Skills and passion for an integrated education system

Equity, access and opportunity in post-school education are top of the agenda for Skills Minister Tim Crakanthorp. Brendan Berecry reports.

Head shot of Tim Crakanthorp. Head shot of Tim Crakanthorp.
Image: Newcastle MP Tim Crakanthorp is the new Minister for Skills, TAFE and Tertiary Education.

New Minister for Skills, TAFE and Tertiary Education Tim Crakanthorp has long drawn inspiration from the opportunities that public education provides.

As the son of public school teachers, with a teacher wife and four children educated in public schools, Mr Crakanthorp said he is exactly where he wants to be in his new role.

He was clearly excited to share this passion as he arrived on a sunny Tuesday morning at the NSW Department of Education state office in Parramatta to address staff in person and to live stream his portfolio priorities to a wider audience.

“The Department of Education is my primary policy adviser. The engine room, the rocket ship. I’m looking to you for your very best ideas,” he said.

“The bubbling enthusiasm that I can see here today; that’s the opportunity, that’s the excitement.”

Mr Crakanthorp outlined his childhood growing up in Moruya on the NSW South Coast with his two brothers in an education-focused family, before eventually moving to Newcastle to start university studies.

As a teenager he was a Rotary exchange student to South Africa – then under the racial segregation period of Apartheid. The experience changed the direction of his life.

“I met an inspirational teacher from the ANC (African National Congress) who insisted on showing me the real South Africa he knew in the townships – the churches, the black buses and the schools in that divided and unequal country of the time,” he said.

“I made a vow to myself then to fight for health and education and equality no matter where I am.”

In his wide-ranging speech to staff, Mr Crakanthorp said there was critical work ahead to improve access to opportunities across the NSW education sector and to training opportunities for the wider workforce.

“We are in a skills crisis across the State and across the country,” he said.

“It has been brought on by global factors, sped up by COVID, and made worse by many years of inaction.

“In the last 12 months alone, the number of occupations on the skills priority list has actually doubled.

“I believe there isn’t a bigger problem in front of the new government where a better skilled, trained and supported workforce isn’t part of that answer.”

For the new minister, education and skills reform means three things.

“Equity, access and opportunity.

“A system that is driven by opportunity and has students, teachers and people at the heart.

“And providing capability through skills that allows mobility of labour towards those opportunities.”

Mr Crakanthorp has been the Member for Newcastle since 2014. Before that he worked in disability care, community education and mine safety, and served on Newcastle City Council for eight years.

He said his ministerial priorities would be driven by the social justice values of the new Labor government, with a focus on equity and access.

“I want a vocational education system that is available to everyone,” he said.

“I also want a post-school education sector that works with industry and the vocational education sector. I want TAFE at the heart of our vocational educational system.

“Restoring the title of Tertiary Education into the title of my ministry puts a spotlight on integration between schools, vocational education and universities.”

He concluded his staff town hall address by referencing the NSW review of TAFE and the VET sector.

“It will be comprehensive with a capital C,” he said.

With the key challenges articulated, there was time for a quick Q & A session.

So, what does the new Minister like to do outside his working hours?

“When I’m not working, you’re most likely to find me on a surfboard, being a soccer dad, or getting out and about enjoying our fantastic city,” he said.

“I love running and I love surfing and I love reading when I can get the time.

“I do also love dogs … though our beagle can be hard to control.”

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