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Million-dollar CEO takes aim at ‘avocado toast’ graduates

Matt Barrie has criticised Australia's education system. Images: Yahoo Finance, Getty

The CEO of $400 million company, freelancer.com, has taken aim at Australia’s education system and its hordes of “avocado toast” graduates.

Matt Barrie said Australia’s productivity slump is not surprising, given the types of graduates Australian schools, TAFEs and universities are producing.

“I'll tell you why productivity is not going up in this country, and the reason why is because we don't do anything in this country anymore,” he said while speaking at the Yahoo Finance All Markets Summit.

“What do we do? We ship dirt overseas in the form of iron ore to China to build basically apartment blocks. And that's a cyclical whim of the Chinese housing market. We ship coal out of the ground into China and Japan.”

But Japanese demand will wind down as it recovers from closure of Fukushima, and China has it wants to cut back on coal imports, Barrie said.

“The third biggest export we have in this country is education… Outside of that, we don't do much at all, right?

“Mining doesn't really employ that many people. It starts with the construction phase, employs a bunch of people and then there's the uproar.”

He said these industries, by and large, are not employing a large body of Australians anymore, along with the automotive industry which is essentially non-existent.

“The entire manufacturing industry in this country has fallen apart. Two years ago, the entire textiles industry lost 30 per cent of its workers in manufacturing,” he said.

“We don't do anything in this country anymore and we're wondering about productivity.”

Continuing, Barrie slammed the school system as one that “prepares kids for a world that existed in the 18th century, that doesn't exist anymore”, questioning why French and German is taught while computer science and engineering graduates fall in numbers.

“That's why there's no productivity, because we're producing people to serve cups of coffee and avocado toast to each other,” he said.

The answer is education

Barrie said the key to improving Australia’s slowing economy is to target education, starting in high school and then moving into university.

“If you get a lot more people into the right areas in university, then four years later, they'll come out and get high paying jobs, and they pay more income tax, they start companies to pay company tax and so forth,” he said.

“But to fix that, you've got to fix the secondary school system. You’ve got to do it for year 10.

“Every kid wants to build the next Facebook, work on Google Glass, Space X, AI but they cannot connect the dots between what they're told at school and the career path and you’ve just got to fix the education system, and then out the other side in four years, you'll have people with a lot more skill and get better paying jobs.”

Shadow Minister for Innovation, Clare O’Neil, echoed his sentiments, agreeing that investing in the first years of schooling is where the biggest impact can be made.

“Wherever I go around Australia, there's a big disconnect between that pointing end of the education system and the needs of business and it just amazes me that after knowing that's been a problem for probably 40 years, we haven't found a solution,” she said.

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