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Tuesday, 10 August 2004
Page: 32636


Mr TICEHURST (8:14 PM) —In speaking for the Vocational Education and Training Funding Amendment Bill 2004, I draw the attention of members to a hallmark feature of Australia's highly successful vocational education and training system—that is, the growth of new apprenticeships and their diffusion throughout the work force. The member for Greenway talked about long apprenticeships. Going way back, I was apprenticed as an electrical fitter for four years but in those days, rather than having to do the trade course, I did an electrical engineering certificate at tech. Now employers are talking to us about having reduced apprenticeship terms and learning specific trades for their industry.

The industry is much broader now than it was back in the sixties and seventies. Also, apprenticeships are not really restricted to the cities; regional areas have them. In my area of Dobell, we have many firms that are involved in apprenticeships, manufacturing and service industries. The modern and flexible new apprenticeships system is a vital part of the government's strategy for meeting the skill needs of Australia's industry. This bill provides ongoing funds for vocational education and training, including for the training of new apprentices. The Minister for Education, Science and Training, in introducing the bill, spoke of the 195 per cent increase in numbers of new apprenticeships since 1995. It now stands at over 416,800 in training at the end of March 2004. In fact, new apprentices accounted for around 15 per cent of the total number participating nationally in vocational education and training in 2003.

This growth is in direct response to industry's needs for skilled workers. It is not just absolute numbers that the program is achieving; employers are embracing higher skill levels, with 85 per cent of all new apprentices in training participating at the certificate III level or higher. People in regional areas have increased significantly their participation in new apprenticeships to more than 98,000 places for people in rural and remote areas, compared with fewer than 40,000 in 1995. It is notable too that, while new apprenticeships have increased for all age groups, proportionate growth has been strongest for people aged 40 years and over, where numbers have increased almost sevenfold in the six years to March 2004. This is an important achievement.

The reskilling of mature aged workers, including through new apprenticeships, helps in positioning industry to address the labour force changes of the future. Local training organisations, such as the Central Coast Community College, Uniting Church and Wyong Workwise, have been doing a great job providing older workers with training in information technology under the government's BITS program. The number of Indigenous people participating in new apprenticeships has experienced a dramatic increase, with nearly 8,500 in training at present compared to 1,380 in 1995. Today, new apprenticeships are available in more than 500 occupations, covering emerging technologies, such as electro-technology and information technology as well as traditional trades.

In my electorate of Dobell, vocational education and training is of paramount importance. More than 70 per cent of school leavers in Dobell choose not to go to university. We need to provide them with opportunities to gain the skills and trades that lay a foundation for their future. Last year, there were 2,300 new apprenticeships in Dobell. This compares to 650 new apprentices in Dobell in 1995, when Labor was last in government. Central Coast Group Training is doing a fantastic job promoting group training as an option for business in my electorate. That especially applies to small business and increasingly the number of new apprentices in group training.

Group training is a uniquely Australian concept whereby an organisation employs a new apprentice under a training contract and places them with host employers. Today, there are more than 37,500 new apprentices in training with group training organisations across Australia. The group training industry is the single largest employer of apprentices and trainees. Central Coast Group Training are doing a great job at improving the quality and breadth of training available to new apprentices, particularly in small- and medium-sized businesses, and I commend them for their efforts.

It is great to see my local schools also getting involved in providing VET opportunities for their students. Over 80 students in year 11 at Wadalba high school are involved in group training. Also, McKillop catholic school at Warnervale has many school students involved in VET programs. The Central Coast campus—which provides a unique learning centre in that it contains a university, a TAFE and a community college as well as some operational small businesses—has also been working hard to expand the educational and VET training opportunities for its students. Our local work force reaps the benefit of having school leavers who are ready for duties. In fact, the number of school students undertaking training has grown by 97 per cent since 1997, reflecting the huge success of vocational education in schools programs. This is now available in more than 95 per cent of Australian secondary schools.

Across Australia, new apprenticeships have more than doubled since Labor was in office. In June 2003, 396,000 were in training compared to only 135,000 in 1995. We do not need to go back to that. Funding under the VET Funding Act in 1995 was $777.9 million. For 2005, under this bill, it will be $1.48 billion, which is a huge increase. Despite the successes achieved by the program so far, which are in stark contrast to the poor VET results of Labor, the Australian Labor Party still has the nerve to criticise our vocational education and training system even though it continues to go from strength to strength.

An example of the Australian government's steadfast commitment to VET is its funding of a major new apprenticeships advertising campaign in 2003 and 2004 to continue to address potential skill shortages. Early indications are that the campaign has been highly successful, with a record number of calls to the new apprenticeships information 1800 number and record hits to the new apprenticeships web site. Most importantly, the success of the campaign was evident by the number of new apprenticeship commencements in trade and related occupations. Commencements in the March 2004 quarter were up by 43 per cent over the same period in the previous year. It just goes to show the power of positive advertising. New apprenticeships are vital to ensure the future economic prosperity of my local region and of our nation, and continuing financial support for the training of new apprentices is provided in the bill presently before the House.

In conclusion, since 1996 the coalition government has reinvigorated vocational education and training, with record numbers in training, record numbers in new apprenticeships and significant progress made toward developing a high-quality, truly national system. This year the Australian government will spend a record $2.1 billion on vocational education and training, underpinning the nation's strong economic growth and low unemployment. Since coming to power, this government has revived Australia's vocational education and training system. The numbers in training have grown from 1.27 million in 1995 to over 1.7 million, an increase of 35 per cent. The numbers in new apprenticeships have grown by 195 per cent. There are 416,800 new apprentices in training in more than 500 different occupations. This is up from 141,400 in 1995—a most creditable achievement. Since 1996, the number of women in VET has grown by 30 per cent, to 812,900. The number of Indigenous students has grown by 85 per cent over the same period, while 43 per cent of VET clients are now in rural and regional Australia.

As a result of the coalition government's investment in training and direct assistance to employers of new apprentices, Australian employers are spending more on training their apprentices than ever before. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, employers are expending 52 per cent more on training than they were in 1996. Vocational education and training, along with increased training opportunities for Australians, is the key to strengthening our competitiveness and bringing about improved performance and better opportunities for employers and employees. It also assists industries in providing the skills and the training that they need and is crucial to economic development and job creation. The Australian government has played a leadership role, and will continue to play a leadership role, in the overall direction and strategies needed to develop a skilled Australian work force. I commend this bill to the House.