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Tuesday, 15 March 2005
Page: 41

Senator CHAPMAN (3:19 PM) —In the latter part of last year, I had the privilege of opening a vocational training facility, the St Joseph the Worker training centre, at Cardijn College in the southern suburbs of Adelaide. This is a facility which is providing training opportunities leading to apprenticeships in the building industry for young people. It will be open to not only students of Cardijn College but also students from other schools in the region. This is just one example of the initiatives that the Howard government is taking—this was a centre largely funded by the Howard government—in fostering cooperative efforts to overcome the skills shortage.

That skills shortage has become evident, as Senator Tierney said a few moments ago, because of the outstanding success of the Howard government in reducing the high levels of unemployment it inherited from the Keating and Hawke Labor governments and indeed in maintaining strong levels of growth in the economy, which is demanding that jobs be filled. Senator Tierney also alluded to the fact that there was no problem with regard to a skills shortage in the period of the Labor government because of those high levels of unemployment.

Another reason that this problem of a skills shortage has emerged is that, during that era of the Labor government and particularly during the period when John Dawkins was minister for education, the view was that everyone had to obtain a university degree. Under Dawkins, all tertiary institutions—previously colleges of advanced education, teachers colleges and the like—were converted to universities. All graduates from those institutions suddenly became university graduates because of this demand that everyone must have a university degree. The consequence was that the status of other post-secondary qualifications, such as apprenticeships, was downgraded. That is another source of this particular problem that is being addressed by the Howard government—by statements from the Minister for Education, Science and Training, Brendan Nelson, and others indicating that a university degree is not an indicator of job status but indeed that trades qualifications are extremely important in the context of Australia’s development and that those with trades qualifications will make an enormous contribution towards the development of Australia.

This government is addressing quite strongly this issue of skills shortages, particularly in traditional trades. Not only are we providing those educational opportunities but we are working with industry to address identified skills shortages. Additional focus is being placed—

Senator George Campbell —How?

Senator CHAPMAN —If you listen, Senator, you will hear just exactly how we are doing it. We are placing additional focus on the traditional trades. As I said, Australia’s economic boom has been a major factor in this dramatic increase in the demand for skilled workers.

Senator George Campbell —Tell us how you are doing it. Come on, give us an example.

Senator CHAPMAN —Let me tell you, Senator. A substantial 38 per cent of new apprenticeships are in the trades and related occupations—covering trades such as carpenters, plumbers and electricians—while these occupations make up only 13 per cent of the employed work force. The percentage of new apprentices entering this field is almost three times the percentage of the work force that those trades make up. For the 12 months to 30 September last year, there were about 68,500 new apprenticeship commencements, which was a 19 per cent increase on the previous year in trades and related occupations. There has also been an increase of 18 per cent in new apprentices in trades and related occupations since September 1996—the year that the Howard government came to office. That means that there were 126,100 new apprentices in trades and related occupations in 1996, and that went up to 148,400 by September 2004. Additionally, during the last five years, employment has grown in trades and related occupations at an annual rate of 0.7 per cent, while the rate of new apprentices training in the same occupations has grown 3½ times faster, at an average rate of two per cent. Since 1996 there has been a 55 per cent increase in the number of young people commencing in trades.

All of those statistics clearly demonstrate the success of the Howard government’s initiatives with regard to addressing the skills shortages. These initiatives have not been undertaken just in the last year or so but in fact commenced to address the neglect that was a feature of the previous Labor government. We addressed that neglect as soon as we came to office in 1996. Since 1999, $12½ million has been contributed by the federal government towards investigating and addressing future skill needs. (Time expired)