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Interview with 5AA Mornings with Leon Byner – TAFE and university training to support ship-building in SA

Ministers:

Senator the Hon Simon Birmingham
Minister for Education and Training

Leon Byner:  We had some fabulous news yesterday, it’s news that we had been waiting on for a long time, and we will now have 12 submarines built at the ASC. And again, one of the important issues here is that we would hope that there’ll be local jobs, but inevitably it may well be that some of the people that will need to actually put this whole project together will need to be a lot of people of very significant skill, and the question has been put more than once: do we have those skills currently in SA?

Now, in part I suspect we have, but I wanted to know about our training system, because recently, as you well know, the private sector had a lot of funding taken off it and it was all given to TAFE so that in the next two years TAFE would be more competitive. But the feedback that we have been getting is that many students who want to do courses and who have parents who- or other jobs for example, two or three jobs to pay for them, can’t actually get a course until quite late this year. So I decided yesterday to ring the Education and Training Minister to see whether he could do a little bit of digging for us on this, and it’s the Education and Training Minister Simon Birmingham.

Simon thanks for joining us. What were you able to find out?

Simon Birmingham:  Well good morning Leon, and good morning to your listeners. Look, I can say in terms of a workforce preparations perspective for the wonderful ship-building and submarine work that will be occurring in Adelaide, that at a Federal Government level we’re working quite hard to think about all of the different aspects that we need to take into account.

So the education and training requirements are not just across the obvious vocational education and training areas that need to occur, those hard skills that you need to construct the ships, but also the very highly specialist skills that require higher education qualifications and very advanced skills and knowledge to work on the ongoing design and project management-type component.

And of course, there’s also significant research work that we would expect to complement much of the activity in this defence procurement arrangement. So at a federal level, the Industry Minister Christopher Pyne, the Defence Minister Marise Payne and I have all been speaking about how we bring those aspects together: the retraining of workers from other industries, the skilling of school leavers of future years, and the engagement of our VET sector and our universities.

And just yesterday, Marise Payne and I met with the three vice-chancellors from the three South Australian universities together in Canberra, along with two of the chancellors, to really focus on how they can work cooperatively with us, the Turnbull Government, to get the best outcome for SA. And I’ll certainly be looking to do the same thing across the VET sector, engaging with training providers, both TAFE and non-government in SA, as well as the State Government to make sure we get the best outcome.

Leon Byner:  Where are we with the state situation that happened only a couple of months ago, where it was decided to take a lot of that private funding off the private training companies and give it back to TAFE? Have we been able to establish where we are with that?

Simon Birmingham:  Well the State Government did largely follow through on that, and that did become quite a disruption to the private training market in South Australia. There were a couple of small concessions off it as a result of some of the significant concern, but unfortunately it really was a real set back in terms of industry choice and industry say around the operation of training. And it’s really important that industry is at the forefront of training in areas like ship-building, but right across our economy, because it’s employers having a say that ensures that those being trained are then job-ready and have the skills necessary for the jobs those employers have.

Leon Byner: So the big question is are our training organisations up to the task of providing the workforce that will be needed?

Simon Birmingham:  We will make sure they are, Leon, and we’ll put aside politics to work with the State Government and do all we possibly can to ensure that it is South Australians who are trained and skilled to take on the ship-building and submarine jobs. There are thousands of direct opportunities created by these decisions, there’s many more indirect opportunities for employment in the future, and we absolutely need to leverage that to the maximum possible extent for SA, which is why whether it’s at the vocational training level, the trade training level, or higher education or in research, we’re going to leave no stone unturned to maximise the outcome and opportunities for SA.

Leon Byner: So you won’t be withholding any funding, which was being suggested by you at the time?

Simon Birmingham: Well obviously we still have to have a look at South Australia’s compliance at the end of this financial year in terms of their operations under the existing partnership agreement for how vocational training funding is spent. So I can’t pre-empt that decision, but what I do want to emphasise to listeners – who I think do want politicians to get on with delivering this important work now for SA and make the most of it – is that we’ll work with the State Government to get the best outcome in a training sense, because we want to make sure that it’s South Australians filling these jobs as we build Australian ships and Australian submarines right here in Adelaide.

Leon Byner: Simon Birmingham, thank you. Education and Training Minister with an update on the training side of the equation on 1395, 5AA.