Release type: Transcript


2GB Alan Jones


Senator the Hon Michaelia Cash
Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business


Subject/s: Skills shortages; National Careers Ambassador; vocational education and training; mature-age job seekers; protesters; mutual obligation requirements.

ALAN JONES: Michaelia Cash is a West Australian Minister in the Morrison Government. You've heard me say many times, I think this woman has gears. She's the Federal Minister for Employment, Skills and Small and Family Business. She's in town and I asked to join us because this skills issue, in my opinion, is a mammoth issue in this country and kids are now finishing the HSC. Are parents being properly informed as to what options are available to them?

Now we've talked about this over and over again but there's a golden rule about these things: when you're sick of talking about it, someone might be just starting to listen. I mentioned last month research from the New South Wales Business Chamber, which showed that more than half the businesses in New South Wales are experiencing skills shortages. It would be the same in every state. The Chamber CEO Stephen Cartwright was talking about 82,000 vacancies in one year — 82,000!

Now, as I've said many times, the situation is even worse than that. We're told that by 2023, Australia will need approximately one million more workers with a Certificate II, III or IV than they will need people with degrees. One million more, that is, people with a special skill. We're told that skills shortages in many sectors have fallen to critical levels at the same time as traineeship and apprenticeship numbers are down to a 10-year low. The number of people completing traineeships and apprenticeships — how many times have I said this? — is down almost 44 per cent on the figures of five years ago. The number of people starting those courses has fallen by almost four per cent. 

Federal Department of Employment research shows one in two employers is struggling to hire workers, including in 31 of the 33 regional areas where unemployment is high. Employers, therefore, are having to extend working hours, look interstate and overseas to fill the vacancies. They say prospective workers show a lack of interest, turning up their noses at the, quote, "occupation or work conditions” or else they expect higher pay. Employers are saying they can't recruit machinery operators and drivers, technicians, trade managers, professionals.

I just want to make one point, which I made many times before, and I've made it to Michaelia Cash, do these employees answer all job applications? I get letters from people who are very, very qualified, 60 years of age or whatever. No one wants to know them. There're a lot of good people out there with a lot of skills and they're being ignored because of age. People ring me on the open line and say, "I've never received a response."

But inadequate qualifications are a big problem and this highlights the weakness, as I've said many times, in the education system, especially in vocational education and training. One of the heads of a Sydney-based plumbing firm said recently to me, and I quote, "Once my generation retires, God help the plumbing industry." But plumbing and bricklaying are amongst the top five occupations with skills shortages, yet bricklayers earned an average weekly wage of $2,700 last year. Plumbers an average weekly wage of $1,894. And you and I know you can't get them when you want them. The average adult wage is $1,666.

So are we pushing school leavers towards university at this time of the year rather than vocational training, regardless of the opportunities? Here we are, coming towards the end of the school year and students need better information about careers. Business, training providers, I've said this a million times — schools, federal and state governments, should be working more closely to improve vocational education and training opportunities for young people. Schools boast about how many of our leavers made university. Can a national government be a catalyst to make that happen? We don't want job stoppers. Well, Michaelia is with me. Minister, good morning.

MICHAELIA CASH: Good morning, Alan. It is a huge issue and that is why the Government is today announcing — and I'll be with the Prime Minister later on this morning. Scott Cam, the household name, Scott Cam as the inaugural National Careers Ambassador. This is all about, Alan, shining a positive light on the benefits and the career opportunities of vocational education and training in Australia.

ALAN JONES: You've got to get through to the schools and parents, though, haven't you?

MICHAELIA CASH: Oh, look, absolutely. And one of Scott's roles as the National Career Ambassador is very much going to be working with parents, working with students, so that they understand the benefits of a vocational education. Scott himself undertook an apprenticeship about 30 years ago in carpentry. Look at where Scott Cam is now. He is an employer. He employs apprentices. He is a household name via The Block. And I can think of no one better as a great example of what VET can give you.

ALAN JONES: We've got an 18 year old here in front of you.

MICHAELIA CASH: I know, she's absolutely sensational. Apart from the fact that...

ALAN JONES: And this is a tough job.

MICHAELIA CASH: But as I say, what time do you actually start in the morning?

ALAN JONES: Oh, ridiculous hours.


ALAN JONES: But this is a tough job.


ALAN JONES: And 18 years of age, and I'm not giving away trade secrets, but she's the daughter of Ross, who's been with me for years and years and years. But I had a conversation with Ross some years ago and I said, "How are the children going?"


ALAN JONES: "Oh, well, I'm worried about Riley." "Why?" "Oh, she doesn't want to go to school. She wants to leave." Well, she left school and she's become this...

MICHAELIA CASH: And earning while she's learning.

ALAN JONES: Absolutely, earning while she's learning. So parents have got these choices to make. I mean, just coming back to these figures, Michaelia, the number of people — you’ve got to say this slowly — completing traineeships and apprentices is down 44 per cent.

MICHAELIA CASH: Yeah, no Alan...

ALAN JONES: What's going on?

MICHAELIA CASH: So one of the big problems under the former Labor Government was they literally, as you know, destroyed vocational education in Australia by opening up the system to dodgy providers.


MICHAELIA CASH: And that was... And quite literally the reputation of VET in Australia plummeted. Since we have been elected, we are progressively putting back into place the respect that this system deserves.

We do have a world-class vocational education and training system in Australia and our in excess of half a billion-dollar investment in skills, including our big announcement today — Scott Cam inaugural National Careers Ambassador — is all about ensuring that people understand both, as you rightly point out, the parents and their children, what are the career choices and the career pathways available to you.

And guess what, Alan — it's not just university!

ALAN JONES: No. But just turn the coin over, you see. There are people here, well, there's two out there,
who did do university.

MICHAELIA CASH: Yes, I did university! There you go.

ALAN JONES: And they did do it. But they've come in here because they love radio and they want to work here and so on. But they are also saddled with a massive HECS debt. Now, parents have got to explain to kids, "You may find yourself getting a degree which doesn't get you a job, but you've still got the HECS debt!"

MICHAELIA CASH: Absolutely. But not only that, when you look at the different ages that people can undertake vocational education and training. I mean, I talk to sort of teenagers, sort of the 18, 19 year olds who've said "This is what we're going to do." That's exactly right. They are earning while they're learning.

And then when a lot of their friends are at university, you know, having to undertake a job, et cetera, to pay off the debt, they're out there in their full-time job earning a great salary. 

But on top of that, they are responding to what employers are telling us. They want employees that are work ready from day one. And that is what VET gives you.

ALAN JONES: Yeah, I mean, look, the employers also — you're providing money to the employer. What is it, 8,000 bucks?


ALAN JONES: And then to the apprentice it's $2,000.

MICHAELIA CASH: There's a number of incentives in place for both the apprentice and the employer. So, the Government, we're taking all of the necessary steps to really shine the light on vocational education and training in Australia.

ALAN JONES: And she's not talking about... We've got to get away also from these, what I suppose you call the traditional trades - the plumbing and the carpentry. You're not just talking about that. You're talking about beauty therapy, horticulture...

MICHAELIA CASH: And IT! Yeah, absolutely. In fact, 31 out of the top-earning 50 occupations now require a VET qualification to actually enter it.

So what Scott's got to be doing, Scott Cam is going to be doing, is making sure that those career pathways are properly understood. This is all about choice.

But if you don't actually have the information on what I need to do, where I need to go, what I could possibly earn, you may not make the right career choice.

ALAN JONES: I noticed that the National Electrical and Communications Association — I'd never heard of that — chief executive Suresh Manickam said this week, quote, "Too many young people are nudged, prodded or frog-marched into university."

And I then saw a report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare where last year 161,700 people started apprenticeships and traineeships — and that sounds a lot — 161,700.

But it's the lowest number since 1998. I mean, it's fewer than half the number who started in 2012. Is there a snobbishness about this?

MICHAELIA CASH: Well, look, again it's about people understanding the benefits of vocational education and training. If you don't get proper career advice, if you don't understand that there are options other than university, you will just walk down the pathway into, potentially, as you said, a degree that doesn't get you a job at the end of it.

So the whole point of Scott Cam and the Career Ambassador's role and the National Careers Institute is to ensure that parents, you know, kids, but also people who are potentially thinking of changing careers. You don't have to be a young person.

ALAN JONES: See, you’ve got a fight on your hands, because way back in 2005 John Howard sparked controversy — was ridiculed — when he urged young people to consider quitting the school in Year 10 — that’s what Riley has done — to pursue careers in traditional trades. Mr Howard's (INDISTINCT) developed quite a deep-seated cultural stigma against technical vocations, even though he said school leavers who learn a trade often did better than those who go to university.

MICHAELIA CASH: Yes, they do.

ALAN JONES: Now, our skills shortages have worsened in the 14 years since Mr Howard spoke up.

MICHAELIA CASH: And so what has the Government done? It is the announcement that skills and the Skills Package is a fundamental part of our economy going forward and that's why we've so heavily invested in it.

But I think what you have now is that perfect storm of the states and the territories agreeing that we need to work together to improve the situation. But also industry — industry are now out there saying “We want people work ready. Day one, vocational education. Put your hands up, absolutely take it on.”

So I think what we now have is that consensus across the board that we need more people undertaking that in Australia and this Government, and me as the Minister, I'm proud to champion this Alan, every step of the way.

Please don’t tell me my arms are actually being filmed live at the moment. You know I get very excited. I get very excited.

ALAN JONES: Oh, we love you. This woman’s got gears, I tell you. Now, turn the coin over, Employment Minister.

MICHAELIA CASH: Turn the coin over.

ALAN JONES: Are these people who are part of the extinction rebellion getting welfare, and do we know? The public out there want to know. They’re spending time protesting, the community are fed up. They want to know whether these people are on welfare, do you know who they are and you know, whether they're on welfare?

MICHAELIA CASH: Well, in the first instance, basic principle — taxpayers should not be expected to subsidise the protest of others. Protesting is not and never will be an exemption from a welfare recipient’s obligation to look for a job.

So, protesting. Aren't we lucky, Alan, to live in a country where you are able to peacefully protest? And that’s the point, isn't it?

So when you are diverting police resources, when you're stopping, you know, your fellow Australian from going about their business — but not only that, what about all the small businesses, Alan, that are impacted?

You know, if just one person doesn't actually walk into a small business that otherwise would because of the protest, that small business loses money.

ALAN JONES: You never run away from a challenge.


ALAN JONES: I'm going to ask you the question again — are these people on welfare, do you know who they are and will they be removed from welfare?

MICHAELIA CASH: So if they were on welfare and they are choosing to protest as opposed to, say, attending a job interview the answer is yes. The system can identify them.

ALAN JONES: So when will the cheques stop?

MICHAELIA CASH: Well, basically the system is set up to ensure that we are doing everything we can to get people off welfare and into work.

When will the cheques stop? There's a system in place and actually if you do say no to work… If you've got a job offer and you sign ‘no’ then, quite literally, you will be in trouble.

ALAN JONES: Give this woman 25 portfolios, that’s what I say. Hey, good to talk to you.

MICHAELIA CASH: Always great to be with you.

ALAN JONES: Thank you, Michaelia. There she is, Michaelia Cash. It’s a big issue, the skills shortage.