Deputy NSW Premier John Barilaro: Youth Employment is one of my top priorities

John Barilaro, the Deputy NSW Premier; and Minister for Skills and Small Business, joins me in the studio to talk about youth employment initiatives

Introduction – Youth Employment

Ross Greenwood: Let’s get on another subject there and this is young people getting jobs. Now, it’s also absolutely a key right around Australia to try and make certain that youth unemployment is soaked up, because bear in mind right now that in Australia wages growth is very low. The reason for that is because there’s a surplus of labor out there and indeed many people who are even still working can’t get the hours that they want. As a result, if you’re a young person and you’re trying to break in, and we’ve had the conversation last little while about people doing internships, in other words unpaid to try and get a foot in the door, but it doesn’t necessarily always lead to a job, so what do they do?

This is a fundamental problem that’s addressing a range of different states and federal governments. We mentioned the other day about the federal government putting in significant amounts of money to try and pay employers to take on interns and paying the interns money on top of their otherwise settling payments. Well, in New South Wales there’s extra money being put in to create programs inside specific regions. The regions with the highest levels of youth unemployment to train young people and help them overcome employment barriers.

There the Minister for regional New South Wales and skills, and small business, a regular on this program, the Deputy Premier of New South Wales John Barilaro. John, many thanks you for your time. Now, you are as we often say, the deputy premier of New South Wales but the issue goes right around the country and so the point is, how do you break the cycle for young people to try and get them a job?

Interview: John Barilaro, Deputy Premier of New South Wales

John Barilaro: Look, there’s definitely a disconnect right now. If you look at unemployment rate around the nation, 5.5% or here in New South Wales, the lowest in the country at 4.8%. Yet, we’re seeing youth unemployment ranging between 9% and 21%. At a time when we’ve got a tight work market, here in New South Wales of course the economy’s growing, jobs are being created, we’ve got school shortages, yet, we’ve got a high level of youth unemployment. Then there’s a complete disconnect, there is something not quite right why young people aren’t getting into employment when the opportunities’ there right now.

That could be for a number of reasons, kids that have dropped out of school, that have fallen through the cracks, haven’t been able to get into the market, and a range of other issues. What we’re saying is that through a significant investment, partnering with the whole heap of other stakeholders, is to try and cut through the barriers that are stopping a young person going and getting employment. In some cases, it’s simple, stuff like they can’t write a resume, or they don’t have the transport, that they can’t get their license, their white card if it’s on a construction site.

We’re looking at paying for the things that are, in a pragmatic way, the things that are stopping them from getting and seeking employment, including some mentors.

Ross Greenwood: Okay. One of the things that we do know also, is that the vocational training sector that was eroded massively, that the federal government, the previous Labor Party created that it was eroded massively, the tune of billions of dollars. That the current government has tried to clean this up and it’s done a reasonably good job of cleaning it up but what people tell me, right around the country all the time is, “Why did government state and federal even change the TAFE system? It had operated so well, it was robust, it created genuine skills for young people and allowed them to be job ready when they walked out.”

Why create competition? Why give private operators an ability to try and rip money out of governments. This is something that TAFE sector seems to me to be the absolute key.

John Barilaro: Yes, absolutely. Now look, the federal funding and the Vet Fee-Help was all about contestability and it opened up the market and all states had to sign up, that that national partnership agreement was worth $560 million to New South Wales. If you look at our budget, it’s $2.2 billion going into skills training and TAFE picks up about 80% of a great completion rates and there’s no question– There’s a resurgence back in the TAFE. What’s happened over the last couple years, I think has really strengthened the brand of TAFE. In the last 12 months alone here in New South Wales, we’ve seen another 125,000 students go back to TAFE from some of those private providers.

You’re right, there’s been this disruption in the whole vet sector. There’s been a reputational damage to vocational education as a genuine path where we’ve spoken about that in the past. We’re living with a decade or so, where we’ve been telling kids that university is the only pathway. We’re investing the skills and training, we’re changing the way we deliver, and we’ve got the public provider who’s the leader, but there are still this disconnect, there are some practical things that are stopping young people getting into employment.

I’m not pretending that this is going to resolve it but when you look at Western Sydney, where youth unemployment is quite high, or in the New England area, or the Central Coast 99% youth unemployment. We’ve got to try, we got to try something else in partnership.

Ross Greenwood: Yes, it doesn’t matter whether you’re in Queensland, parts of the Gold Coast, or if you’re in Victoria,-

John Barilaro: It’s all over the south.

Ross Greenwood: – if you’re in Dayton, those types of places where the unemployment is higher, around Frankston as well, it’s the same thing. Let’s now take a couple of calls, it’s here, with Alan in Ingleburn, I reckon might have a nice idea. Good day Alan. How are you doing?

Alan: Good, yourself?

Ross Greenwood: Top form, thank you.

Alan: That’s good. Just a mentoring kind of thing like what the general is saying, I spoke to some people from small businesses when I was in high school, coming to our school, there is a ton of work and showing us the great things he can do and just not focus on say like the big business people obviously were coming to your school, so you want the people from small business that have start up from nothing, high school dropouts like I was and my friends and how we started our own business and now it’s flourishing. Keeps seeing that and I go, “Listen, if he can do it, then I can do it. ”

If they get that opportunity. It is hard out there, there is a shortage out there but I reckon that was the best thing for me and my friends that we ever saw a guy, seeing someone that was either a she who was in the same predicament we were at school, now working and then seeing where they are now and having their own house, card, and everything like that and that made us, “What if we work hard, we can get that.”

Ross Greenwood: Tell you what Alan, it’s not a bad thing but first up, you got to actually get the kids into the training facilities to actually give them that next step that Alan talks about, really isn’t that?

John Barilaro: Yes. Well, Alan is right. The point that I made earlier, for a couple of decades we’ve been telling the kids university is the only pathway, we haven’t showcased vocational education, you said work experience. I used to do a lot of those things, we don’t do that anymore. What we’ve actually also announced in recent days is that the reposition of vocational education we’re partnered with industries to showcase those careers, showcase the trades. The mentoring is part of this program, so Alan’s right, we’re doing that as part of this program.

Then we also have what we call a pre-apprenticeship program which is about the try before you buy. A young bloke might say, “I want to be a plumber,” doesn’t quite have the skill sets but he might have the skills to be a chippy. Through the pre-apprenticeship program which is with a mentor, we can redirect them so we get better completion rates.

Ross Greenwood: Well tell you what, thank You Alan from Ingleburn for that call. Let’s go to Bruce’s in Lithgow. Good day, Bruce. How are you doing?

Bruce: Going really good, mate. John’s absolutely hit the nail on the head with that mentoring sort of things. I actually started business a couple of years ago so I could mentor kids that were coming out of difficult situations and school was just a waste of time for them. You can’t get a kid to write a resume because whether they wrote on it their name, address and they failed everything at school, it’s just hopeless. You’ve got to give them–

I’m passionate about this, retailers, particularly industry need to get off their backside and invest into those kids, because you just can’t hand government the responsibility for everything. This is a social issue and as part of your business investment strategy, you should be able to say, “These kids are a part of our community, they deserve a future. They might have a rough background but let’s put something in them and have a go.”

Ross Greenwood: Hey, Bruce, just tell me one thing, because a lot of people look at young people these days and say, “They’re hopeless, they can’t be trained, they’re lazy, they don’t want to churn up,” all that sort of stuff. Go on tell me your experience.

Bruce: Like I’ve got young fella working for me three years ago, you couldn’t see his eyes because his hair was over his face, he was just a mystery. Two years later– this kid’s an absolute gem who was told by the school that he’d never amount to anything and all he needed was somebody to believe in him and giving him to go. Mate, he’s going to be managing my business one day.

Ross Greenwood: Tell you what, that’s a great story Bruce in Lithgow. This is the whole point John, the mentoring side of this is important but you got to have more people like Bruce in the community, and let’s be frank about this, a lot of people are busy, a lot of people a time poor, a lot of people believe that they don’t have the time to do the type of thing that Bruce is doing.

John Barilaro: Bruce is right and people are actually offering, businesses are offering up the mentoring and the opportunities. We’ve got an aging workforce but some of these guys want to continue to put back into their sectors. Bruce is spot on the money, I’ve had the same as an employer when I ran my joinery shop, they’re the same experience but you invest in some young people and they just come good because you believe in them.

I look at my own background, I’m a uni dropout, and when it worked on the joinery floors with my father and I was lucky to have some mentors in that arrangement that kept me through that process and then I took over the business and ran a very successful business. We’re all different and people have fallen through the cracks for a lot of reasons. We’ve got broken families, we’ve got broken homes, we’ve got the education system I think is failing some people. That doesn’t necessarily mean these kids don’t have the ability to do it right, they just need that added support.

It’s the reality we live in. I know the comment that you made, people say, “Oh, the kids today are lazy, they don’t want to put in,” but I meet kids every day as the minister response for skills when I travel to these programs that we’ve been running, who just haven’t had the chance. We’re just giving them chance and there’s some great programs and even government’s not even involved in that’s happening in Sydney. We’re seeing some outcomes.

Ross Greenwood: Anyway, it gives me some great comfort, that the deputy Premier of New South Wales, if ever there’s a problem with the furniture or–

John Barilaro: [laughs]

Ross Greenwood: You can just get out the tools and sort of knock it all back together again, so join us. I think that’s good idea. Richard in Maroubra has been hanging on for us for a while. Good day, Richard. How are you doing?

Richard: Look, great conversation in a passion of that moment. I’m out of the workforce. I was in law enforcement but I was given a chance when I started 45 years ago, in relation to work. You need to look after people coming out of school. There’s no point in filling them on till you get 12. If at year 10, they find it’s not doing it for them, you need to have the support system. We stuck around with TAFE, we sold off buildings and everything else, and we got rid of teachers. We’ve got our ageing workforce, we need to utilize them in volunteer basis and pay basis across the whole things.

There’s an elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about. If you import 220,000 people every year, a million every three, our people on the ground are dying to get picked first. Our responsibility, the minister’s responsibility, our responsibility to communities to look after our own backyard first and mentor them out of it. The good ones, the ones are falling over, the ones that need to push, but we need to do a couple of three, four things all at once. We done it, we’re going to create a poverty line, a backlash all down the bottom, and we’re going to be a country which we don’t really want to be

Ross Greenwood: here you go, Richard in Maroubra. It’s a really interesting point this because trying to look after the people that we’ve got, and yes, immigration continues to come. This is this whole notion as to the argument about whether we need skilled migration coming to Australia or people who are job ready. As distinct from people who we then have to train, who almost compete for those places against people already here.

John Barilaro: Yes. Look and that’s the balance. The 457 visa and those skilled workers, I believe they should only be a band aid approach to while we build the skill sets locally. Now, if you look at the economy, we’re all investing in infrastructure. We’ve tied a lot of our training programs to that infrastructure so we can build the workforce for the future. It’s spot-on. There’s been policy settings of governments, state, federal, past, present, future, that we’ve got wrong, that the legacy we’ve got a leave is not just the roads, the rail, the hospitals, the schools that we’re building, which is fantastic, the bricks and mortar I call it. The legacy we’ve got to leave is one of opportunity.

We’re in this period of prosperity, we need to leave a legacy of opportunity. That’s why we’ve just got to put the training in, we’re going to invest in skills training, we’re going to train our own. Where there are skill shortages that we don’t have that, of course, there are migrant workers that fill that void but it should only be a short-term approach, we should always invest in skills. Look at the Europeans, industry, governments, they all come together and they– what we say fill the the well, so that you can all draw from the well. We haven’t done that in this country. It’s like the responsibility of government, not industry, but it’s industry that pays the ultimate price for not having the skilled workforce.

Ross Greenwood: There you go, the Deputy Premier of New South Wales, great to have him on. The other thing also, doesn’t matter we live in Australia, we try and pick subjects that really are universal across our nation. That’s the important side of it, because John Barilaro is the Minister not only for the regional New South Wales but also the Minister for skills and for small business. The absolute keys and really the backbone in many ways of the audience that listen to this program as well and so no matter where you are, we always say we’ll try and get his counterpart on from other states, but they seem to be a bit shy to come on and address it as robustly as what John does. And so John Barilaro, as always we appreciate your time.

John Barilaro: Thank you very much.


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