By Tanya Plibersek

08 June 2020



SUBJECT: Morrison’s tradie crisis; Skills Shortages; HomeBuilder.

MURRAY JONES, HOST: Cairns 4CA - In the last week or so, there's been a lot to talk about and of course, the Federal Government has talked about a number of things that they're trying to do to deal with the COVID-19, and there's been a lot of fallout. There's been a lot of fallout. Particularly for younger people - opportunities for work, but also for employers. Moving forward, employers need to have a skill set to be able to match the jobs, and of course the things that they're quoting for as well. According to the National Australian Apprenticeship Association, we're set for a massive 35 per cent drop in new apprentices - 100,000 to be precise, and even in our part of the world, looking like a decrease of about 20,000 apprentices here in Queensland. It is a matter of concern. Joining me this morning, Shadow Minister for Education and Training, it's Tanya Plibersek. Tanya, thank you so much for your time this morning. It is something that we've discussed but now more than ever moving forward, our reliance on apprenticeship has become even more of an issue.

TANYA PLIBERSEK, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION AND TRAINING: A hundred per cent Murray. Look, we've seen drops in recent years - we have lost about 140,000 apprentices over the last seven years and for Queensland, that's been close to a 31,000 person drop in apprenticeships. But what we're seeing after COVID-19 is this is, you know we're losing apprentices at a rate of knots. This is the problem we already had on steroids. You’re looking at, as you said, more than 20,000 extra apprentices expected to be lost over this coming year and that's a disaster. Like, it's a real problem for those people who are going to be sitting on the dole queue instead of getting an education that will help them get a good, well paid secure job for the rest of their lives. But it's also a real problem for our economy because we want our economy to grow, we want it to bounce back after COVID-19, but we need the skilled workforce to do that. And even before COVID-19 hit, I had employers all over the place saying ‘I'd love to grow my business, I can't, I don't have the skilled staff’. In fact, the very last visit I did before we went into lockdown in Brisbane - I went to a commercial bakery and they were saying ‘yeah, we'd love to employ more people but we don't have the skill bakers that we need‘ and this is true in so many different industries. And you know what'll happen? We will start to improve, the economy will get back on its feet will go we don't have the skilled workforce we need, we're going to have to have people on short-term visas to do the work. So we'll have unemployed Australians on one hand and we'll have a search around the world for people to come on short-term visas to do the skilled work on the other hand. That's not good. That's not a recipe for success for our nation.

JONES: As you know, in your portfolio as Shadow Minister for Education and Training, sadly for a lot of young people, university education is worthwhile, there's no doubt about that for it. But, for a lot of younger people, getting into trades and apprenticeships is often a better way to go. So sue me for the young people that are often the ones that have actually copped it the most during the COVID-19 lockdowns, having that opportunity once we get out, just to be able to find gainful employment is so important and it seems like trade and apprenticeships is certainly one of the areas that's got a lot of growth here in Australia.

PLIBERSEK: Goodness me yes. You know, work is becoming more complicated. We don't have a whole lot of those jobs where you used to be able to leave school at 14 or 15 and go in at the bottom run of the bank and work your way up to be the CEO of the bank. So most people who graduate from high school are going to need either a TAFE or a university qualification after school and I see both of those as equally valuable. My dad was a plumber, if my kids came home and said ‘I want to be a plumber’, I'd be delighted, I'd be so happy to have someone to do that work around the house. But it's a great, it's a great living. It's a great secure living that you can make and support your family on a trade wage. What really bothers me is these opportunities are closing down for young people. There's less of an opportunity to go to university if that's what they want. There's less of an opportunity to get a trade if that's what they want.

JONES: Now it has been suggested to me and I'm going to play devil's advocate here. I was actually discussing this -

PLIBERSEK: I would expect you to do that Murray. I'd be disappointed if you -

JONES: If I didn't. I was actually talking to the boss and he actually said to me look one of the issues though is the unions have pushed the wage up so high, it just makes it so difficult for employers. What's your response to that?

PLIBERSEK: Look, I think we need to accept that people in their very early years of apprenticeship need a lot of supervision, and a lot of training, and a lot of support and they don't start on day one as being very valuable to the employer. So you actually need the government to support those apprentices. We’ve got calls at the moment for increased support for those early year apprenticeships from the Government so that people will take them on. You’ve got to acknowledge that, but also don't forget a lot of people who are now going into apprenticeships - they're not 16, 17 years old, they are people in their thirties who are thinking about a career change. So we have to have a system that responds to that as well. No one's going to go and retrain to do an apprenticeship if they're being asked to work for a couple hundred bucks a week and they've got a family to support. So, we need a system that really supports people in those early years when they're getting their skills and makes sure that they're valuable to their employers very quickly, and that might mean greater investment in TAFE and training, and it may also mean more of a responsibility to help out with the wages in the early years.

JONES: So, what can we actually do about this to actually turn this trend around? Because unfortunately, as you've just suggested, it may be too late when this realisation hits.

PLIBERSEK: Yeah, well we've got to stop the cuts. We've seen three billion dollars of cuts to TAFE and training from the Federal Government over the last seven years. We've got to get employers, unions, schools and TAFE to sit around the table and actually work out the best, most effective way of training Australians for the jobs that we'll need them to do in coming years. And, we need to look at those ideas like an increased wage subsidy for the early years of the apprenticeship, to make those apprentices more attractive to employers. I think the most important thing is that we sit down and nut this out. It's no good just pointing out the fact that there's a problem. We need cooperation from the TAFE and training organisations, but also businesses and unions sitting at the table working out the pathway to getting more young people into a decent job down the track.

JONES: In the last week or so the HomeBuilder program - the incentive has just been released. There certainly has been some negative commentary and some negative media in the last 24 hours or so. A lot of people saying that it's just way too narrow. It's something that I am actually looking at personally and it is a bit of a tough call. It is something that is likely to assist with respect to apprenticeships in the longer term though, do you agree?

PLIBERSEK: Look, I absolutely think we need to support the construction sector. This is a huge employer, over a million people employed in the sector. We're looking at 450,000 tradies jobs at risk at the moment. But I think most people who've looked at this package overnight have worked out that it's pretty narrow, it’s actually going to be very hard for people to make use of it. So you've got to, if you're talking about the renovation part of it - it's a grant of up to $25,000. But you've got to be prepared to spend between $150,000 and $750,000 and you've got to spend that money or you’ve got to enter the contract between now and the end of this year. And, you've got to be earning less than $125,000 if you're an individual, or $200,000 for a couple. Now, if you're a couple, even if you're on $200,000 a year at the moment, unless you were already planning to do the reno, I reckon there's not many people who have got a lazy $150,000 sitting around and they're going to fix their bathroom and their kitchen with it. I mean, this this is pretty unlikely to actually cause a lot more people to do renovations other than those that were already planning it. And, don't forget of course Murray, people are worried about their jobs. Even if you're a family earning $200,000 a year, that's great, that's doing all right, but if one of you are worried about losing your job, if you're both worried about losing your job, you're not going to do $150,000 renovation with that sort of uncertainty hanging over your head. So, I think there's some missed opportunities here. I think the the size of the package is about one-tenth of what we spent during the Global Financial Crisis when I was the Housing Minister and it doesn't do anything for low-income renters like we did when we were in government. We built housing for key workers and low-income renters in the private sector - the National Rental Affordability Scheme. And we also invested in housing for people who are homeless. We built 21,600 new public housing homes, we fixed up 70,000, we started about 80 new homeless facilities around the country. And we've got right now thousands being turned away every night from emergency accommodation. We've got nurses and teachers and police officers who can't afford the rent in the cities where they're living. We could be doing a lot more at that end of the housing market. So again, I guess a very small missed opportunity and the rules around it make it, I think, unlikely that a lot of people will take up this opportunity. So that means we don't have the support for jobs that we'd like to see.

JONES: Certainly for everyday Australians I accept what you're saying. You know, one would think it would have a better impact on the economy long-term I guess if it was for that, you know, I guess that more needy, lower end of the market. We've certainly got some challenging times ahead. Great to talk to you this morning about HomeBuilder and particularly, about this shortage of apprentices. The Honourable Tanya Plibersek, she’s the Shadow Minister for Education and Training. Always a delight to talk to you.

PLIBERSEK: Always a pleasure Murray. Thanks for taking the call.