Tuesday, 20 June 2006
Australian Technical Colleges (Flexibility in Achieving Australia’S Skills Needs) Amendment Bill 2006
I rise with great pleasure tonight in support of the Australian Technical Colleges (Flexibility in Achieving Australia’s Skills Needs) Bill 2005. Firstly, I would like to address some comments made by the member for Cunningham, who derided some of the initiatives that this government has brought in when she said that things like the tool box do not add much value. Today I had a phone call from people within an industry asking whether that particular initiative could be applied to young apprentices who work in the aerospace sector, because they see this initiative as being something that would add value and incentive.
But, importantly, the point I would like to make is that there is no silver bullet in this area. It is pointless for the opposition to be seeking and grasping for a silver bullet—one particular policy that will fix the problem. This problem has developed over a large number of years for a range of reasons, and it requires a holistic approach by government working with industry and the education sector to address it. I am pleased to see that this bill by the Howard government is one measure which takes that holistic approach and gets a range of stakeholders involved.
The purpose of this bill is to amend the Australian Technical Colleges (Flexibility in Achieving Australia’s Skills Needs) Bill 2005, which provides for the establishment and the operation of these technical colleges. This bill will bring forward funding from 2008-09 into 2006-07. Whilst the total amount of funds appropriated under the act will remain unchanged, it means that there is a need for increased expenditure in early years because of the uptake and activity associated with these technical colleges.
The question has to be asked: why is that uptake there? The uptake is there because people in the community recognise that skills training and a trade are valuable things for young people to have. They look at the fact that these colleges will not only strengthen our existing system but, most importantly, promote pride and excellence in the attainment of a trade qualification. No longer will trade training be seen as the alternative course for those who do not have the capacity to pursue an academic career; it will be seen as a first choice for many people in Australia. That means, by having a stand-alone technical college, we give young people who want to pursue a trade a first choice and we give them pride and a place of excellence to do that training.
One of the important things that have attracted the support of the community is that these colleges will have a governing council which is led by local business and industry. As opposed to educational institutions turning the handle and churning out people who do not necessarily meet the needs of industry, we will now have industry being involved with running the college and setting the curriculum but also—and importantly—through the use of school based New Apprenticeships we will see employers start to build relationships with these young people while they are going through their years 11 and 12 at school, completing initial trade training. So, when they finish that phase, there will already be a relationship established, which greatly increases the chances of those young people going into an employment contract that will see them complete that trade with an employer. There is strong support for the technical colleges. But, as I said, it is just one element of a range of initiatives that this government is bringing in. I think that is an important point to make.
We had three bids from consortiums who wished to run the technical college in the electorate of Wakefield, because people caught the vision of what it could provide. I am pleased to say that the bid that was put together in conjunction with the Catholic Archdiocese of Adelaide and the Northern Adelaide Industry Group ended up being the consortium that won the bid in northern Adelaide. It has put together a team and an industry panel that is at the point now of signing a contract with the federal government. It has selected both the principal and the chairperson of the governing council, who have been working very effectively, and those appointments will be made public in the very near future.
The need for this training and the public support for it in Adelaide is large. In the electorate of Kingston, we found that on public information nights over 400 people turned up and applied for positions when, in the first year of operation of the college, there will probably be only 110 places. The indications we have received in the north of Adelaide are that the response will be equally strong.
What are some of the other strings in the bow that the government is using in terms of apprenticeships? First, we are continuing with our strong support for apprenticeships, and as part of our approach to have a national standard of training and industrial relations the name of the apprenticeship system is being changed to Australian Apprenticeships. This has been supported by COAG, so it is not just a federal government initiative. It is something that the states are supporting, because they recognise there is a need to have a genuinely national approach to apprenticeships, training and skills recognition so that people have one licensing regime, one competency based apprenticeships system, that recognises their qualifications as they need to move around Australia—whether through their own desire as to where they would like to work or because their company would like them to work in other locations.
This is not the only means we are using to attract people into apprenticeships. The Army Reserve now has a system where, with local civilian apprenticeship teaming partners, it is offering apprenticeships in a range of trades: vehicle mechanics, fitters, carpenters, electricians, plumbers, technical electricians, sheet metal workers, supply operators, cooks or—with traineeships—clerks. This program offers people the opportunity to receive valuable on-the-job training with the Army Reserve as well as with civilian companies, and they earn both an apprenticeship wage from the teaming partner and tax-free pay from the Army Reserve.
This system has just started to graduate its first young people and, based on the quality of defence trade training in the past, I anticipate that this system will deliver great benefit into the future. (Quorum formed) As I was saying, this is only one of a number of government initiatives looking at boosting trade training and, importantly, connecting the young people as well as the mature age people of Australia with opportunities to train and engage with the workforce. For example, the Skilling Australia’s Defence Industry program will provide an opportunity to train the people we need in this country, whether they be at the project manager, the systems engineer or the trade level, to ensure we have the workforce in future to support our defence industries. The Sustainable Regions Program, which has been operating in the electorate of Wakefield, has resulted in the Northern Advanced Manufacturing Industry Group, which has an active program working in the schools, attracting young people to see the benefit of what is happening in industry and how what they are learning at school can be applied in industry. Rather than turning up their noses at the thought of either finishing school or taking up further training, they see the very real application of how what they are doing at school and what they can get through an apprenticeship can be applied in industry. It has been terrific to see employers in the electorate of Wakefield supporting this program.
An equally important question, though, is why is this initiative needed? In part, it is due to two main reasons: firstly, the growth in jobs. People talk about a skills shortage, but it is really a labour shortage because of the number of jobs which have been generated. Employers in Wakefield tell me that they are looking for skilled tradesmen. Certainly, most home owners I know who want people to work at their house tell me about the difficulty in attracting skilled tradesmen. But there are also many employers out there looking for unskilled people or people with lower levels of skills, and they cannot attract them and hold them in jobs because the workforce is just not there.
I was very happy to send out a media release this week referring to the fact that the national unemployment figures have dropped below five per cent. In the electorate of Wakefield, they have decreased to 7.8 per cent. Whilst that is higher than the national average, it means that there has been a 5.4 per cent reduction since this government came into office. In some of the regional areas, such as Clare, unemployment is well under two per cent and employers literally struggle to find anyone to fill jobs.
The growth in jobs, the demand for labour and the demand for skills is one of the reasons for this initiative. But there is another reason why this initiative for the technical colleges—combined with the range of other initiatives this government is bringing in—is so important. That is, there has been a decrease in the opportunities for trade training. That decrease has not just happened because of community attitudes and the feeling that was prevalent perhaps two decades ago that, to make something of your life, you had to finish year 12 and go to university. It was the outcome of that attitude which saw the Elizabeth Technical High School in Playford close down. It was an excellent school, which operated from 1960 to 1975. In fact, there were two schools: the Elizabeth Boys Technical High School and the Elizabeth Girls Technical High School. These were closed down and eventually became the Fremont-Elizabeth City High School, which was an amalgamation of three schools. It took away that focus on trade training. I know that the member for Jagajaga and others come in here and like to lambast this government, but it was a Labor government in South Australia which closed those schools down.
If people in the electorate of Wakefield comment to me on the lack of technical high schools, there is one thing that those who remember mention with even greater passion—that is, the closure of the Apprentice Training School at what was the Weapons Research Establishment, currently known as the Defence Science and Technology Organisation. The Apprentice Training School was recognised as a leading school within Australia, if not the world, in training skilled tradesmen to a very high level across a range of skills. The decision to close down the school was taken in 1987, with the closure occurring in 1994. Who was presiding over that matter in 1987? As I looked in the records to find out who was responsible for defence and the decisions on its restructuring, I saw it was none other than the current Leader of the Opposition, who was then Minister for Defence. He closed down the premier skills training institute in Australia, the Apprentice Training School at DSTO in the electorate of Wakefield. He closed that down and now has the gall to complain about a lack of skills training.
With the closure of technical high schools, the closure of the apprentice training school, combined with the introduction of the corporate support program, CSP, and the outsourcing within defence that saw other trades sent out to the private sector—and, again, that occurred under Robert Ray as the Minister for Defence—we saw a considerable decrease in skills training.
The advent of the technical colleges offers hope for the first time to the community and business people of the electorate of Wakefield. They will have an opportunity for their young people, once again, to access a place of learning where trades are valued, where there is a place of excellence for young people to learn trades and contribute to the local business and economy and to grow the kinds of skills that we need to continue making Australia the best country in the world in which to live.