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Tuesday, 20 October 1964


Senator BENN (Queensland) . - I wish to refer to Division No. 330 - Administrative, sub-division 4, item 01, Apprenticeship training - Financal Assistance. Last year the appropriation was £50,000 and actual expenditure was £59,730. Evidently something has happened because the proposed vote is £140,000. Probably the Government has some apprenticeship scheme in mind and it will absorb all the money that is requested. My mind goes back to 1954 when a special committee was appointed to make a complete investigation of apprenticeship training in Australia. The committee was appointed because of action taken by some of the States and I shall mention the details. In 1937, representatives of the Commonwealth and State Governments met in Melbourne and discussed problems of youth employment. I shall skate over the history of this matter but I propose to give dates on which the matter was brought before some government authority. The Western Australian Government appointed a Royal Commission, Mr. A. A. Wolff, K.C., who is now Sir Albert Wolff, the Chief Justice of Western Australia, to inquire into youth employment and the apprenticeship system in that State. I shall not quote his findings. In 1939 a select committee of the Legislative Assembly of New South Wales inquired into the problems of youth employment in that State and in the following year it issued a report which covered apprenticeship and related matters. In Queensland in 1944 a Government sponsored committee investigated employment and the training of apprentices and minors in that State. It made a number of recommendations regarding apprenticeships. In 1949 a sub-committee of the Labour Council of New South Wales privately investigated and reported on the problems arising from the serious lack of balance in the intake of apprentices. It was at that stage that the Commonwealth was approached to sponsor a national inquiry.

There is now an Australia-wide shortage of skilled tradesmen. I need not particularise the categories in which there is an acute shortage. However, in a moment or two I propose to point out that the Commonwealth Government was fully aware that in this year there would be an acute shortage of skilled tradesmen and that it failed to do anything about the matter. I intend to charge the Government with neglect of duly in relation to the training of apprentices as tradesmen. To show how serious the matter was at that time, I point out that in September 1950 the Premiers' Conference, at which were represented the Governments of the Commonwealth of Australia and all the six States, approved a resolution which was sponsored by the Commonwealth Government for a joint CommonwealthState examination of apprenticeship matters under the following terms of reference -

1.   To inquire into and report upon whether, to meet the present and future requirements of skilled tradesmen, having regard to the needs of a rapidly expanding industrial economy and defence, and in the fight of the functioning of the apprenticeship system as now practised in Australia, the development of technical training, technological changes nml other relevant circumstances, any adjustments in (he apprenticeship system are necessary. The Committee's inquiry would comprise such matters as the educational requirements for, and the regulation of, apprenticeship (including methods of selecting and attracting apprentices) and the terms and conditions of employment of apprentices.

2.   To make such recommendations as are necessary, and in particular the measures that commend themselves to the Committee as desirable if the requirements of Austraiian industry for skilled tradesmen are to be met.

The personnel of the Committee subsequently appointed included, as the Chairman, the Honorable Sydney Charles Grenville Wright, a Judge of the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration. The following gentlemen represented the State apprenticeship and technical educational authorities: John Tainsh, Esq., Deputy Director of Technical Education, New South Wales; Oliver Emanuel Nilsson, Esq., President of the Apprenticeship Commission and Chief Inspector of Technical Schools, Victoria; Clive Kerslake Evans, Esq., Government representative on the Apprenticeship Executive and Director of Technical Education, Queensland; and Gilbert Sherman McDonald, Esq., at that time Superintendent of Technical Schools and Chairman of the Apprenticeship Board, South Australia, and later Deputy Director of Education in that State. The employers were represented on the Committee by Daniel Scott, Esq., Chairman of the Engineering and Allied Trades Division of the Victorian Chamber of Manufactures and member of the Apprenticeship Commission, Victoria, and Thomas A. Dixon, Esq., a member of the Executive of the Queensland Employers Federation and a member of the Apprenticeship Executive, Queensland. The trade unions were represented by Harold J. Souter, Esq., arbitration agent of the Amalgamated Engineering Union (Australian Division), and William Hargreaves, Esq., Federal Secretary of the Federated Moulders (Metals) Union of Australia.

Their terms of reference were clear. I have outlined what their duties were. Now wc come to the matters that were considered. The report of the Committee states -

As a guide to the kind of information which would interest the Committee, some questions were formulated and widely circulated, their substance being as follows: -

I.   Can the apprenticeship system, functioning as it docs today, provide Australia's present and future requirements of skilled tradesmen, assuming the present rate of industrial expansion?

2.   Can the present apprenticeship system provide Australia's present and future requirements of skilled tradesmen, assuming an expanding defence programme?

3.   If the present apprenticeship system cannot provide Australia's present and future requirements in the above situations, does this apply to industry in general or to particular industries only? What reasons can be suggested for this inability to provide an adequate supply of skilled tradesmen?

4.   If particular industries only are affected, are those industries vital? What are the special problem's in the supply of skilled workers in those particular industries?

5.   What improvements or modifications of the present indenture system are desirable?

6.   What supplements, if any, are necessary to the apprenticeship system to assure an adequate supply of skilled tradesmen?

7.   If it is considered that the present system should be replaced, what alternatives are suggested?

The Committee met for nearly 12 months on and off and finally reached ils conclusions. Looked nl retrospectively, they are very interesting indeed. The Committee was able to say thai there would be a shortage of skilled tradesmen in Australia in this year 1964. It was able to tell the Commonwealth Government .10 years ago that Australia would experience the shortage of skilled tradesmen from which it is suffering at the present time. lt was submitted in evidence that the training of youths to be all-round skilled craftsmen is of vital importance to the nation and that the system of apprenticeship and apprenticeship training determines to a considerable degree the strength of the nation in tune of peace and in time of war, the status of the nation in the international sphere, and the standard of living of the Australian people. I wholeheartedly endorse those sentiments. I propose to deal now with the questions which the Committee posed for investigation and in respect of which it submitted conclusions. One was the position at the time of its inquiry. There is no need for me to deal wilh the matter in full. Suffice it to say that the Committee said, inter alia -

In addition, efforts to obtain extra apprentices were failing for two principal reasons, first, the number of youths reaching apprenticeable age was at its lowest point for many years due to the low birthrate of the depression years, and secondly, many youths who were reaching apprenticeable age were being attracted away from apprenticeship into unskilled and semi-skilled jobs because of the abnormally high wages obtainable by them in those jobs.

The Committee had before it several factors which it fully considered. It reached the following conclusion -

Taking these factors into consideration we believe that the supply of new tradesmen coming forward from all sources is now barely sufficient to meet the demand of industry in Australia for tradesmen at present, while in some trades which are either unattractive or have particular problems, there are still marked deficiencies.

That statement was made in 1954 when there was a shortage of tradesmen. The Committee next considered the immediate future and reached this conclusion -

Accepting the assumption of expanding economic activity during the next three to five years, the supply of new tradesmen coming forward from apprenticeship will not be sufficient for our industrial requirements.

This information went to the Government in the form in which I have read it. A copy of the book from which 1 am quoting was submitted to me by Sir John Spicer when he was a member of the Senate. I wrote to obtain this copy I have before me now. The Committee also dealt with the long term future and reached this conclusion -

We are unable to estimate with any accuracy the demand by industry for tradesmen in the long term future, but our opinion is that demand will tend to exceed supply until 1960, although the position should improve progressively from 1965 onwards. In the light of available statistics it appears that the number of youths eligible for apprenticeship three to five years hence will be sufficient to provide enough skilled tradesmen in due course of time. Apprenticeship planning should, we consider, proceed on the basis of continued industrial expansion at least commensurate with growth of population.

If Australia had a more imaginative Government that would get down to tin tacks and tackle the job that confronts it. this nation would have sufficient trained apprentices of Its own today instead of being forced to send missions overseas to search for journeymen migrants; as it were, to rob the European countries.







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