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Transcript of Interview with Celine Foenander: ABC Gippsland: Apprenticeships reforms

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Ministers' Media Centre Education, Employment and Workplace Relations portfolio

Interview with Celine Foenander, ABC Gippsland - apprenticeships reforms.

Wednesday 7 December 2011 Transcript

Senator the Hon Chris Evans [link:]

Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Jobs and Workplace Relations • Leader of the Government in the Senate •

CELINE FOENANDER: The Federal Government is looking at some reforms to the system and I’m joined this morning by Senator Chris Evans who’s the Federal Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Jobs and Workplace Relations. A very good morning to you Chris Evans.

CHRIS EVANS: Good morning.

CELINE FOENANDER: Tell me about the reforms that you have listed to tackle.FOENANDER: The figures I think at the moment in the take-up, is it somewhere around 400,000?

CHRIS EVANS: We’re close to 500,000 apprenticeships and traineeships now, we’re at record levels.

CELINE FOENANDER: So realistically only about 250,000 might finish?

CHRIS EVANS: Well, at any one time. To be fair, the figures can be a little misleading in the sense that people then might take it up again a couple of years later, we have people renewing.

But there is a real difficulty. I mean, there are issues like wages, like the length of the contract. If you think about it, an apprenticeship used to be a 15-year-old leaving school, doing four or five years in a trade where the first couple of years they didn’t do much other than sort of do the sandwich run and clean up and watch.

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But the world’s changed. Forty per cent or so of apprentices now are over 25 years of age. So you don’t leave school at 15, most kids don’t leave school until 17. The nature of an apprenticeship is changing, the technology is changing, online learning, so we have just got to make sure the system keeps up with those changes but maintains its strengths, which is the on-the-job learning.

CELINE FOENANDER: It’s almost as if you have to pull this whole system apart to make it relevant to a new generation which is very different from, say, the baby boomers or Gen X in the past who were the school leavers, who wanted the blue collar jobs, whereas these days there’s probably more youngsters looking for the white collar jobs.

CHRIS EVANS: That is true, and I think there’s a perception issue about trade training which we’ve got to address, which is one of the reasons yesterday I launched an ambassador program with Kevin Sheedy who is a good person to do it with in Victoria with the focus on his footy success.

Kevin started out work as a plumber and he speaks very passionately about the value of the apprenticeship to him and setting him up for life.

And it’s about trying to communicate, I think, to young people that there’s good careers that arise from apprenticeships, that there’s good money to be earned and security, and that that skill stays with you throughout life and it’s a huge basis for a successful working life.

CELINE FOENANDER: Senator Evans you mentioned the dollars there and while there might be money to earn down the track as a fully qualified tradesman or tradeswoman, no so during your apprenticeship. So how might pay rates be improved?

CHRIS EVANS: We’ve organised for Fair Work Australia to do a review of apprenticeship wages next year, and I think this is one of the key issues.

Employers will obviously be concerned about any increasing costs, we don’t want to reduce the numbers of apprentices employed.

One of the reasons young people leave is that if you’re getting $12, $13 an hour working as an apprentice and you can get $20, $22, $24 working casually in unskilled work which many can - my own state of Western Australia, you know, young guys leave their trade apprenticeship and go and get $1,000 a week helping lay bricks - you’ve got to actually say wages is an issue, and we’ve got to make sure they’re competitive enough to keep people to finish their apprenticeships.

CELINE FOENANDER: Okay. How is this impacting on Australia’s skills shortage?

CHRIS EVANS: Well it’s directly impacting. If we had higher completion rates we’d be providing more of our own tradespeople and there’d be less demand to bring people from overseas.

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The demand for trades is going to grow substantially in the next three to five years as the mining boom feeds through the economy, we are going to need more young people with trade skills.

There will be good, high skilled, high paid jobs available. We want to give young people in Australia the chance to take those jobs, and that means we need to get people into apprenticeships now.

CELINE FOENANDER: Senator Chris Evans is with me, Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Jobs and Workplace Relations, and we’re talking about an overhaul of the apprenticeships system in Australia.

Senator, what’s the timeframe for this?

CHRIS EVANS: We’ve started a number of the measures and we’ll be doing more this year. I’ve got agreement from the state ministers under a national agreement we’ll conclude in the middle of next year to try and do the harmonisation work that’s necessary.

Because in some states a course takes 24 months and 48 months in another for the same qualification, some states don’t recognise other qualifications, and if you think now with the mining boom, a lot more people moving state and doing fly-in-fly-out work, that sort of problem really has to be addressed.

But we’ve already invested heavily in mentoring, we’re doing a lot in the adult apprenticeships space. It’s one of the answers to the skills shortage to give adults the chance to go back and do an apprenticeship and we’ve got some interesting stuff going on there. The wages review.

So there’s a whole range of things going on. Obviously they won’t all be completed in the next little while, but over the next couple of years. But we’re really making a huge effort to try and revitalise the apprenticeships system but also make sure it’s attractive and that young people know there are great opportunities there for them.

CELINE FOENANDER: Senator, thank you for joining me.

CHRIS EVANS: My pleasure.

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