A TAFE teacher has issued a call to high school students to consider taking up lucrative trade roles over university degrees as the state grapples with a skills shortage.
Stuart McKinder, a metal fabrication and welding teacher at Wetherill Park TAFE in western Sydney, offered this unflinching comment ahead of his appointment to the TAFE NSW advisory board, the first time in eight years a TAFE teacher has been appointed to the role
“Australian kids aren’t being told about all the professions where someone gives you money,” he said.
Mr McKinder said there should be a bigger focus on encouraging students to undertake TAFE courses, instead of pursing the HSC, so future tradies didn’t miss out on years of earning potential.
“Kids aren’t being told that there are real jobs and ones that actually pay you money, not just personal training and that sort of stuff,” he said.
Mr McKinder, who has more than 15 years experience teaching at TAFE NSW, said tradies like boiler makers, carpenters, and mechanics were “screaming for an apprentice”.
Earning potential in trades could also extend to $150,000, due to a shortage of workers, he said.
With NSW school leavers required to remain in school until year 10, or until they reach 17 years of age, Mr McKinder questioned whether schools were adequately promoting vocational pathways.
“University isn’t a pathway for everyone,” he said.
“The funny thing is we’re now getting a lot more people under the age of 30 coming back to TAFE after they’ve tried university, and they go, ‘I should have done this when I was 16’.”
After taking government in March, NSW Labor criticised a $196m TAFE funding shortfall between the 2022-23 and 2023-24 financial years. With this year’s budget set to be announced in September, Labor has flagged a minimum of 70 per cent of the state’s skills budget will go towards rebuilding TAFE.
Comparing current figures with those from 2011, it claims TAFE completion rates have dropped by 67 per cent and apprentice and traineeship commencements by 33 per cent.
Mr McKinder flagged upskilling as a key opportunity for the vocational training provider.
“People who are working as a mechanic need to come back and learn how to weld because the boss can’t hire a welder,” he said.
“At the end of the day, we need to support the industry and support people to get more skills to improve their job prospects and their pay packet.”
Mr McKinder’s appointment has been welcomed by Skills, TAFE and Tertiary Education Minister Prue Car, who said it would ensure the board heard from people who were at TAFE’s “coalface”.
“The skills crisis in NSW means there’s never been a more important time to rebuild TAFE NSW. That starts with hearing directly from teachers,” she said.
“I want to ensure the NSW government benefits from advisers who are at the coalface of helping learners, businesses, and communities to thrive.”
TAFE NSW Commission board chair Danny O’Connor said Mr McKinder added to the board’s diversity and industry experience, which includes members in critical skill sectors like IT, construction, hospitality, community services, health and education.
“Hearing directly from teachers will boost the board’s ability to advocate on behalf of the teaching workforce,” he said.
“(It will ensure) TAFE NSW can deliver skills-based training that provides individuals with access to meaningful jobs, and which is aligned to the skills needs of industry and communities across NSW.”
Now tasked with representing his fellow teachers on the advisory board, Mr McKinder said he was “nervous as hell but excited”.
“I had a look at the people who have also been appointed and there’s some CEOs, there’s directors and then there’s Stuart who hits stuff with hammers,” he joked.
On a series note, he added: “I’m really looking forward to paying back and calling for improvements for staff and students.”