university, to have a really good career here on the Coast. People are coming to the Coast, they want to live here. What we need to do is be able to create and support those quality local jobs that have future careers, and that really will boost our economy, and it’ll boost jobs. It’s what we need on the Central Coast.

JOURNALIST: So you want to see more funding as well, I guess, injected into this. How did COVID affect this as well?

MCBRIDE: Well we’ve heard from businesses today and some of the customer-facing businesses, some of them had a real downturn in COVID. Others that are more business-to-business have really grown through COVID. So it’s been quite mixed. And some sectors saw good support, others fell out of the government support. We’ve heard of some today who, you know, missed a grant by a day or missed a threshold by, you know, $100,000. So what we need to see is better designed and targeted government support. And we need to be working in partnership with industry. And that’s what we’ve done today. Today with Richard, Labor’s Deputy Leader, we’re working with manufacturers, we’re then going to talk about training and education with the university, then we’re meeting with workers. I think that’s what we need to see, we need to see across the whole of the Central Coast working in partnership, to really boost our local economy and grow local jobs.

JOURNALIST: Would you like to see this university expand as well?

MCBRIDE: There is so much scope for this university to be a really big catalyst and driver for not just a future workforce, but for the workforce for today. And it’s about the right courses partnered with the right industry, particularly with manufacturing. And there’s so much scope and that’s why we’re really excited to be here today to show our support for the university and to really see it expand in the direction that will really boost our local economy and create good secure jobs for local people.

JOURNALIST: Anything else to add, Emma?

MCBRIDE: This is a really exciting opportunity, as much as it is a big challenge that we’re facing in skills. What it does create is big opportunities for school leavers, for people transitioning between careers, and for people who have moved to the Coast and want to have a better life here.


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