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Big business versus the rest of us

Are our apprentices being trained in all the right jobs? In this short piece Carolyn van Langenberg writes that many training opportunities in the ‘old’ jobs are disappearing; jobs that ‘out of touch’ politicians decide are no longer needed.

I have just listened to Jennifer Westacott, Chief Executive of the Business Council of Australia, on Radio National, Friday September 12 2014. She was talking about training, apprenticeship systems and workforce flexibility so that people may train for different trades during their lifetime for an economy in transition.

Basic skills were frequently mentioned, but primary school education was not mentioned once. Surely if you are arguing for improved numeracy and literacy you are discussing the 3Rs – reading, writing and arithmetic. Not once was teacher training discussed, basic, I would have thought, to everything she was describing.

It is true we need an improved apprenticeship system. We need a cultural shift to respect trades people and the acquisition of artisan skills. But conservative governments have ripped the guts out of the very institution that provided the place of education for the acquisition of those skills – TAFE. Ceramicists, shoemakers, hat makers, dress makers etc etc can no longer find or offer affordable courses in TAFE.

Politicians who are too often lawyers with a minimum of world experience have no imagination for the employment futures, something that obsesses them, of people with artisan skills. Nor do those same politicians understand how science, including medical science, works for people who have those same artisan skills.

The ceramic hips used to replace worn out human hips is the outstanding case to prove my point. Scientists used what an artisan had worked out and medical scientists applied the result to good effect.

In France, a village well regarded for its glove making was revived by the needs of pilots and astronauts, people who needed to keep their hands warm in gloves that could conduct fine movements when controls became computerised. The glove makers weren’t university graduates, although they were assisted by engineers with a sense of design. The glove makers were not regarded as robots trained by and for business. They are and continue to be skilled artisans.

Ms Westacott’s idea of an economy in transition is one moving from focusing on its national economy to one becoming global.

Climate change was not mentioned. And that, it seems to me, is where the focus should be – on the suite of sciences, applied arts, technologies and engineering skills required to move the economy from one dependent on fossil fuel burning sources of energy to sustainable sources.

Australia’s problems begin with the politicians’ over-estimation of business. Business is perceived by many of us as shonky, out-of-date, self-interested, ignorant and not ever acting in the national interest within the global context. The national interest must be maintained within the global context. Subsuming the national interest for global business denies us our future.

Bio: Carolyn van Langenberg is the author of the Fish Lips trilogy – Fish Lips, The Teetotaller’s Wake, and Blue Moon – as well as poetry and short stories published internationally.


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  1. Kaye Lee

    They also abolished the tool allowance for apprentices. Instead they are allowing apprentices as young as 16 to sign up for a $20,000 interest free loan.

  2. rossleighbrisbane

    Gee, Kaye Lee, I thought they were very concerned about saddling future generations with debt…
    Btw. has anyone heard how much the Australian Government is borrowing every day? Under Labor it was supposed to be $100 million every day, but I haven’t heard a figure lately…

  3. rambotrader

    The BCA shows all the signs of a self interest cartel intent on manipulating labour markets, shoring up monopolistic conduct and screwing the workforce so that big business can become even wealthier than it already is. It is not enough that big business has enjoyed a widening of the wealth gap for the past 2 decades, nor that it has received a 1.5% tax cut at the same time as Australians on average incomes were told they needed higher taxes. And let us not forget that, having gained a recent tax cut, Kate Cantrell was recently in front of the cameras crying for more tax cuts. The cheek of this group of sliver tails is not to be believed.
    As an ex teacher (I escaped) I can confirm that putting scrutiny on teachers is ill placed and those who do this have zero understanding of the failed system in which teachers work. The real problem is that education Boards have destroyed the curriculum by watering it down to at times jibberish and then allowing students who fail or refuse to learn to progress on. After that it is a downhill slide. There is a large (and growing) number of students who know that they can ‘choose’ to not learn and that there is nothing teachers can do about it. And then you have the outright abusive students and their parents who psychologically and physically take it up to their teachers, again with impunity from those in charge of schools, bureaucrats and politicians.
    As a senior high school teacher I fought for decades to provide a good education in a very technical area and was thawted by all of the above and a system WHICH DID NOT CARE. That is where the problem lies. So I left….another high achieving teacher lost and replaced by a substandard younger one. Well done!
    So don’t put the lack of the 3 R’s at the feet of teachers. This ignores the real culprits.
    The idea of training students for real jobs has not escaped me. But we need to understand that employers use the 457 visa system to bypass suitable Australian workers. Why? To get its Howard Work Choices one way or another. What government should do is get big business TO TRAIN ITS OWN WORKERS. At least that way business would not treat their workers like disposable razors to be discarded at the drop of a hat, the prevailing attitude.
    We should all understand that the Liberal Party is not a benign Party of any sort. It is funded by big business who then controls what passes for legislation. One only has to look at the repeal of the Carbon Tax ($6 billion a year extra to coal and $2 billion extra to oil and gas), the repeal of the Mining Tax (driven by the richest amongst us – miners), the destruction of RETs (so that coal does not have to compete with renewables) and the 1.5% Company Tax decrease for companies in the budget (when everybody else got tax increases galore) to understand which way the money is flowing and in whose interests this government is acting. THIS IS CORRUPTION AT WORK.
    I have always advocated that if one FOLLOWS THE MONEY TRAIL then one will see whose interests are being served. And when one dissects the Abbott election attacks on Labor and the (business owned) media propaganda campaign one begins to understand where it is all heading and in whose interests this government acts.
    I have no faith in the BCA. It is NOT an organisation which gives a damn about ordinary Australians, which it sees as its slaves. Nor does it care about the country as a whole, which it sells down the drain at regular intervals, before crowing about its hard lot. And then overseas business runs rings around our pathetic excuse of ‘business’, if I might call it this. The BCA like the Abbott government is part of a network which seeks to turn average citizens into impoverished slaves who can be told that they should be happy with a bowl of rice and to live in a business owned ghetto. Welcome to Australia.

  4. king1394

    Trades are not a passport to a secure future for many workers.For example, workers (plumber/electrician/carpenter/plasterer/tiler etc) associated with the building and construction industry experiences much uncertainty as contracts start and finish. Injury is always possible – few tradespersons continue ‘on the tools’ past their 40s. My carpenter son is unemployed at the moment, and his last job was in concreting. Not one of three sons-in-law, all tradesmen, are still working in their trade.

  5. Kaye Lee


    Face value of CGS at June 30 2013 was $257 billion
    Face value of CGS at September 30 2013 was $283.126 billion
    Face value of CGS at September 12 2014 is $337.686 billion

    From MYEFO: “The face value of CGS on issue subject to the Treasurer’s Direction is expected to reach a within‑year peak of around $320 billion in 2013‑14, an increase of around $20 billion since the 2013 PEFO. Over the forward estimates, the face value of CGS on issue subject to the Treasurer’s Direction is projected to rise to a within‑year peak of around $460 billion in 2016‑17.”

    The Budget papers show a within year peak of $470 billion in 2017-18

  6. Kaye Lee

    A rough calculation using the above figures…..

    (337.686b-283.126b)/347=$157,233,429 borrowing per day since September 30 2013

  7. Dave Cotton

    If you wish to eat the fruit, shouldn’t you nuture the tree?

  8. Rob031

    rambotraderSeptember 12, 2014 at 6:53 pm

    The BCA shows all the signs of a self interest cartel intent on manipulating labour markets, shoring up monopolistic conduct and screwing the workforce so that big business can become even wealthier than it already is.

    I agree. As a TAFE teacher for 25 years I have seen successive NSW governments screw the TAFE system. With a few exceptions my students were conscientious and worked really hard to to improve their employability. They didn’t cheat and worked really hard to help their fellow students get to grips with the material.

    If I were an employer I’d hire most of them well knowing that they’d would be assets and not mere ‘costs’.

    Down with the bean-counters and this whole negativistic so-called government that we’re currently lumbered with. GAK.

  9. rambotrader

    Rob031: The issue is that the system is stacked against ordinary citizens. We all feel it and the signs are there for those who look. The BCA abd big business generally are after total domination and control of workers and their entitlements and this government IS OWNED BY BIG BUSINESS. All of the decisions from this government in the past year have been to send huge amounts of money straight to the bank accounts of the rich and their (big business) interests.
    I noticed above that one poster suggested that “If you wish to eat the fruit, shouldn’t you nuture the tree?”. Whilst I agree one has to bear in mind that the rich WANT ALL OF THE FRUIT FOR THEMSELVES. We issue is not about ‘nurturing the tree’, it is about sharing the fruit around. This is where the behaviour of big business and its BCA and government arms are reprehensible and need to be opposed.
    For those of us who have been programed to think that what has been occurring is necessary I suggest that they look at the money trail and who has and has not been receiving growing wealth during the last couple of decades. There is where the real story is.

  10. billy moir

    This is the start to the worst disaster in Australian social history. the rabbott’s government system of permanent debt by HECS..
    The universities are already major contributors to personal debt with statistics like:
    ‘ about 90 per cent of teachers graduating university in NSW and Queensland fail to find a job, while about 40,000 teachers in NSW and 16,000 teachers in Queensland are on departmental waiting lists for a permanent job.'(The Australian 25/3/2013).
    Nurses face a similar pattern of HECS but no job in health but there long term chances are worse because foreign nurses on 457 visa are allowed to be employed at lower wages.
    These Australians have 100s of millions of dollars in HECS debts but the institutes that lured them into courses have been paid by the taxpayer. A system designed for rorting.
    The canberra politicians acceptance of an extension of student loans to institutes like Whitehouse, TAFE and VET will allow advertisers to market courses, institutes to attract the vulnerable and students to INCUR AN UNPAYABLE DEBT.
    These young people are stranded in debt without the ‘assets in the wife’s name and bankruptcy provisions available to the rich. It is not hard to imagine disastrous effects on their life of a 6 figure HECS debt.
    Little billy and labor, by not exposing pynes putrid plan on commercial TV, are complicit, if not culpable.

  11. Phi

    The statement “Business is perceived by many of us as shonky, out-of-date, self-interested, ignorant and not ever acting in the national interest within the global context.” is accurate, very sadly accurate.

  12. lCarolyn van Langenberg

    A small economy such as Australia’s cannot sustain the attack on education that is the effect of corporatising the sector. The vice-chancellors in favour of deregulation are looking at being paid as well as Alan Joyce and the CEO of the postal Services ($4mill, his USA equivalent on $400,000.00). But it is the TAFE sector that is undermined gratuitously. I don’t know where these politicoans think people should go to learn how to be skilled construction workers, chefs, farmers, mechanics etc. and most people fit into that sector. And if you apply algorithyms honestly, it is cheaper to educate than to have a lot of unhappy people making do with instinct.

  13. diannaart

    Timely article – listened to same radio interview with Westacott and wondered why such a narrow focus – thanks for fleshing this out.

    Also, “skilled artisan” not a term we hear of much these days – yet as vital as it ever was, in spite of government and business push for skilled service workers.

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