TAFE and Jobs

TAFE and Jobs Main Image

14 February 2022

I rise to support the private members' motion moved by the member for Dunkley, and commend her for bringing this to the attention of the House. All Australians, wherever they grow up, deserve the best shot at the education, skills and training opportunities that we have to offer. My late dad was a builder, an engineer and a TAFE teacher. He often called TAFE the elevator in life; training was what gave him the chance that no-one else in his family had had. Unfortunately, this isn't the reality for many young Australians, including people in the community I represent on the Central Coast of New South Wales.

The Central Coast is one region—that's how locals talk about it, our community—and that's how it should be treated by this government, but it's not—and this is especially true when it comes to education and training. Over the past eight years the Morrison government has cut more than $3 billion from vocational education and training. This has made it harder for people in my community to take up a trade, to get a traineeship and to get the skills that they need. It has led to a growing skills crisis across the coast. Young people tell me the courses they need are only available outside the coast, at Tighes Hill, near Newcastle, or Ryde, near Sydney, and that the cost of travel on top of course fees makes it hard to finish their training. After close to a decade of funding cuts, there are now 231 fewer apprentices in Dobell. That's close to a 10 per cent drop, and it's impacting people looking for work and employers trying to recruit.

Late last year I held a manufacturing round table where I heard from local businesses about the challenges they were facing. Most of them said there were jobs available, but there was a shortage of skilled workers to fill them. These are businesses like the Borg group, which has a strong history of manufacturing on the Central Coast. Grant from Borg told me they currently have 75 apprentices across 10 different trades, but they're struggling to fill positions in certain trades, like industrial painting, fitting and machining and other metal trades. If the locals in my community had access to quality, affordable training close to home, businesses like the Borg group would be able to fill those positions and young people would be able to gain the skills they need for a steady job and a good career, which would boost local jobs and our local economy.

People on the north end of the coast are also being prevented from accessing the education and training they deserve because of where they live. Just recently the government announced the next round of its Commonwealth Scholarships Program for Young Australians, designed to help people take up a trade or an apprenticeship. These scholarships are available to people in a few hand-picked regions across the country, including Gosford in New South Wales—just south of my electorate. But the north end of the coast has been completely excluded from this program. As I said before, the Central Coast is one region and young workers in my community could use a scholarship like this to upskill and find more secure work. They shouldn't be left behind just because they live 40 minutes north of Gosford. It's unfair.

Young people living outside big cities have always struggled to get a fair shot at training and employment opportunities, and that has only been heightened during the pandemic. At the peak of COVID, when work was scarce, there were higher numbers of young people looking for work on the north end of the coast, so it makes no sense to exclude them from this program. I ask the Prime Minister: why? Why are young people on the north end of the Central Coast being overlooked and left behind again and again by this government? Every young person, wherever they're born, wherever they live or wherever they grow up, deserves a fair shot at quality education and training that is close to home and affordable, that will provide them with the skills they need for a steady career and a good future. That's why Labor has plans for free TAFE. Under Labor we will provide 465,000 free TAFE places to Australians studying in areas where there is a skill shortage.

Last week I heard from the Society of Hospital Pharmacists of Australia about the lack of training opportunities for pharmacy technicians—essential workers on the front line of the pandemic and critical to the supply, distribution and manufacture of lifesaving medicines. They are working in COVID vaccination clinics without ready access to the training they need. This training would support and encourage people to join industries in need of more workers, and would create jobs in regional communities like mine on the Central Coast of New South Wales in industries like trade and construction, energy and manufacturing. We have a plan to add 10,000 apprenticeships in the energy sector. Under Labor's plan we'll encourage businesses to take on more apprentices in the new energy sector by providing $100 million in funding.

Only recently, with the member for McMahon, I visited a business, Twin Lakes Air and Solar, at Toukley. Mitch, from Twin Lakes, rang me this morning. They install air conditioning, solar panels and batteries up and down the coast, and land big contracts in Sydney and Newcastle. Businesses like Twin Lakes, with refrigeration apprentices, have the potential to drive jobs and growth, and to make the coast and other regions outside of big cities powerhouses of renewable energy. Labor's Powering Australia plan will make that a reality. Under the Morrison government, under this Prime Minister, local businesses and local jobseekers are being left behind.