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Thursday, 24 June 2004
Page: 31791

Mr Murphy asked the Minister for Education, Science and Training, upon notice, on 1 April 2004:

(1) Is he aware than many Australian Industries are now facing serious skill shortages, especially in the traditional trades; if not, why not.

(2) Is he aware that (a) Commonwealth Australian National Training Authority funding between 1997 and 2001 decreased by 16.3 per cent per curriculum hour while TAFE enrolments grew by 16.3 per cent and (b) approximately 50,000 people will miss out on TAFE places this year: if not, why not.

(3) Can he explain how the Government's policies for vocational education and training will address the serious skills shortages in trades?

Dr Nelson (Minister for Education, Science and Training) —The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:

(1) The Australian Government is very aware that a number of industries, particularly the traditional trades, are experiencing critical skill shortages.

Skills shortages are caused by a variety of factors including a strong economy, high levels of employment, high levels of infrastructure investment and the emergence of new industries as well as lack of interest in trades among school leavers and the ageing of the workforce.

The Australian Government has recognised that any approach to addressing skills shortages, needs to confront the issues on a variety of fronts. On Tuesday 6 April 2004 I launched the Australian Government's National Skills Shortages Strategy (NSSS) - a new, comprehensive approach to tackling skills shortages, particularly in the traditional trades.

The NSSS will build on the work we have undertaken in partnership with eleven industries through the National Industry Skills Initiative, as well as complementing other relevant programmes addressing skills needs, including the special incentive for traditional trades, support for changing attitudes to traditional trades and support for group training. Attached are fact sheets detailing the Strategy's nine tiered approach to addressing skill shortages.

Skill shortages also featured highly in the proposed ANTA Agreement for 2004-06, with targets being set to improve the number of New Apprenticeships in skill shortage areas. States and Territories unfortunately rejected the Australian Government's offer for the proposed Agreement.

(2) (a) There was a 22.3 per cent increase in hours delivered by both TAFE and private providers under the ANTA Agreement between 1997 and 2001 and an approximate 16 per cent increase in the total number of TAFE and private provider students undertaking training during the same time period. Improved efficiency in the use of funds allowed the national VET system to grow in numbers of people in training and hours delivered, at the same time that the public cost per hour of training was reduced. States and Territories were aware of the need to improve efficiencies in the system and signed up to the efficiency provisions in the ANTA Agreement with the Australian Government during this time.

Consequently, the comparison of funding per curriculum hour is not an appropriate indicator to measure the costs of training, as it does not take into account productivity/efficiency gains realised throughout the sector.

The efficiency gains were made while maintaining the quality of training. The high quality of the training provided throughout the VET sector is reflected in the employers' survey which rated employers' satisfaction at 80 per cent in 2001. Graduates' satisfaction also remains high, with satisfaction levels recorded at 82 per cent in 2002.

The Australian Government is committed to VET and has significantly increased its funding to the sector. Australian Government funding provided to the States and Territories grew from $888.0 million in 1997 to $1.056 billion in 2001, an increase of around 19 per cent. I would also like to point out that since 1996 funding for VET has increased in real terms by 33 per cent and funding for New Apprenticeships and industry training has increased by 83 per cent.

(b) There has been a steady decline in the level of `unmet demand' for VET over recent years. In 1995, an estimated 60,700 individuals were unable to enrol for a TAFE qualification. This had dropped to 45,800 in 1999 and to 42,800 in 2003.

Figures for `unmet demand' in 2004 are not yet available, however, the Australian Government will directly purchase 7,500 additional VET places for priority clients including people with disabilities, parents returning to work and older Australians with funds forfeited by States and Territories when they rejected the Australian Government's offer for the proposed ANTA Agreement for 2004-06.

(3) One of the key issues in addressing skill shortages in trades is changing outdated views of trades and showing they can be challenging, lucrative and provide great opportunities for career advancement. The Australian Government's New Apprenticeships marketing campaign was specifically designed to dislodge negative perceptions of traditional trades.

The Australian Government has a number of strategies and policies to address skills shortages in trades and has been proactive in improving the numbers of people undertaking education and training in trade areas. Some of these include:

The recent launch of the Australian Government's National Skills Shortages Strategy (NSSS) - a new, comprehensive approach to tackling skills shortages, particularly in the traditional trades. The Strategy includes special incentive for traditional trades, support for changing attitudes to traditional trades and support for group training.

The innovative skills shortages projects which will pilot a range of approaches to recruiting and training new entrants in traditional trades suffering skill shortages and the Targeted Initiatives Programme (TIP) which is currently giving priority to projects that target traditional trades.

The Australian Government provides a number of special incentives for traditional trades.

Since 1999, the Government has spent over $120 million on incentives for construction industry employers and $86.6 million on manufacturing industry employers;

There is a special incentive of $1,100 for New Apprenticeships in skills shortages in rural and regional areas. Since 1999, around $41.6 million has been spent; and

A special incentive of $1,210 for New Apprenticeships in innovation industries. Since its introduction in January 2003, more than $6.9 million has been paid.

The Australian Government has made some significant inroads to addressing skill shortages in trades with:

34 per cent of our current 406,900 New Apprentices being in the trades and related occupations grouping including carpenters, plumbers and electricians. These occupations only make up 13 per cent of the workforce; and

employment growth in trades and related occupations growing over the last five years at an average annual rate of 1.4 per cent, while New Apprentices in training in trades and related occupations grew at an average annual rate of 2.3 per cent.

I recently announced a further $4.5 million for the continued support of careers advice by the Australian Government. Some of these initiatives are packaged into the National Skills Shortages Strategy to directly address areas of skill shortage. For the benefit of the Member for Lowe the suite of initiatives that I announced on 16 April 2004 include:

funding to develop an accreditation scheme for careers practitioners;

a three-part professional development package for careers practitioners;

a new scholarship scheme to reward Australia's most outstanding careers teachers;

a `tear out' pack for parents advising their children on career options for inclusion in the 2005 Job Guide delivered to every Year 10 student throughout Australia;

initiatives to strengthen the 216 local community partnerships assisting schools, TAFEs, universities and local industries to advise students on career choices;

careers forums for school principals and careers advisors to be held in conjunction with major careers expos across Australia; and

infrastructure for a new national careers telephone helpline service.