By David Wright
HOBART — "I am not here to talk about unemployment ... This report is not a solution to unemployment ... My brief was education and youth training", Laurie Carmichael told a public forum here on July 23.
Carmichael, author of the report on education and youth training that was the starting point for discussion at Paul Keating's youth jobs summit, came under sustained criticism from the sprinkling of young people in an audience made up mostly of business representatives and academics.
Carmichael used the meeting, organised by the federal Department of Employment, Education and Training (DEET) and attended by about 200 people, to explain his "vision for the future for young Australians".
This vision involves a "competency"-based education and training system, the Australian vocational certificate system, based on increased "competition" and the drive of the "market". Education and training will thus be driven primarily by the needs of industry.
Carmichael's solution to youth unemployment is clear. It is not based on job creation but on moving young people sideways into traineeships which would involve part-time work and part-time study. A proposed wage for doing this is $117 per week, more than $70 below the poverty line.
The report also proposed a new minimum standard exit from school: ideally year 12, but with a strong push towards a year 13.
By the end of year 12, six crucial aspects of learning will have been taught. These are language and communications, maths, science and technology, culture, problem solving and interpersonal skills.
At first glance this would seem quite reasonable. But the key to this new strategy in education is competition. Carmichael argues that the education system must be vocationally oriented towards industry-based needs. That means no more humanities subjects at university, and TAFE courses would not offer subjects in a variety of the arts, crafts or culture.
Carmichael argued that a rapid growth in technology would drive a market for ever increasing levels of skill. Therefore, using these six basic educational ingredients, the "new" students will aspire to unprecedented levels of competition.
Young people will compete for jobs after their training, in what Carmichael calls the "new labour market". This, he says, will have three distinguishing features:
- Teamwork. That is, employers and employees will make decisions together in a spirit of cooperation. Enterprise bargaining and award structures will coexist.
- Broader based skills.
- Escalating skills driven by the market.
But Carmichael was unclear what this "new labour market" would be. He said that by the year 2001, there will be three times the number of young people in training that there are now. When asked where the new growth industries would be, he responded angrily that they would be in "food processing, tourism and new technologies".
When put under pressure by several young people about job creation, he responded in the same manner each time: "I am not here to talk about unemployment; this is not about the short term but the long term. This report is not a solution to unemployment. My brief was education and training."
He argued that in the last 20 years, all the figures had shown (he didn't mention which ones) that more jobs had been created than lost. There were three causes of the current problem: growth in population, immigration and greater participation (more women working).
He said: "You can't just complain about unemployment; you've got to do something positive". He didn't elaborate.
And what about youth input into the jobs summit and the report? "You can go on having endless discussion with young people, but you need to talk to the people who employ, surely that's what you'd do."
Carmichael had the most trouble in dealing with a question from a business representative. Would he care to comment on the recent report from Victoria that 5000 youth traineeships went unfilled? Carmichael responded: "Maybe young people didn't want the jobs". The questioner retorted: "No, no, it was industry who weren't interested in the traineeships!" "Oh", said a confused Carmichael, "you may be correct on that one".
Carmichael appeared angry at the end of question time. Before leaving the building, he approached the young people from the national youth organisation Resistance, who had been responsible for some of the difficult questions.
In a heated exchange, Resistance members asked for his personal views on job creation and the short-term crisis. Carmichael snapped: "You people are just negative".
When asked about the 11% unemployed, he pointed his finger and snarled: "You lot are just so negative. I've seen people like you before. You're paralysed by your own negativity. I'm more positive than you. I like to think positively about the future. It's not 11% unemployed, its 89% employed." At this point Laurie Carmichael stormed off. On the way out, one of his supporters passed the group and said, "Laurie Carmichael is the new prophet." Carmichael didn't look like the "new prophet" as he slammed his car door and drove away.