Interview with Steve Price, Australia Today

Steve Price
Skills and Jobs Summit; technology sector

STEVE PRICE: There will be a Jobs Summit held in Canberra between 1 and 2 September. It will bring together business, unions and Government. No one from the Opposition is going, which I think is silly. Joining us on the line is Ed Husic, Industry and Science Minister. Thanks for your time, as usual, Minister. 

ED HUSIC, MINISTER FOR INDUSTRY AND SCIENCE: G’day, Steve. How are you, mate? 

STEVE PRICE: Bit of a lost opportunity, eh? 

ED HUSIC: I think so. I mean, hopefully, they might reconsider, because we do think this is a point where we do need to work together given what we’ve got with the jobs situation now. While it seems like a weird thing to be complaining about, we’ve got so many people in work that we’re finding it hard to get people to fill jobs that are going begging, and so we do need to address that now. But I think there’s a longer term piece which within that summit I’m responsible for in terms of looking at what happens with future industry and the types of skills and the types of jobs that might emerge across a range of different areas. It is a big agenda, and having as many people, and certainly hope that the Opposition may take a different view. We’re not going in there causing grief for them at the moment with this issue. We can have our differences, but I think on stuff like this we should be able to find a way to work together.

STEVE PRICE: Reading a piece in The Australian, and I know you gave an interview to Helen Trinca where there was a number which made my eyes bleed that the tech sector needs 650,000 people by 2030. That seems to me to be an impossible task. And if I want to work in tech, surely I’ve got to have some sort of a degree or something, don’t I, because, I mean, I can barely work my phone? 

ED HUSIC: Well, a number of things. I think it shows how much and how important tech has become across a range of different industries and just so you know, and this stat will also stagger you, there are more software engineers and developers than there are solicitors, plumbers, hairdressers, in the country. So, that demonstrates how much those skills are in demand. Now, a lot of that 600,000 is about refilling as people retire and leave the workforce. We do need young people to go in. We’ll also see people move between jobs, and I’ve actually met with people who have moved. In the last week, I met a bloke who’d been a chef but through lockdown said, “Well, I just don’t know if I can hold on to this type of job. I need to think of doing something different.” He’s in his forties. He took online training and has got those skills and has been taken up in tech. He’s looking at a long term job future, high-paying job and making that move, and we do need to have some skilled migration come in. 

But on that point, to come to your question, Steve, yes there will be a need for people through uni, but the thing that people often neglect is the TAFE and vocational education does play a part in helping train people up and meet those needs of employers. So, we do need to look at that. And there’s probably some other stuff too, to be frank with you, around digital apprenticeships and trainees where I reckon we could do a much better job too.

STEVE PRICE: It’s interesting you raise the tech sector. I wrote a column last week about the mad Greens’ idea about taxing billionaires. When I looked at the top ten billionaires in Australia, so the ten richest people in Australia, individuals, four of that ten, so the Atlassian boys and the two people who set up Canva, all made their money in tech. 

ED HUSIC: It goes to show you that if you have got a good idea and you’ve got that backing, you can really grow. But if I can say with the two – like, with those two companies, with Atlassian and Canva, but also there’s Richard White out of WiseTech as well. Richard went to school, Bexley Public. He’s made his fortune providing software for logistics, which, as we know, particularly during COVID, warehousing, storage movement of products, getting it out to people, big issue, and having the software which his firm’s developed is really important. As much as he’s got a lot of money, he said to me he wants to reinvest what they make as profit, a proportion of their profit, to help encourage young people to get into STEM skills into the tech skills arena. And he himself is digging into his own fortune to help support that. So, they do have a sense of trying to bring the next generation along, and we’ve got to tap into that. Again, coming back to a point I said earlier, we can all come together to deliver a better deal to people when it comes to jobs.

STEVE PRICE: We’re talking to Ed Husic, Industry and Science Minister. I know you’re busy. Last question: how do you prevent this becoming just a talkfest because I’m sure you would, like I do, remember and I don’t know if you were there or not, but the Kevin Rudd gathering in Canberra when he first became PM in 2007 turned into, in my view, a little of a circus? How do you focus this two day event and not let it happen – turn out like something like that? 

ED HUSIC: Well, you know what idea came out of it? NDIS, mate. The starting point of NDIS came out of some of those ideas that were kicked around. But I do think, like, I am very mindful of the point you’ve raised that we do not want this to become a talkfest. Just to let you know, next week, I will be chairing half a dozen round tables bringing industry and others together in preparation, because you can’t get everyone. We’ve limited it to 100 in terms of the summit itself. But I want that work to start before the summit, at the summit and beyond. And on this stuff that we’ve just talked about, Steve, on tech, these skill shortages have been around for yonks, and we do need to seriously, like, knuckle down and deal with that because if we do provide those skills, we’ll deliver stronger much more efficient businesses, which we want to see longer term. 

And so, this won’t all end just because the summit, they turn the mics off at the summit, we’re not going to be dusting our hands off and going, “Right, problem solved.” That stuff is going to need some ongoing work. But as a platform to bring a focus on “These are the issues and this is some of the stuff we can do”, really important the summit goes ahead.

STEVE PRICE: Good luck with it. Thanks for giving us time as usual. Always appreciate it. 

ED HUSIC: Thanks mate, good on you.

STEVE PRICE: Industry and Science Minister, Ed Husic.