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Monday, 11 May 2015
Page: 2740


Senator RUSTON (South AustraliaDeputy Government Whip in the Senate) (14:49): My question is to the Assistant Minister for Education and Training, Senator Birmingham. Can the minister update the Senate on how the Australian Apprenticeship Support Network will better assist apprentices looking to undertake an apprenticeship and employers looking to employ them?

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaAssistant Minister for Education and Training) (14:49): I thank Senator Ruston for that question on the Australian Apprenticeship Support Network, which represents a profound shift in the way government provides support and assistance to employers and apprentices in Australia to drive a boost and lift in the completion rate of apprenticeships around Australia. Our government will from now on invest around $200 million per annum to train, retain and attract quality apprentices and support them through the life of their apprenticeship.

Last month I announced 11 successful tenderers to deliver on the support network, and those companies will provide support and assistance from precommencement services of apprenticeships right through to apprenticeship completion. New precommencement services, including screening, testing and job matching, will be available to targeted clients to get the right apprentice in the right apprenticeship with the right employer. New training support services such as mentoring will help apprentices and employers at risk of not completing the apprenticeship arrangement to work through their issues and their difficulties.

Senator Cameron: Oh, there's a new idea!

Senator BIRMINGHAM: Indeed, Senator Cameron, it is a new idea, and we are very pleased to be delivering on it, just as we will help those who may be unsuited to an apprenticeship to have the support to be identified and directed into alternative VET pathways.

Completions of apprenticeships have hovered at around just 50 per cent for far too long. Under Labor's old model of supporting apprenticeships, only around 50 per cent of those who started an apprenticeship completed the apprenticeship. Our determination through this network is to drive an improvement in completion rates. At the heart of that are the improved services and a new, outcomes based payment structure that will ensure that those we have tendered are actually encouraged to provide the right support to both apprentices and employers. (Time expired)

Senator RUSTON (South AustraliaDeputy Government Whip in the Senate) (14:51): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Can the minister advise how this historic shift in services will benefit Australian apprentices and their employers across metropolitan and rural Australia?

Senator Cameron: Because of a 20 grand debt. That's what you're going to do—$20,000 in debt.

The PRESIDENT: Order! You were not asked the question, Senator Cameron.

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaAssistant Minister for Education and Training) (14:52): The new apprenticeship network will be used by more than 100,000 employers, three-quarters of whom are small businesses, and around 350,000 apprentices around Australia. The network will provide support services at more than 100 additional locations compared with the services that were provided under the old Australian Apprenticeship Centre model of the Labor Party. That is 100 additional locations around Australia where employers and apprentices will be able to access support: some 280 network provider sites and an additional 160 outreach servicing arrangements to provide particular coverage in rural, regional and remote Australia. Under the three years of the previous government's program, just 41,000 apprentices received mentoring. Over the next three years, under our program, 88,000 apprentices will, in targeted situations, be able to receive mentoring or other assistance to help them through their apprenticeship.

Senator RUSTON (South AustraliaDeputy Government Whip in the Senate) (14:53): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Can the minister advise the Senate how this approach to apprenticeships differs from the old schemes and incentives?

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaAssistant Minister for Education and Training) (14:53): More locations, more support services, more pre-screening, more mentoring—a lot of differences in what this government is providing to help more apprentices to the completion of their apprenticeship compared with what the previous government did. It is clear that those opposite still do not get it. They still do not get it, because the shadow minister, when I announced this tender, put out a statement that disparagingly criticised the fact that 'the new network is also expected to do additional tasks such as providing job matching, mentoring and support'. That is exactly what we want the new network to do. We want to take those tenderers away from having to do a lot of paperwork. We want to stop those employers from having to do a lot of paperwork around their apprenticeship and actually give them the time and the support to provide quality training and quality mentoring so that we get more Australians who start apprenticeships completing those apprenticeships and more qualified and skilled tradespeople available right around Australia.