At my working-class high school the careers cabal decided I was better suited to a trade so I was bumped down a class.
My dad turned up at the school and bullied the principal into reinstating me to an academic stream.
I was very proud of dad that day. Now I'm not so sure. So I ended up with a dime-a-dozen BA degree.
I could have morphed into one of the power tool princes. My brother became a carpenter/builder and can do all manner of handyman and building tricks that I can only dream of.
Tradies are the new aristocracy.
They've been flat out getting wealthy on a locked-down population with nothing better to spend their money on than home renovations.
If it's a small job a tradie can quote a price that is often a go-away quote. If you're stupid enough to pay the exorbitant price they'll do the job. Otherwise, bugger off and find somebody else. That's my experience.
Amidst an historical decline in funding, and despite a chronic nation-wide skills shortage, the state government has drafted a new strategy for TAFE, with a new corporatised model that on face value looks fit for purpose.
The strategy might be new, but for unions and hopeful apprentices there are worrying signs, such as an ominous line on page 2 of the fact sheet, which says: ..."there will be no forced redundancies..."
Yikes. That's usually code for job losses, even voluntary. Voluntary redundancies usually means voluntary at first - which will eventually become compulsory unless enough staff put their hand up.
The State Opposition and the Education Union say the model is privatisation, which is not strictly true, except that a government business model can often mean privatisation by another name, or the next best thing.
TAFE may continue to be government-owned and funded, but the new model is semi-autonomous, so that any tough measures aimed at making it lean and mean can be sheeted home to the new governing body, with not a government minister in sight.
Still, the structure is not new.
The government has plenty of semi-autonomous business enterprises, operating at arms length and returning a dividend to taxpayers where appropriate.
To foster this new business model the government is stumping up an extra $98.6 million over four years to deliver 100 extra TAFE teachers, among other things.
In recent years funding has been woeful, for a body charged with developing the state's skills base and let's face it, the state's future.
Enrolments were down from 29,714 in 2018 to 26,448 in 2019. The average apprenticeship completion rate was 53.7 per cent.
In the latest Budget, over the four-year forward estimates, from 2020-21 government grants will grow by 18.3 per cent to $116.7 million by 2024-25.
That's not quite the pathway you would expect for a new-beaut vocation, education and training industry.
It was even worse back in 2015-16.
The growth in government grants from 2014 to 2019 was 1.98 per cent. Going backwards fast, which is why I'm sure they had to act.
We have the luxury of the nation's best performing economy, but threatened by skills shortages.
The government has a COVID rescue package involving a $5 billion infrastructure program, but that doesn't thrill me, given the never-ending stories surrounding various infrastructure promises.
It's an equation the government can't fight.
You can't have an infrastructure boom and all the local jobs associated with it, if you're not churning out sufficient numbers of skilled tradies each year. You have to import the workforce.
If the new TAFE model is designed to fire up TAFE as a skills machine capable of coping with our new souped-up economy, then well and good.
If it's another way of downgrading TAFE, by throwing more of the onus on the Federal Government, then my bet is larger numbers of budding apprentices will look elsewhere, now that we're closing in on the full vaccination milestones and looking to open up borders.
When I drove in my first nail, aged five or six, I drew the hammer back so far I nearly scalped myself. In a toddler sort of way I knew then the direction of my career path.
Now I see these Hilux work utes on the roads, like gleaming chariots, with the statutory tied-on ladder and PVC tube containers and metal toolboxes, with all the tradie trimmings I always knew I would miss out on.
I have no interest in plumbing or circuit boards, or even carpentry, but I wish I could have sweated through an apprenticeship, just to make the exorbitant money tradies are enjoying.
I guess the economic boom, awaiting the lifting of lockdown, will create a whole new generation of power tool princes, where the mandatory high-viz iridescent vests are the equivalent of a university's academic gown.
It looks like the state government is finally paying attention.
- Barry Prismall is a former The Examiner deputy editor and Liberal adviser