Jobs and Manufacturing on the Coast

Jobs and Manufacturing on the Coast Main Image

22 November 2021

Mr. Speaker...

The community I represent on the Central Coast of New South Wales is home to some 24,000 small businesses, half of which are sole traders. These businesses are the heart of our community and the lifeblood of our local economy. But they're also in the middle of a skills crisis. On the north end of the Central Coast, there has been a significant drop in the number of apprentices and trainees since this government came to power. There are now 231 fewer apprentices in my community than there were eight years ago—that's a drop of close to 10 per cent—and it's having an impact on local businesses. Eight years ago, there were 20 apprentice butchers on the north end of the coach; now there are only seven.

This decline is being felt in many industries across the entire Central Coast that many of us rely on each and every day. In regions like the Central Coast, two out of three businesses are struggling to find staff with the right skills and qualifications to fill vacancies. Ultimately, this means the Coast doesn't have the skilled workers it needs right now and for the future. The Coalition have been in government for close to a decade now and they've talked a big game when it comes to creating jobs. But that's not what we're seeing in places in the outer suburbs and regions of Australia. Instead of seeing a rise in jobs, numbers have gone backwards under this Government, particularly in permanent work. That's because the Coalition have cut more than $3 billion from vocational education and training over the past eight years, leaving us with a serious skills shortage.

Last week, I joined a manufacturing roundtable at the business incubator at the University of Newcastle's Ourimbah campus, alongside the Deputy Labor Leader, the member for Corio, where we met with local businesses across a range of industries. We were hosted by Frank Sammut from Central Coast Industry Connect and joined by Andrew from TrendPac, Ian from Herbies Spices, Joel from The Marshmallow Co., Eric from McConaghy Boats, Kristina from FMC, Bob from Colonial Foods, Nathan from Crossmuller, Grant from the Borg Group and Michael Bowyer from the university. They all run very different businesses, but the message from all of them was clear: we don't need to prepare for the jobs of the future, because there are jobs here right now. They told me that what we need is skilled workers to fill them.

They told me the main problem is that manufacturing isn't being promoted as a good career anymore. They said schools aren't encouraging their students to think about taking up a trade as an alternative to university. They also said there's a bias against certain trades which is stopping people from getting into their industries. As Nathan from Crossmuller put it, we need to encourage more people to get into the non-sexy trades like boilermaking, fitting machinists and other metal trades. He told me that if it's not on reality TV then people don't seem to be taking up those trades. Grant from the Borg Group told me they currently have 75 apprentices across 10 trades, but they're struggling to fill positions in trades like industrial painting. Kristina from FMC, an agricultural sciences company, told me they're looking to take on 11 school leavers next year. These are good jobs, mostly full time. They're local jobs leading to steady careers. I am told there is plenty of work available, but without the right skills and training locals are missing out.

We have a strong manufacturing industry on the Central Coast. There are over 900 manufacturers in our region, who employ close to 9,000 people. Collectively, they add some $3 billion to our local economy. But they're facing significant challenges. What they need is skilled workers and a government that will support people to gain these skills, particularly for people living outside of big cities. We need to invest in skills, training and education to help people find work in the manufacturing sector. We need to back local businesses and invest in local manufacturing projects. Australia used to be a country that made things, but, after years of cuts under this Government, critical manufacturing projects are being sent overseas. We should make trains in Australia. We should make buses in Australia. We should make solar panels in Australia.

My community on the Central Coast of New South Wales has the potential to be a powerhouse of manufacturing. We've got local people who want to take up these jobs. What they need is the support to gain the skills to be in a position to do them. But, if we want this to happen, we need things to change. If we want to change things in our community, we need to fix the skills crisis on the Central Coast so young people starting out in my community know that they can get a good local job, that they can get the training they need to have a steady career, that they can live close to where they work and that they can contribute to our local economy and to that of our community. That's what they need on the Central Coast.