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Transcript of doorstop: Hunters Hill, Sydney: 24 October 2012: Housing Industry Association (HIA) apprenticeship mentoring program; increase in support for apprentices in construction trades

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SENATOR THE HON CHRIS EVANS Leader of the Government in the Senate Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research


24 October 2012


Hunters Hill, Sydney

Subjects: Housing Industry Association (HIA) apprenticeship mentoring program, increase in support for apprentices in construction trades.

CHRIS EVANS: Thanks for coming this afternoon. We are officially launching the HIA apprenticeship mentoring scheme, which the Commonwealth is supporting. It's a partnership with the Housing Industry Association to support apprentices while they're going through their trade.

What we know is that a lot of apprentices drop out of their apprenticeships. We have poor completion rates. We're investing in those young people and they're making an investment, but we're not getting as many of them to completion as we'd like. That's because there's a variety of pressures on apprentices and there's obviously pressures on employers in terms of continuity of work in the building trades.

We know we need more tradespeople, more people with skills in our economy. We know that the building industry will pick up over the next couple of years and we know that the mining sector is dragging a lot of tradespeople into that area - there's good wages to be had, and there's a need for good skilled employees, so it's really important we invest in our apprenticeship system.

This initiative is about allowing people like the Housing Industry Association to support apprentices to give them the mentoring and support they need to complete.

Often they're dealing with work-related issues, such as maybe bullying in the workplace or something like that. But often it's about outside pressures on an apprentice that might impact on their ability to stay in employment, or stay in the apprenticeship and complete.

We know the mentoring works.

It's a key recommendation out of the 21st Century apprenticeship review committee we formed that we spend more money and more effort on keeping people in the trades, so this is very much a part of that.

I appreciate HIA partnering with us. We're trying to do the same in electrical industries and other areas where we get systems in place to support apprentices and get better outcomes. Because they're making an investment, we're making an investment, we want skilled tradespeople at the end of it.

The other thing we're doing today is launching the Kickstart program which will start in a few weeks' time. It is the Government's initiative in MYEFO to support take-up of apprentices of traditional trades. We're trebling the support to employers to support them taking on new apprentices in your traditional carpentry, plumbing, electrical trades.

We know that the building industry is a bit flat at the moment but we also know the demand for tradespeople is going to grow. And we've got to make sure we are training young people to fill those jobs, but also we want to make sure we keep apprenticeship numbers high, that we allow more young people an opportunity to get a trade, and employers are supported to take apprentices on.

We ran the Kickstart program around the time of the global financial crisis. It really worked; we saw a take-up of apprentices rather than what was a projected decrease in the number of apprentices being employed.

Employers see a signal that the Government is committed, that they can work in partnership with the Government to get apprentices started.

We're trying to cover both ends; supporting employers to put on more apprentices, particularly while the industry's a bit flat, by trebling the contribution the Government makes to support them do that; and then schemes like the mentoring and advisory schemes we're running to support apprentices when they're in their trade, and when business is looking to make sure they complete.

These really important initiatives are focused on high skills and on the traditional trades - this is a real focus for the Federal Government to meet our skills needs of the future but also, quite frankly, to give young people a great chance in life to have a skill.

You can see that both in the construction industry and in the mining industry, there's demand for those skills at very good wages, and what we know is people with a skill, like a trade, earn much more over the course of their lifetime and they have better outcomes in a whole range of ways including in health.

People who have got good skilled jobs have much better futures so we're trying to make sure our young people understand that the skills are important for them but also that we support them to get those skills.

These two really important initiatives will hopefully make sure we've got the skilled tradespeople we need, and also that we're getting good results from the investment in apprenticeships, and that those young people are supported while they go through their trades.

I'll let the HIA say a few words - Brenton's going to say a few words, and then I'm happy to take any questions.

BRENTON GARDNER (Housing Industry Association): Thank you Senator. I won't talk for very long because I think the Senator has summed up the scheme rather well.

But look, HIA is really, really pleased that the Government have been supportive of the apprentice scheme and HIA's mentoring in particular.

A couple of years ago we got together with the Government and put together an innovation program which is the forerunner to this particular mentoring scheme. That was with a couple of hundred kids and that's been really successful.

It's now led on into a bigger scheme, the Australian apprenticeship mentoring scheme, which we've been inundated with requests by apprentices from across Australia. The original scheme was going to be for 600 kids but we have had about 700 requests and we've taken on all those kids. We've taken on a larger number than the original plan. And we hope that this program will develop and improve as the years go by, and we'll learn from where we are at this point in time.

Retention rates are a worry. The retention rate is around about 50 per cent in the building industry, and that's not good for the apprentices, it's not good for the industry, and not good for Government that are investing a lot of money.

So, if we can improve on that, and we believe the mentoring program will, it will be great for everyone.

The industry is flat at present, as mentioned by the Senator, but apprenticeships are all about the future, it's not about the here and now. So the adviser program; we'll be speaking to kids in schools, about 350 schools over the next year, 35 career days, and the mentoring program for the 700 kids.

We hope to show improved retention rates and we believe we will. Our own group scheme in fact operates at a far higher retention rate so we know that it does work, some things we do, matching up the right apprentices with the right employers, meeting the kids, sorting out problems.

Sometimes the problems are quite simple and little to sort out. For example, there was an Indigenous lad in South Australia just recently that when we sat down with the employer and the apprentice and worked out what needed to be resolved, this kid who was about to lose his apprenticeship all of a sudden is now working really well with his host, with his employer. We've got him a licence, a drivers licence that he didn't have previously and things are looking really, really healthy there.

These kids are our future. All the builders that we see around Australia typically came from apprenticeships. So we need to make sure that we've got the industry well looked after into the future.

REPORTER: I know the mentoring program is only just getting off the ground and that the Senator mentioned workplace bullying as an issue there. What are the oth… what are some of the other major issues that...

BRENTON GARDNER: Issues can range from very minor; they can be anything from girlfriend problems to struggling to get out of bed at six o'clock in the morning when you've never been used to that environment. They're the minor things that we need to

work through. And it can range right through to - as we all know youth suicide is a major issue.

So we're dealing with a range of problems from what you would consider minor through to quite major. But once you sit down - and they've actually got a person to talk to, it's amazing how much it can help.

CHRIS EVANS: I'll just say I think that's a really important point to make. We've seen young people lose their job because they lost their drivers licence or they got dumped by their girlfriend, and that's the sort of thing you want to address. And they can often be minor things like that but if people don't have good role models in their life, may be living away from home, those things can have a sort of tumbling effect on them. And so it's about having a mentor, someone they can turn to, to help fix those problems that keep them in work and keep them getting their skills.

REPORTER: In terms of tripling the incentive, is there any target of how many apprentices you want to see in the future?

CHRIS EVANS: Well, we're able to support 21,000 apprentices through this program. It's designed to increase the numbers who are going into a trade. Our experience in this sort of program is we think we can reach those targets. Obviously it revolves around the employer making the decision to take on an apprentice, which is a big decision for an employer, but we've got lots of young people prepared to take up the challenge.

This is about the Government getting in and saying trades are important, opportunities for our young people are important, and we're prepared to support employers who are prepared to invest in our young people.

REPORTER: And what cost is it for the Government?

CHRIS EVANS: Well, we're trebling the support we give, so it's now more than $3000. But there's a range of Government programs that support these endeavours. This Kickstart program is designed to say, if you put on an apprentice in the next few months you'll get extra support. So it's, if you like, designed to be countercyclical.

At a time when we're worried that numbers might drop, we're going to make a big effort to not only keep numbers of starts up but ensure we get extra apprentices starting because we know in three, four years' time we're going to need those tradespeople. We're going to ensure that the young people coming out of school, now in particular, get job opportunities and apprenticeship opportunities.

REPORTER: If we can move on to the Craig Thomson issue. What are your thoughts on the latest developments this morning?

CHRIS EVANS: Well, I've head the news reports and I suppose my view would be the same as it's been throughout this series of events; that Mr Thomson is entitled to the presumption of innocence like any other citizen, and the police are entitled to go about their investigative work without any interference. And I don't think politicians commenting on developments on a daily basis help.

We know that the police act independently, prosecutors act independently. There's no role for politicians in these sorts of proceedings. Justice ought to be able to be done without that sort of interference.

And so my view is politicians ought to butt out of all of this and allow the police and others to get on with their work.

REPORTER: What about the support for Mr Thomson by the Prime Minister before he moved to the cross-benches. Do you think that was wrong?

CHRIS EVANS: Well, the Prime Minister made her position clear at the time. But Mr Thomson has moved to the cross-benches. He is sitting as an Independent in Parliament and he's contesting the claims made against him. As I say, it's not for me to comment on those claims.

If the police believe there are issues that need to be addressed, they will do that. Mr Thomson says he's cooperating and obviously that's to be encouraged.

In the end, the police will make their investigations. They'll make their findings. If they think there's a case against anybody they'll refer it to the appropriate prosecutor authorities.

And, as I say, I just don't think it's helpful politicians trying to interpret these events. Neither me nor the Opposition ought to be trying to second-guess the police.

REPORTER: I just have one other question. Kelvin Thomson this morning on ABC Radio was reiterating his stance that the baby bonus policy was always a bad policy and that it should be just scrapped completely. What do you think about that?

CHRIS EVANS: Well, that's not the Government's view. The Government has made some changes to the baby bonus scheme to make it sustainable. But we actually do understand that families, on the arrival of the first child, have extra costs; buying cots, prams, all the other paraphernalia that goes with a new baby. They seem to take up much more room and facilities than a grown adult, and that puts a huge cost on families. We know for those families who are doing it tough, that's a big burden.

The baby bonus is designed to help them with that extra cost at the time of birth. We think it's got a part to play in a broad range of policy measures, and I think this Government's introduction of paid paternity leave is probably one of the greatest reforms in social policy in this country, which will allow women to be able to stay connected to the workforce and receive paid parenting leave.

The Government's view is there's a role for the baby bonus, and we've maintained that.

REPORTER: If it so critical why slash it?

CHRIS EVANS: Well, we haven't slashed it. What we've done is adjusted the policy so that for a second child the payment is not as large, recognising that some of the capital equipment, if you like, is able to be used for the second child. We used the cot and the pusher and all those sorts of pieces of equipment for both our first and second boys, and I think most families do the same.

I would note, however, that people do get extra if they have twins or triplets; I'm glad that didn't happen to us.


There are payments for those families who have to deal with a larger challenge all at once.

It's about making the scheme sustainable and also recognition that the reality is most people don't have the same costs with a second child in terms of an initial investment, although I do accept that two kids will be more expensive than one over the course of their life.

REPORTER: Tony Abbott did make the point though yesterday that for a lot of families a second chi… you know, you say that the first child you can buy the cot, you can buy the pram. But for a lot of families a second child - when they have their second child, the first child is still in that cot and still in that pram, and they still have to outlay exorbitant amounts of money on a new cot. Is it really worth slashing it for that second child just to come up with a surplus?

CHRIS EVANS: Well, as I say, it's about making choices and about making the program sustainable. There's no doubt that people have their second child very quickly after the first. They may well have some issues.

But, generally, setting up for the first child allows you to cater for subsequent children in terms of those sorts of overheads.

More importantly, I think the social policies we now have in place, including paid paternity leave and increased support for child care, help people through the various stages that they go through with their children over the sort of life cycle. And I think, more importantly, as I say, payments to support child care and paid paternity leave are really important supports.

We’ve made a decision to better balance the scheme and that involves a higher rate for the first child and a slightly lower rate for the second child, and that's what we think is sound policy.