House of Assembly: Thursday, March 09, 2023


Parliamentary Committees

Public Works Committee: Findon Technical College

Mr BROWN (Florey) (11:01): I move:

That the 20th report of the committee, relating to the Findon Technical College, be noted.

The public works submission from the Department for Education proposes a new technical college at Findon High School. The college will form part of this government's commitment to establish five technical colleges over the next four years. The colleges will provide a pipeline of skilled workers for entry-level jobs in key industries with the greatest demand. They are designed to modernise senior secondary schools and deliver a practical-based learning program that includes technical, literacy and numeracy skills in line with industry need.

Each college will be tailored to the needs of its local industry, region and community to ensure meaningful pathways from education to work. They will cater for students from years 10 to 12, in conjunction with nearby high schools, allowing students to complete their SACE while obtaining trade qualifications. The Findon Technical College will be located on the Findon High School campus within the City of Charles Sturt. The college will be built on the school's existing sports courts with the relocation of these courts included as part of this project.

The existing front car park will be reconfigured to accommodate more vehicles and an additional car park will be developed on the school grounds. The proposed college is designed around a central learning area across two levels with connecting stairs, tiered seating and a raised roof light. The central area will offer formal and informal spaces for learning, interaction and socialisation, with connections to workshops, general learning areas and educator and support spaces.

The first floor will house early childhood education and health and social care, along with space for a future learning program. Preparation spaces and stores will be distributed throughout the building for specialised staff training, as well as informal breakout spaces. The key aims of the building are to: firstly, provide a contemporary, environmentally sustainable technical college that incorporates new technology to support vocational training; secondly, create an adaptable, innovative learning environment that is responsive to future opportunities; and, lastly, deliver a senior secondary program that includes vocational qualifications and subjects to achieve SACE in a state-of-the-art facility.

Ecologically sustainable development (ESD) strategies have been incorporated in the building design to reduce energy consumption and associated greenhouse gas emissions. To ensure strong ESD outcomes, the department has engaged a consultant to advise on best practice and establish ESD requirements as part of the tender. Workshops will continue to be held with clients, end users and the design team to ensure that ESD initiatives are targeted in accordance with stakeholder priorities.

The anticipated enrolment for the technical college will be between 90 to 120 students for 2024 and 135 to 180 students for 2025. Construction will be delivered as a single stage for the building and associated works. Findon High School students and staff are expected to remain at the school site for the duration of construction. Early works were scheduled to start in February of this year, at an estimated cost of up to $35 million. The college is expected to be operational from term 1, 2024.

The project has considered the requirements of the Disability Discrimination Act 1992, with respect to making provisions for persons with disabilities. The project will be fully certified in accordance with legislative requirements. There are no outstanding land purchase transactions or agreements beyond the formal construction contract.

The department affirms that the school principal, governing council, staff and education director have been informed of the scope of works to be completed at Findon High School and confirms that care has been taken to consult with stakeholders to ensure their questions and concerns have been addressed appropriately.

The committee has examined written and oral evidence in relation to the Findon Technical College Project. Witnesses who appeared before the committee were Ms Helen Doyle, Director, Capital Projects and Technical Services, Department for Education; Mr John Harrison, Director, Building Projects, Department for Infrastructure and Transport; and Mr Michael Lambert, Director, Brown Falconer architects. I thank the witnesses for their time.

Based upon the evidence considered and pursuant to section 12C of the Parliamentary Committees Act 1991, the Public Works Committee reports to parliament that it recommends the proposed public works.

The Hon. J.A.W. GARDNER (Morialta—Deputy Leader of the Opposition) (11:06): I am very pleased to make a brief contribution on the Public Works Committee's report on the proposed infrastructure at the Findon Technical College, where I understand work has now begun. I see that the technical college is effectively a significant upgrade to the facilities at Findon High School and I am certain that the Findon High School community is glad of this opportunity, in addition to the $10 million capital works that were in planning and underway to some extent. This is now a $35 million additional project, which will provide particularly technical college facilities in the form of buildings that are purpose-built to deliver certain vocational education training outcomes.

Its purpose, if I can sum it up, is to upgrade a school's facilities and to prioritise vocational education and training and vocational outcomes, which is certainly a purpose that the opposition has no problem with. The way that the government has talked about the technical college program, both in the election campaign and since, is where the rhetoric does not quite match up to the reality.

Technical education and vocational education are tremendously important, and I think they are understood in the community as being important priorities as well. I think that when many in the community think of technical colleges they think back to a bygone period where indeed some schools existed solely to be technical colleges. There was certainly a movement away from that approach in the 1970s and eighties and nineties. I think that we understand there was certainly a push to make sure everybody was able to conceive that they could get to a university pathway if they wanted.

In recent years, we have been struggling with the legacy of that as we also now try to educate not just students but parents as well that technical and vocational skilled pathways are tremendously important opportunities.

Indeed, one of the priorities for our government, when we were in from 2018 to 2022—I worked very closely with the member for Unley, who was the minister for skills during that period—was to ensure that students, who were not the biggest problem in terms of highlighting the importance of VET, as it was particularly their parents and the broader community, understood that eight out of the top 10 pathways in terms of the growth sector for jobs were in vocational and technical education and that in many ways it was where there would be the best job opportunities and pay opportunities. Those sectors required a skilled qualification, rather than a university degree.

The idea was that we could encourage more young people into learning and earning at the same time, so that if they were in year 12, for example, they could be completing that year 12 while at the same time completing the first year of an apprenticeship. That was an important step.

The reality around how to best deliver vocational education and training, skills qualifications, to school students, to students of school age, is more complex than the rhetoric would suggest. The rhetoric goes back many years. I think this really first came to the political fore in about 2007, give or take a year or two, when Kevin Rudd's government decided that the Trade Training Centres were to be one of the ways forward. These were centres where funds were made available by the federal government to set up improved technical facilities in state and non-government high schools around Australia. Different clusters of schools were encouraged to bid for that federal fund so that they could build some purpose-built technical facilities in their areas.

Some of those facilities that were built within a couple of years became obsolete and were no longer connected to the industries and what industry needed. I think it belied a lack of consultation and engagement with local industry on what was needed at the time. The education department has learnt from that experience over the years, no doubt. Some of those facilities still exist and have been repurposed in other ways, but we have potentially expensive pieces of kit lying dormant, as they have for many years.

The state government during the Rann and Weatherill eras had a program called Trade Schools for the Future, which operated with apprenticeship brokers. I think it was closed down in 2017 and that funding was repurposed for other tasks within the education department. Certainly, in 2018, when the Liberal government was elected, we had a program called initially Flexible Apprenticeships, and then Flexible Apprenticeships and Traineeships. It was highlighted to me as the shadow minister and then minister that that had an unfortunate acronym. Ultimately, some engagement with the industry sectors highlighted a better name for it, which remains under the new government, as I understand it, the Flexible Industry Pathways model.

I think the key insight that the Flexible Industry Pathways model had and why I think the new government has been good enough to continue that program is that we want to make sure that, firstly, flexible pathways—they might be an apprenticeship or a traineeship or, in certain sectors, another model of a pathway, bespoke for each sector—really look at the needs of industry. Having that high school qualification is very important, but ensuring that for industry and businesses to engage with the students effectively, the school needed to be designing its program around what that industry needed.

Having a one-size-fits-all approach, where the school timetable rules supreme and the student might be available to go out to work as part of their apprenticeship or their traineeship for three hours a week or potentially one day a week on a release to the business, was not something that was going to be of any real benefit to the business. You certainly would not be able to get the job readiness that a first-year or a second-year apprentice requires by having that short period of time.

The Flexible Industry Pathways model firstly designed: what does industry need, and where are the jobs going to be that will be there for these students when they finish that pathway so it can be seamless? They continue through their high schooling, they start the pathway in year 11 or 12 and they are potentially doing the majority of their week at the business or industry or potentially the whole week with just some blocks of time going back to school to complete their required SACE units. Then they can seamlessly go on to be working in that industry or continuing working in that business as a second, third or fourth-year apprentice once they have finished their year 12.

The second insight that the Flexible Industry Pathways model had, which is tremendously important, was that we want all of our schools in South Australia to be able to offer these pathways. Each one of our public high schools has signed up to one or more of the 26 Flexible Industry Pathways; some of them are offering many. I note that the member for Florey in talking about programs to be offered at the Findon Technical College highlighted early childhood education and health and social care. These are two tremendously important areas with jobs shortages and skills shortages. We need students and young people to do certificate III, certificate IV and diplomas in these industries, starting at many schools with certificate II, I imagine, as well.

The thing is that there are many high schools around South Australia that are offering these pathways as part of their approach under Flexible Industry Pathways, and this is good. Many of them were piloted in 2021, and many of them were fully rolled out in 2022. In the years ahead, I expect schools around South Australia to continue to offer Flexible Industry Pathways in health and social care and in early childhood education.

Indeed, I think that dozens of schools, I think 20, may be offering it at the moment. I could be wrong and I am sure the minister could correct me if I am mistaken, but many schools are able to offer these pathways, and they can offer them to students from other high schools in the local area as well, and that is a great outcome. It will encourage, hopefully, hundreds if not thousands—there may already be potentially hundreds of students undertaking these. But with dozens of schools involved, with all our public high schools offering different industry pathways, we can really be put in a great position to meet the skills needs of the future.

Bringing us back to the specific pathways being offered at Findon High, there will be a $35 million new building for those pathways to be supported in. I think that there is no problem with upgrading the school facilities. What I would hate to see—and the government, and I am sure the department, has got some people working on this—is the buildings being seen as more important than the work that is being done in these buildings and more important than the engagement with business and industry.

It is going to be very important, as these technical colleges are rolled out at very significant expense, that those five sites not be seen as the priority area over and above the need for us to give every student at every school in South Australia the opportunity to find the pathway that suits their needs. So I urge the government to keep those Flexible Industry Pathways at schools across South Australia as the priority, so that students, whether at Findon or at any of the other 130-odd public high schools, have access to great, quality pathways and skilled qualifications.

The Hon. B.I. BOYER (Wright—Minister for Education, Training and Skills) (11:16): I rise to make a few brief comments on the noting of this report. I begin by thanking the member for Florey for his words, and of course the member for Morialta as well. It was a very exciting occasion to join the Premier, along with the member for Cheltenham and also representatives of Hindmarsh builders, in this case Rowan Hindmarsh himself, and Brown Falconer, who are the architects for this project in particular and who have done some fantastic work across the education system in other projects as well.

Also, of course, perhaps most importantly, we were joined by Kathleen Hoare, who is the principal of Findon High School and a very well-regarded principal in our public education system. She is doing wonderful things at Findon High School, which, to not put too fine a point on it, I think I can fairly characterise as a school that has been underinvested in for many years. It is a school that is in a very important area of Adelaide and a school that has had a significant capacity available to it, over and above current enrolments, for a number of years as well.

We know that we need to get out of the cycle that governments of all persuasions have been stuck in, I think, in South Australia for a long time, namely, spending a lot of taxpayers' money to upgrade and expand schools that have really acute enrolment demands, rather than focusing on trying to uplift those schools in our system that have a lot of existing enrolment capacity that is not being utilised by the local community.

I think Findon is a school that has, for many years, fallen into that category, and I am pleased to see that we now have a couple of significant projects occurring there. One of those is, of course, what we are speaking about here now, the construction of a $35 million technical college at the Findon High School site, but there is also the project that the member for Morialta alluded to, which is a $10 million upgrade at the school through a Building Better Schools grant approved by the now Deputy Premier, the then education minster at the end of 2017.

I think exciting things are happening at Findon, and what I hope to see through the completion of these two really significant projects is an increase in the number of students locally who choose to go to Findon, which then has a couple of benefits. One, of course, is that in an ideal world everyone feels completely comfortable going to their local school, which means ease and convenience for those families, but it also then has the added benefit of taking pressure off the system more broadly for those families who would be otherwise choosing to go to a school out of their area.

I want to make a brief comment about how exciting it is to have Hindmarsh builders as part of this project. They completed the first SAHMRI build, which is a building of international renown, and an award-winning building I think as well, so it is great to have that team on board with Brown Falconer doing the work here at Findon. This is just one of five technical colleges that this government has committed to build. It was one of our key election commitments.

To remind the house of the five sites, at Mount Gambier it will be co-located with the existing UniSA and TAFE buildings. At Port Augusta, it will be built and co-located with Port Augusta Secondary School. At Tonsley, it will be at the Tonsley innovation precinct, and I was pleased to join the member for Elder and the Deputy Premier there recently to announce that we have struck an agreement, a memorandum, with Flinders University there to partner with them in what we build. The technical college that will be built at the Tonsley innovation precinct will be closer to a $50 million build than the $35 million build that it would otherwise be and that the other four technical colleges will be. There is also The Heights School in the north-east, but the first that will be finished and operational from the first day of term 1 next year is Findon High School, which is very exciting.

I was pleased to be there to turn the first sod and see a number of diggers and other very big construction equipment on site getting on with the job, which is great. From the moment that we announced Findon as one of the sites for the five technical colleges, the principal, Kathleen, told me that the phone was ringing hot with parents from the local area inquiring about when they could get their kids enrolled. I think it is safe to say there is going to be a lot of demand for places at this technical college and the other four as well.

What we know we need to do if we are to really make a serious dent in the skills crisis that faces Australia at the moment is we need to do things differently. Part of the Malinauskas government's approach to that is the building of these five technical colleges to give students the opportunity to come into the college at year 10 and complete their SACE whilst also getting certificate IIs and certificate IIIs.

In the case of Findon, I think the most exciting part of the project so far is an agreement that we are at least very close to reaching with BAE Systems, who are a very important employer in South Australia, where a certain number of apprenticeships will be put aside by BAE for those coming through the advanced manufacturing stream at Findon and then going straight from high school into a job. That pathway can be seen by the young student and their broader family really from year 7 and 8. They can see the opportunity to move from school to the tech college in year 10 and then, if they enter the advanced manufacturing stream, which is one of the three things being offered by Findon, hopefully straight into an apprenticeship with BAE Systems.

I think it provides not only a certainty for that student and their family in terms of a job that will come at the end of their studies—which of course has to be our goal—but it also provides some much-needed assurity to employers, particularly in those areas where we know not only do we have skill shortages now but there is going to be increased demand given the projects that are coming online in South Australia.

There are some really exciting ones that will not come as a surprise to anyone in this chamber around defence projects and submarine builds but also our commitment to universal preschool for three year olds, which will mean we need to increase our workforce in early childhood education and care, which is one of the other three specialisations at Findon. Then there is the work that this government is doing to rebuild our health system, which brings me to the third specialisation at Findon, which is broadly around health, a number of health streams.

It has come on the back of an enormous amount of consultation that has been done by the team in the education department. I want to make special mention today, in the time I have remaining, of Clare Feszczak, who is the executive director in this area. She has done an incredible job, along with the assistant minister in this area, the member for King. I think 500 businesses and industries were consulted and engaged with right across the state before decisions were made around what the courses and streams offered at Findon and the other four technical colleges will actually be.

We have done that work. The member for Morialta referred to the importance of doing that, and I wholeheartedly agree with him, but I can reassure the house that that work has already been done. It is that work that has informed what we are offering at Findon. I think the member for Morialta referred to technical colleges, or trade schools, of days gone by, and of course that will evoke for many people images of the traditional tech colleges.

I went to school at one of those that had the big old trade wing, that had metalwork, woodwork and automotive, but these need to be more flexible in terms of making sure that the pathways they offer are up to date for the modern South Australian economy. We also have to make sure that what we create here is a model which is nimble and flexible enough.

That is what Clare Feszczak and her team have done, but in the future if the skills needs of the state change, which of course they will over time, then the flexibility is there in the model to change from potentially these streams to something else, if that is what the state needs. I think probably part of the downfall of the old model was that it was very rigid in how it operated. I want to commend all those involved. It is very exciting. I look forward to being on my feet in this place over the next year or so to give more updates on this project.

The Hon. D.G. PISONI (Unley) (11:26): I rise to make a contribution on the Findon trade school as well and in doing so reflect on the success of doing something different, which is what the Marshall government did in the four years when we turned the training system around in South Australia. Just for some background, when we came to office in 2018 South Australia had the worst-performing commencements of apprenticeships and traineeships in Australia. As a matter of fact, there was a 66 per cent decline in the number of commencements of apprenticeships and traineeships in the six-year period from 2012.

By the time the Marshall government left office, there was a 34 per cent increase to 30 June 2021, the largest increase in the nation. We went from being the worst-performing state when it came to commencements of apprenticeships and traineeships to the best-performing state by a very large number. When we came to office, there were about 15,000 apprentices in training in South Australia. When we left office, there were 31,675—the latest figures that I have available here—who were training in South Australia.

So we were doing something different; we were doing something very different. We were engaging employers in the apprenticeship system once again. We did that because we were investing in people. We were not investing in bricks and mortar. Employers had bricks and mortar. They had factories and buildings that they were operating their businesses from. We actually recognised that the biggest barrier for skills growth here in South Australia was the on-the-job training.

Anybody will tell you that vocational education is based around a combination of classroom training, which is a very small part of training in most certificate III qualifications, which is what the vast majority of apprenticeships are based on, and it is the implementation of that off-the-job training in the workplace that delivers the outcome, delivers the skills that industry needs. Of course, the minister was right when he said that industries are changing and we need a flexible system. That is exactly what we had with our Skilling South Australia program. It was a very flexible system where we were supporting apprentices in the workplace as well as in the registered training organisation in which they were working.

Amounts of around about $10,000 were offered to employers to help them to remove barriers to taking on apprentices and to bring in enablers to support their staff, particularly those skilled people who were spending their time working with apprentices and trainees and passing on their skills in that area. This was identified as being a major cost, a major disincentive, particularly in the very early days of an apprenticeship—that first year, that first six months of a traineeship.

On top of supporting those apprentices and their employers through the Skilling South Australia program and that support that we provided for the early years in particular, we also expanded our use of the pre-apprenticeship program. That expansion was criticised by those opposite because they said they were not real apprenticeships and they were not real traineeships, but they all led to apprenticeships and traineeships. There were employers lining up to take those apprentices and trainees on once they got through that process.

It was not just accredited training that they would do in those pre-apprenticeships. As a matter of fact, there was very little apprenticeship training. It was the sort of life skills that had been lost in a generation that people of my generation, for example, would have picked up working part-time, or even playing as children. We know that tying down a load, parking a vehicle, and even sweeping the floor are the sorts of things that many people would have learnt just in growing up. But of course, it is many of the skills that they call 'soft skills' that we are focused on. For example, digging a ditch that is for a particular length, a particular width and a particular depth is a skill that many employers value, particularly in the plumbing and electrical trades. Pre-apprenticeship programs were set up to do that.

They were run by industry-based RTOs, supported by industry, and then those apprentices were employed by industry. The figures speak for themselves: from the worst performing state in the country—only 15,000 apprentices and trainees in training—to a 34 per cent growth to June 2021 to over 31½ thousand apprentices and trainees. It was the largest in the nation. Of course, we did not stop there.

We were very much engaged in the school system with our World of Work program, a program that we borrowed from the United Kingdom, where we designed a program that enabled students to be exposed to the workplace from grade 7. How often do you come across a year 11 or 12 student who is studying particular subjects but still does not know what they want to do? The World of Work program was designed to help students understand what opportunities were there for them, matching their natural skills and their interests with where they will be able to make a good living in a skilled area with those skills.

We expanded the school-based apprenticeship program. We had big growth in school-based apprenticeships. We did that again through our Skilling South Australia program, but also because we enabled apprentices to work up to four days a week in the workplace—not at school but in the workplace so they were being paid. This is a significant difference between the Labor Party's policy, what they are implementing in their trade school policy, and what we were able to achieve. Without spending millions of dollars on buildings, by using existing infrastructure and investing in people rather than in bricks and mortar, we were actually able to deliver a massive growth in apprenticeships and traineeships by working in partnership with industry.

Of course, it was not just traditional industries. Yes, we had, I think, close to double the number of apprentices in the construction sector in that time. We also brought in new apprenticeships in the ICT sector, in cybersecurity, a growing sector. When we came to office we were shocked to learn that the previous government had suspended the traineeship program in the public sector—no traineeships or apprenticeships in the public sector, and we brought that in.

That was an extraordinary capitulation to the public sector unions who demanded that government offer permanency to these apprentices and trainees. It simply does not happen in any apprenticeship or traineeship system anywhere. A traineeship is a contract and then there is an opportunity to apply for a job with that trainee employer or with another employer with the skills that you have learnt.

Of course, the Labor government's response to that was to no longer take on apprentices or trainees because they did not want to be tied to the obligation, like any other employer. They did not want to be tied to the obligation of having to put people on in a training situation in a permanent public sector position. But we changed all of that. We got around that enterprise bargaining agreement by using group training organisations to bring those people into the sector, and we are expanding the skill sector in the public sector, and the private sector is also picking up those people that the public sector trained in those new areas.

So it is an exciting time because of the work that was done by the Marshall government. Even those who are learning skills in child care and aged care are now being paid to do that, something that they had to do in their own time previously, and that is a legacy that I am certainly very proud of.

Mr BROWN (Florey) (11:36): I just want to take this opportunity to thank those who have contributed to the debate. The member for Morialta and the minister were kind enough to give us their views about this particular project, and it is also always pleasing to be taken on a trip down memory lane by the member for Unley, so thank you very much for his contribution as well.

Motion carried.