Opening Address to the Community Colleges Australia Annual Conference, Sydney, by the Hon. John Barilaro, MP, NSW Minister for Skills (now Deputy Premier, Minister for Regional Development, Minister for Skills and Minister for Small Business)

(To listen to the audio of Minister Barilaro’s opening address to the CCA Conference, click here.)

(Transcript of recording 1 follows.)

Often, we talk about the public provider being TAFE here in New South Wales. As the minister responsible, we talk about the private providers and sometimes we lose sight of how important the community college sector is, when you look at the vocation education landscape.  And I've possibly been guilty of that in my own work, as minister since April of last year, focusing on fixing what I think has been a landscape in the environment of vocational education that has seen so much disruption, unfortunately from government policy, both state and federal.  Disruption, of course, from the challenges we’re seeing with the change in landscape, the many more competitors, and players.  And, unfortunately, through VET FEE-HELP, what we’ve seen is a lot of rogue providers coming into the sector and, I think, damaging the brand.

Damaging a brand of vocational education that is a genuine pathway for people, young people especially, to gain the skill sets and the training that will actually get them employment.  That could give them a great start and give them a great life.  And I think there’s some work to be done, the knowledge, the changes through VET FEE-HELP that the Federal Minister recently announced.  It is timely, it is right, but I think we’ve got a lot of work to do in restoring confidence and faith in vocational education, as a genuine pathway.  So that students, and mum and dad, actually, genuinely believe that vocational education isn’t a second chance pathway, but it’s a first-choice pathway for many people to gain those skills that allow them to have a great life. (00:01:34)

Here in New South Wales, as I said earlier, you know, we’ve seen a turbulent time, as in many states, but there’s no question, since taking on this portfolio, and the focus on vocational education, what we have seen in the past 12 months is a turn for... in the positive, in relation to enrolments, in the way we’re skilling up young people in this state.

Can I firstly make sure that I debunk a myth that the New South Wales Government is, somehow, considering or looking at ending the public provider being TAFE.  TAFE will always be the public provider; the largest provider in New South Wales.  It’s actually the largest public provider in the nation.  And, can I make it absolutely clear, it will continue to be.  There are no plans to privatise; there are no plans to diminish TAFE’s footprint.

But, there is no question that TAFE is the public provider, it needs to reform; it needs to change its way and the way it needs to deliver training across the sector.  We’re looking at our assets; we’re looking at our costs of delivery.  And I'm sure, if the community college sector had the sort of funding that TAFE has, in relation to its admin and its management costs, you’d do it very, very well.  You work on a shoestring budget.  I'm sure if I said to you: 60 cents of your revenue was used in just turning on the lights, you’d be shocked.  But that’s the truth when it comes to our public provider.  That is money being lost in creating great teaching and learning environments. (00:03:00)

That’s money being lost in giving teaching resources.  That’s actually money being lost in opportunity for students to enrol here in New South Wales.  So, my job is to find those efficiencies within the public provider, not as an efficiency target where money will go back to Treasury.  This is not actually driven by Treasury; this is actually being driven by the teachers, the people within TAFE, on the ground. [People] who want to make sure that the resources are being used for its purpose, and that is for training more people in this state, especially young people, and more opportunities for training in this state.

For those efficiencies that we’ll find in TAFE, will give us the opportunity to put that money then in our skills budget.  So, it’s not leaking; it’s not going back to Treasury. I retain it in my budget, and [it] allows me to explore greater opportunities in funding a number of different channels, or sectors when it comes to delivering vocational education.  That means greater opportunity for community colleges.

Our Community Service Obligation funding:  I have no plans, here in New South Wales, of opening that up to contestability.  I have no plans of withdrawing Community Service Obligation funding.  If anything, through the efficiencies that we will find in TAFE, those saving measures, what I'm hoping to see is more money for Community Service Obligation funding.  And there is no question and no doubt that community colleges play an important role when we’re looking after the most disadvantaged in our community, and have done so for 100 years, here in New South Wales.  And you will continue to do that over the next 100 years. (00:04:20)

And I'm committed to making sure that we give best value, for the investment that we have, and I think community colleges play an important role.  So, I give you that commitment this morning.  At times, you may not hear it; at times, you’ll hear the political debate which is always about the public provider and private providers.  And unfortunately, that is the game I'm in.  But, I am actually committed to outcomes.

Here in New South Wales - and I like to rub that in when there are Victorians in the room, and Queenslanders in the room - we’re seeing our state economy growing at a faster rate than any other state.  We are the envy of other states.  You know, we’ve got, as you would have heard in the press recently, we were running budget surpluses, this year about $4.7 billion dollars.  We have nil debt, actually we’ve got cash surplus.  In assets, we’ve got a $74 billion infrastructure program at building, enabling infrastructure that grows the economy that creates jobs.  And, of course, we’re building those assets that are so important for the future of this state: the schools the hospitals, the rail, the roads.  And that is all important, as a Government, to create a fertile landscape of job creation and growing the economy, because with that, comes a demand.

But, the greatest threat to our economy won't be dollars, it won't be the lack of projects, it’ll be the handbrake to our economy that will be the lack of a skilled workforce, having people ready and able to be employed, and to be part of the prosperous workforce that we’re engaging on. (00:05:43)

And I think this period of prosperity that New South Wales is embarking on, that it’s currently in, and I believe will be here for the next decade, brings an opportunity.  An opportunity for the Skills Minister to leave a legacy beyond the physical, beyond the bricks and mortar, beyond the schools, the hospitals, the rails and the roads.  It gives me an opportunity to build a legacy of opportunity for young people to gain skills and genuine training that sets them on a life of employment and a great lifestyle.  And that’s what we’re all committed to, and there is no other sector in the community than the community college sector that is more passionate about making sure people have the greatest opportunity to have a great life.

The best thing we can do for people is to engage and give them the skill sets, give them financial independence, so they can make choices.  And that is something that we’re committed to.  So, off the back of the $74 billion infrastructure projects of this state, we’re committed to tying, what we’ve just recently announced, our infrastructure skills legacy program: that is tying genuine training outcomes and skills training to those projects.  Here in metropolitan Sydney, again, some of the largest rail projects that this state has even embarked on, that will be here for the next decade. (00:06:53)

In regional areas like, Lismore Base Hospital, a $180 million project, where we were going... where we’ve got in place targets about making sure we don't miss the opportunity of that infrastructure spend, and tying it to genuine training outcomes. What we call learning workers, not necessarily always driven by qualifications.  It’s about, actually, recognising in certain sectors, that we actually need to upskill.  In certain sectors, we’ve actually got to recognise that life experience, where they've never had that recognition, we’re going to make sure there’s emphasis around a genuine apprenticeship and traineeships opportunities with the trade sector.

And at the same time, making sure we’ve got significant targets about women in non-traditional trade sectors.  Making sure there are more targets for youth having opportunities for training.  And, of course, a value target around giving Aboriginal and Indigenous communities opportunities, not just through employment, but also business opportunities, by growing the sector.

But, we can't do that as a Government.  The Government is great at this in a sense of setting the targets, running the programs, or putting the budget in place, but we must do that in partnerships.  And I believe community colleges are absolutely in the right place to partner with Government, because of your connection to community; your connection to business and industry.  And together, I believe, we’ve got a great opportunity to make sure that we actually skill up at the most... for the young people in this state. But of course focused on some of the disadvantaged.

(Transcript of recording 2 follows.)

The future is about STEM, you know, and STEM is going to underpin pretty much every single career qualification if you're a tradie or a professional.  There is no question that we’ve got to embark on a new era where STEM is underpinned... that STEM underpins all our qualifications, our skill sets training.  And we know that 40% of the jobs today won't exist in 10 to 15 years.  60% of those jobs will be very, very different and if we don't acknowledge that, we’re not going to get it right.

And one of the things the New South Wales Government has done, and what we’ve done in our budget, are firstly, our $25 million “Jobs of Tomorrow” program, which is about STEM.  It’s a $25 million scholarship program where we’re giving young people a $1000 scholarship to cover their cost of fees, and to embark on STEM as part of their career choices.  And there are over 70 odd qualifications on our skill list that tick that off.  And more importantly, we have announced our STEM foundation, and this is about not only making sure that we give people, young people, people the chance to study STEM, and we support them through that.  But, it’s also about retention, about retaining that talent here in Australia, that is so important to underpinning those new innovative and emerging industries going forward.  And I think that is absolutely important. (00:01:16)

Can I say, when it comes to community colleges, what we’ve got to be able to do is start selling the message that you're not this, you know... part of the sector that’s on the fringe.  That you are mainstream; that you are just as important as my public provider being TAFE, or those private providers.  I think with what we’ve done in New South Wales, we’re Smart and Skilled, and really tying a lot of our vocational education training to job outcomes, funding over 700 plus qualifications on our skills list.  And it really has given maybe TAFE a very defined role, and those private providers a defined role.  But, I also believe now that it’s given community colleges a defined role.  I think those lines were blurred for a while, I think now, for the first time, we can clearly define what community colleges: where you apply, what [and] how unique you are.  But most importantly, how important you are to the sector.  And I think that is just as important and making sure when we talk – as the Minister and as the sector – we talk.  And we’ve got to talk about that you're not the second chance pathway, you actually are the first choice, and that you are part of the total VET landscape.

And I think that is something we’ve got to work at, and I think we’ve got a lot of work to do, as I said earlier, restoring trust in the sector. Full stop.  Because of some damage that we’ve seen from both government and the ever-changing landscape of vocational education.  (00:02:31)

I will finish on this point.  Can I just finish on this point: can I thank the many volunteers that sit on the boards, because it’s your expertise, that passion, and that drive, and those volunteers that sit on the boards that run community colleges.  It shows you how passionate the people are in the community college sector.  Without you, you wouldn't have a sector.  But can I say: thank you for what you do.  You are important.  You are valued.  And as a Government, we’ve got to possibly do more to support you.  I know that this year, in New South Wales, through our funding, it’s about $18 million. Can it be more? Of course it can.  As I said earlier, when we find those efficiencies that we build a bucket.  And I'm looking for... looking at growing the Community Service Obligation funding component, and I am keen to make sure community colleges receive their fair share.  And that you have a bright and thriving future.  (ends)