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Thursday, 3 May 1973
Page: 1717

Mr RIORDAN (Phillip) - Australia's future economic, political and cultural development will depend very heavily on its capacity to provide adequate technical education. The capacity to produce goods and services for the benefit of the Australian people will be determined by our capacity to train workers to perform the necessary tasks involved. Economic development will not occur on its own. The provision of capital equipment, no matter how sophisticated or highly developed it may be, will not achieve production without the co-operation of skilled technicians. Oyer recent years emphasis appears to have been placed on tertiary education to the exclusion of many areas of technical training. This emphasis has been given in a situation where the total funds spent on education and training has been inadequate and inappropriate for future needs. It is not my claim that any funds spent on other spheres of education should have been diverted into the area of technical education but it is an inescapable fact that too little attention has been given to the whole question of education. Regrettably, the neglect of education during one period cannot be corrected or the results of it rectified in a later one. Opportunities for education and training which are ignored are lost and never present themselves again. A year lost in training is never regained for the individual who lost it.

Each year in Australia we have the spectacle of young men and women who leave school suffering the frustration of not being able to follow their chosen careers because of difficulties of being admitted to the system of trade training. The system of trade apprenticeship places very heavy responsibilities on employers and the relevant trade unions. It is most unfortunate that there is not more consultation and co-operation between a wider number of companies and trade unions on the subject of technical training. In some industries the present level of co-operation is excellent and leaves very little to be desired. In other industries there is an apparent reluctance by many employers to accept their share of the responsibility to assist in training skilled workers for their own future needs. Some companies are adopting a quite irresponsible attitude to this subject. Such organisations appear to have the view that the community has a responsibility to bear the cost of training workers in the skills required in thenown industries. The same companies, of course, strongly assert their right to act without regard to community interests in respect of the prices charged for goods and services produced by them. Companies which refuse to train apprentices in trades or refuse to have on the job training schemes in various occupational groupings are acting contrary to the national interest.

The demand for technical education has been increasing at a rapid rate over a number of years. The report of the survey of needs for technical education in New South Wales between the years 1971 and 1975 which was published in August 1971 showed the growth in demand of technical education in that State. For example, in 1920 one person in every 200 was enrolled in a New South Wales technical college. By 1963 the rate was one person in every 53 and by 1970 it was one in every 30 who was enrolled in a technical college in that State. This rapid growth in demand has placed a strain upon the resources and available facilities of technical colleges. There is no reason to suggest that there will be any reduction in the demand for courses of technical training. Indeed, I believe the opposite will be the case. As technological development continues at a rapid rate the demands of industry for skilled technicians is certain to be maintained.

The real difficulty in our modern industrial society is directly related to ethical values. As technology is developed to replace existing methods of performing work we find the displacement of the needs for old skills and the growth of demand for new and different skills or skills of a higher level. Different considerations are involved in the needs of training school leavers as compared to the training of adults whose skills have been displaced. The common mistake made over a number of years has been to expect a man in his middle age to respond to the same training methods as those used in the schemes for training school leavers. The attitude of older workers is quite different and they need special consideration.

The training of the Australian work force is a most important consideration. The rate of technological development is governed by the supply of skilled technicians available to utilise the new technology. Neglect and indifference to future needs have been regrettable features of the attitude of previous governments. True, the previous Government established a committee following a national seminar on the subject in May 1971 and I sincerely hope that this committee will continue its worthwhile work. But technical training has been traditionally a function undertaken by the States. It would be quite impractical to alter that responsibility. At the same time, it must be remembered that economic planning is a matter for this Parliament. It therefore is a Federal responsibility to ensure that the technical training facilities provided by each of the States are adequate for the present and future national needs. I emphasise particularly 'the future national needs'.

The time has passed forever when Australia could afford the wasteful practice of having each State act in a disjointed way in the field of technical education. There is now an urgent need for co-ordinated planning of technical education facilities on a nationwide basis. We need to be able to forecast with accuracy the projected needs for particular skills in the future. It is fundamentally wrong in principle to spend public funds in training young men and women for jobs which will not be required in the foreseeable future. It is quite unethical to encourage young people to sacrifice their time, to undertake expense and to subject themselves to the rigours of disciplined study to acquire skills for which there will be no need in the foreseeable future. It is bordering on immorality to encourage people to spend their funds and energy in useless pursuits. The disappointment and frustration of those who have been adversely affected in this way is very considerable. It also means that persons who have spent time on study find that the economic rewards promised do not materialise. Such experiences can and should be avoided. We should not encourage people to train for jobs which will be redundant. We should avoid predictable redundancy.

Another consideration for this Parliament is to ensure that technical training is available in those areas where it is hoped to achieve decentralised development. For example, there are many rural towns in Australia where there is no public institution where the skills of typing, shorthand and other administrative tasks and procedures are taught. The sole opportunity to learn these skills rests in the schools. But not all schools teach these skills. In my view, this represents a denial of rights to certain young Australians and it is these rights which have been ignored by previous governments which have had a preponderance of people who professed to represent the needs of persons from rural electorates. Decentralisation of industry on an effective basis is partly dependent of the availability of skilled labour in the areas concerned. Frequently, technical training is seen to be solely concerned with trades, apprenticeships and craft skills. We need to be concerned with training for all levels of skills. They are all important to the development of the economy. They are vitally important to the development of our citizens.

The skills required in our community are many and varied. The levels of different skills also vary quite considerably. The number of unskilled jobs in our community is rapidly declining and such jobs will be non-existent for all practical purposes within the foreseeable future. If we seek to achieve increased national productivity we must be prepared to invest most funds in training the work force to higher levels of skill, as well as investing more funds in advanced technology. We must keep in mind that there are at least 4 times as many persons attending technical colleges as there are attending universities. Both are important and should be given due recognition. We should also encourage the community to recognise the status of technical skills. It should be recognised that the skills involved in modern technology are very great. This fact should also be recognised by the wage and salary fixing authorities.

The time has arrived when our community must recognise that those who produce the goods and services are no less important than are the consumers. It may be necessary for the Government to consider more active encouragement to the secondary schools, both government and independent, to prepare children for technical careers as well as for tertiary studies. Not every child wishes to attend university or a college of advanced education. It is a significant gap in our present system of secondary schooling that thousands of children who wish to follow technical careers receive no preparation for those careers during their school years. They suffer a serious disadvantage.

Previous Liberal-Country Party governments have been either indifferent to, or ignorant of, this rapidly growing need of our future citizens. In some schools technical subjects are not taught at all. In others the facilities for teaching technical subjects are so inadequate as to make the teaching of them extremely limited. This is but one example of the inequality of educational opportunity. In some industries the training of the work force is being positively neglected. The construction and building industry is an outstanding example. The growth of the practice of subcontracting, which is an unethical device to avoid legal obligations under industrial laws, is already having a disastrous effect on training. Sub-contracting to a level where, as a matter of law, workers become agents of principals rather than employees means that young men are not apprenticed to learn the various trades and therefore have no opportunity to acquire the skills involved. This allows large development companies, with near-sighted policies, to maximise their profits by reducing overhead costs in respect of such things as provision for sick leave, annual leave, long service leave, workers compensation, payroll tax and so on. But the community suffers because of the absence of training. Already many skills are in short supply as a direct result of this avaricious policy.

This Government may have to examine alternative means of achieving sufficient skilled labour in this industry. When the Minister for Works (Senator Cavanagh) recently introduced measures to overcome part of this problem by imposing conditions on government construction contracts, he was attacked viciously and quite unfairly by the Opposition. This attack was led in this House by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Lynch) who should have known better, because he was the Minister for Labour and National Service in the preceding Federal Government. His action illustrated the previous Government's indifference and lack of concern for this problem. The building industry may well become incapable of carrying out its functions in our economy if this lack of training is not corrected.

The Minister for Education (Mr Beazley) is to be congratulated upon his efforts and concern for technical training. He needs, and is entitled to receive, the full support of the employers and trade unions in this country in respect of all his efforts. He is entitled to receive the co-operation of State governments in his endeavours to ensure that adequate training facilities are available to all citizens of whatever age or sex. In these efforts he will undoubtedly have the full support of the Parliament. Australia's future rate of economic development will be determined by the ability to develop properly planned training programs so that we, as a community, will have the collective technical skills to do those things which are necessary and desirable for the common good. Technical training is a matter of the greatest importance. It deserves to be given a high priority in terms of our national planning and development. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition, when Minister for Labour and National Service, said in May 1971:

Out approach to training policy and the development of training programs do not measure up to what is being achieved in other advanced countries.

This was an admission of inadequacy.

It has been widely and freely admitted that training in some vocational areas has been very sadly neglected. Administrative, clerical and supervisory functions have been cited as prime examples of this neglect. We need far more co-operation to develop better training schemes. Australia should be moving beyond the concept of apprenticeship for the training of craftsmen. We should be providing facilities and active encouragement for craftsmen to continue training with the objective of their attaining technician, diploma or degree status. The apprenticeship system has been advantageous in many ways. It has provided the means of having an organised training schemes for the acquisition of technical skills. It also has had the advantage of providing legal obligations and responsibilities on employers as well as on employees undertaking the training. The apprenticeship system has become quite irrelevant, however, in respect of some areas of technical training and skills.

Although the apprenticeship system has been the corner-stone of technical training in Australia so far as craftsmen are concerned, and it still is, it is by no means the sole method used for training employees in the use of technical skills. Technical training needs to be expanded and to be made more readily available to a greater number of people in Australia. Access to knowledge and the acquisition of higher skills are fundamental to a healthy, progressive and developing society. I congratulate the Minister for Education on taking this step. I remind honourable members of the words of Professor J. K. Galbraith who said:

.   . the industrial system makes trained and educated manpower the decisive factor of production.

In Australia we need to determine the skills that will be required during and beyond the next 10 years. Training to equip our work force with those skills should receive a very high priority in national planning. I am very pleased indeed to add my support to the recommendations made by the Minister.

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