APPRENTICESHIPS AND CADETSHIPS
Mr ALAN ASHTON
(East Hills) [12.08 p.m.]: I move:
(1) congratulates the Government on announcing 6,000 new government apprenticeships and cadetships over four years in a $370 million boost to jobs for young people; and
(2) notes that the Opposition does not have a policy to promote apprenticeships and cadetships in New South Wales.
Last year the Government announced 6,000 new apprenticeships and cadetships over a four-year period with funding of $370 million, which is a lot of money in anyone's language. I will give an update on how that program is going now that a year has passed. However, as is not uncommon in this place, we are still waiting 12 months later for the Opposition to outline its policy on promoting apprenticeships and cadetships in New South Wales. I hope that whoever responds to this motion from the Opposition—it may well be the member for Murrumbidgee—will indicate what policy on apprenticeships the Opposition will take to the next election. The Opposition did not have a policy previously.
New South Wales is leading the nation in the number of people taking up apprenticeships and traineeships. As we know, when the New South Wales economy is growing strongly the Australian economy is also growing strongly. Over the past five years apprenticeship approvals and completions in New South Wales have been increasing. In particular, early completion of apprenticeships has more than doubled over the past three years, rising from 12 per cent at the end of 2005 to almost 30 per cent at the beginning of 2009. In 2009, 4,200 more apprentices and trainees completed training in New South Wales. New South Wales contributed 48 per cent of the growth in completions across all States and Territories. That is almost half the growth in apprenticeships and traineeships in Australia. Because apprenticeships now offer students greater flexibility we are seeing a substantial increase in the number of students completing the competency aspect of their apprenticeships.
Despite this progress, the impact of the global economic crisis appears likely to result in some New South Wales apprentices losing their jobs. Clearly, the Rudd stimulus package has ameliorated that problem to a great degree. As I am sure they are aware, many members in this place have the advantage of a university degree as a result of Gough Whitlam being Prime Minister. But many other people chose a different path quite deliberately. It is no secret that the former Premier, the member for Toongabbie, chose not to go to university straightaway but to work in the real world, which is to his credit.
The member for Penrith is indicating that she did the same. Many students now take a gap year to find out what they want to do with their lives. It is still thought, unfairly at times I believe, that people must go to university. However, apprenticeships often give people first-hand experience, especially in some of the critical skills trades—I referred to this yesterday—whether it is in the fields of building, carpentry, information technology, bricklaying or many other areas. An apprenticeship with a good employer and working under the conditions that this Government insists on is critical to a successful career.
Last year the Government took action to protect the jobs of apprentices and to maintain the success New South Wales is experiencing with apprentices. In February last year the Government announced investment of $370 million to create 6,000 new jobs for young people by 2013. We are well on the way to doing that. This investment means that an extra 4,000 Government apprentices will be employed over four years and 500 new cadetships a year will be created over the same period. We are giving young people a chance to learn valuable skills and help our State fight its way through these tough economic times. By providing these much-needed jobs and training places the Government is offering career opportunities to many young people. These young people will be trained to help deliver critical infrastructure projects that are vital to the New South Wales economy.
Those members who have visited schools in their electorates lately—as we should have—will have seen many of the projects that have been implemented under the Building the Education Revolution program. They will also have seen how many more young people are being employed on projects to build school halls, libraries and other facilities in the schools. All the schools in my electorate except one now have fences. The fencing industry has benefited from that work. I acknowledge the presence in the advisors area of the Minister for Education and Training, and thank her for that program. It is critical that our schools have fences because it gives a great deal of security to the kids and teachers as well as to the assets and equipment that the Government has paid for.
We have also raised the school leaving age to 17 and that will give young people a better education and a better start in life. However, we also want to make sure that they can follow vocational pathways. As I have mentioned in the House before, my wife is a careers adviser. She is always on at me about the fact that not everyone has to go to university. Her job in schools is to make sure that those students who will not quite reach that bar of academic excellence or enter a course of study they might want to do can take up apprenticeships. It does not matter whether it is in hairdressing or any of the fields that I have mentioned and about which other members will speak later. Successful completion of an apprenticeship will often get someone into a trade where they will make more money in the long run than they will from a highly qualified masters degree and some other area of employment. In the long run people have to be happy doing whatever job they take on.
New South Wales has also benefited from recent Commonwealth initiatives in this area. The New South Wales Government is taking steps to support apprentices who are at risk of losing their jobs or who have already lost their jobs because of the current financial situation. In the past year the Government has been responsible for enabling employers to retain their apprentices and cadets. That is an important aspect of the Continuing Apprentices Placement Service, which helps apprentices and trainees in areas with skills shortages who have lost their jobs to find a new employer. By linking them to a new employer this vital service will ensure that apprentices and trainees can complete their trade and assist in meeting our future skills needs.
That links in with the immigration debate. Just how many skilled immigrants do we need to bring into the country? The question is whether it is better to have our own skilled employees. The answer is possibly yes, but sometimes those skilled trainees cannot be produced in the three or four years it takes to complete a course. The Government has relaxed eligibility for accommodation and travel assistance under the Vocational Training Assistance Scheme so that out-of-work apprentices can continue to get financial assistance to attend trade training. That is very important: if they lose their position with their primary employer they can still get training. There are also wage incentives as part of the Commonwealth's $146 million Securing Australian Apprenticeships program. The Commonwealth will pay employers $1,800 when they employ an eligible out-of-work apprentice or trainee. That came into effect on 1 January 2009. A further $1,000 will be paid to employers once the apprenticeship and traineeship has been completed.
I have been aware for a long time that the army needs to train people who are not necessarily going to be involved in firing weapons or taking part in combat. The army has an apprenticeship program for builders, plasterers and joiners and carpenters, which is paid for by the Commonwealth Government. That is also a good initiative. The Commonwealth Government has also committed $9.7 million to help out-of-work apprentices and trainees. When I reply to the debate I will make some further observations. Perhaps the member for Ballina will give us the Opposition's policy in this area in a few moments.
Mr DONALD PAGE
(Ballina) [12.18 p.m.]: I welcome an opportunity to say a few words on the issue of apprentices, traineeships and skills shortages in New South Wales and across Australia. At the outset I move the following amendment:
That the motion be amended by leaving out paragraph (2).
That paragraph states that the Opposition does not have a policy to promote apprenticeships and cadetships. I draw to the attention of the member for East Hills, who moved this motion, that the New South Wales Liberal-Nationals Coalition went to the last election with a specific policy on this issue, which I have with me, entitled, "Get NSW Back in Front—Hands On: A nine-point plan to address the skills shortage and build a stronger economy". The Liberal-Nationals Coalition had a policy at the last election—I know because I wrote it—that is designed to address skills shortages in this State. As I said, that policy involves a nine-point plan.
In New South Wales we have a low apprenticeship completion rate. The last time I looked we had a completion rate of around 41 per cent. In other words, only 41 per cent of those who start apprenticeships in this State finish them. The national average is around 60 per cent. We are lagging behind other States in apprenticeship completions. At the last election one of the central points of our policy was to provide some incentive for apprentices to complete their apprenticeships. Unfortunately, many apprentices commenced but did not complete their apprenticeships as they were able to earn more money somewhere else, or they had some other reason for not doing so. At that stage the national economy was reasonably buoyant and they were going off to other jobs. Our policy provided a $1,000 incentive each year for those apprentices who completed their apprenticeships.
The second point in our nine-point plan was to introduce competency-based apprenticeships. By that we mean that if apprentices have the ability to complete their apprenticeships after three years they should not be held back for the full four years—an important competency-based concept. If they do the work and acquire the skills they should be able to complete their apprenticeships in three years rather than four years. That implies that more apprentices would be going into the marketplace after their third year rather than having to wait the traditional four years. The third element of our nine-point plan is to continue exempting employers from WorkCover premiums for apprentices. The Carr Government removed the exemption to pay workers compensation premiums to apprenticeships but that was reinstated, and I understand that that is still the case. I make it plain that the Coalition will continue that exemption.
The fourth element of our nine-point plan was to provide the permanent extension of vocational education and training opportunities to high school students in years 9 and 10. If students in years 9 and 10 do not have a particularly strong academic bent and do not want to go to university, they should be given an opportunity to pursue a vocational pathway and to obtain a high school certificate qualification in their chosen area. One of the problems in Australia and in New South Wales is that too many parents believe their children will be successful only if they go to university and obtain a degree rather than obtain trade skills and qualifications and become useful members of our community—the skilled workers that we desperately need. We must educate parents and explain to them that we do not measure the value of a child's education by whether he or she matriculates at university; we measure it by establishing whether he or she has attained the skills that will be useful to him or her, that generate income for that person, the State and the economy, and that address our serious skills shortage.
The sixth point in our nine-point plan was a $2 million package of measures to promote mathematics, science and engineering studies and ongoing employment in the New South Wales defence industry. We want to ensure that that happens. Our seventh point in the nine-point plan is a formal bid to host the 2013 WorldSkills Skill Olympics in New South Wales. It will be interesting to hear from the member for East Hills whether the Government has put in a bid to host the 2013 WorldSkills Skill Olympics in New South Wales. I said earlier that we must do more to ensure that additional apprentices complete their apprenticeships. The problem we are experiencing with apprenticeships is also being experienced in the TAFE system.
It gives me no pleasure to inform members that, typically, about 500,000 people go through our TAFE system each year but fewer than half those students complete their courses—a major waste of time and energy for those who do not complete their courses, and a major waste of the resources of taxpayers in this State. It is incumbent on the New South Wales Government to introduce policies that encourage apprentices to complete their apprenticeships. As I said earlier, in New South Wales only about 40 per cent of people complete their apprenticeships compared with the national average of 60 per cent. There is some leeway to be made up in relation to apprenticeship completions and in relation to the less than 50 per cent completion rate of TAFE students in New South Wales.
Half a million students are in the TAFE system at any one time, and 250,000 students across the State do not complete their courses. The Government must focus its attention on those issues rather than attempt to score political points by saying that the Opposition does not have a policy when clearly it does. We went to the last election with this policy and, no doubt, closer to the 2011 election the shadow Minister responsible for this area will announce another policy. Skills shortages are a real problem in this State. This Government has its own challenges to ensure that the apprenticeship completion level is higher than it is at the moment.
The Government must also ensure that there is an increase in the number of students completing TAFE courses. It must provide financial incentives for apprentices to complete their apprenticeships—policies such as the one we have of providing apprentices with $1,000 every year they complete their courses. That would encourage them to continue their apprenticeships rather than accepting other alternatives. As I said earlier, I welcome the opportunity to speak in debate on this motion. I moved an amendment to remove paragraph (2) that states the Opposition does not have a policy when quite clearly it does. I reinforce my earlier message about moving towards competency-based apprenticeships. If apprentices are smart enough, good enough and capable of achieving the required skills in three years they should receive their apprenticeships. They will then be out in the marketplace earlier.
Mr NATHAN REES
(Toongabbie) [12.28 p.m.]: This talk about apprenticeships takes me back to early 1986 when I was sitting around the house after achieving my Higher School Certificate and dad threw a newspaper at me and told me to get an apprenticeship.
Mr Anthony Roberts:
It's not that long ago.
Mr NATHAN REES:
Yes, it was; it was a while ago. I sat the examination and was told that I could have an apprenticeship as a plumber, carpenter, horticulturalist, painter or electrician. I went home and told dad and he said, "That's terrific, Nathan. Just tell me you didn't pick the gardening." I had of course, and I spent the next four years labouring mightily to narrow the awful gap between me, Peter Leroy and Les Burditt. At $4.34 an hour, we formed a lot of friendships in those days, drawn together by a mutual need to borrow at the end of each pay week.
However, on a more serious note, in a four-year apprenticeship one learnt more from people than from a book. I left school in 1985 because I had no great enthusiasm for further academic study at that time. In recent years New South Wales skilled labour has flown to the resource-rich States of Western Australia and Queensland during the resources booms. The resulting skilled labour shortages in our State placed a ceiling on economic growth and capacity in some locations. The New South Wales Government's response was precise, correct and responsible: to support further growth and encourage apprenticeships across the State. The current Government rolled out some 4,000 new apprenticeships and 2,000 cadetships across New South Wales. The first 1,000 were rolled out over a period of eight months, ahead of schedule, and included electricians, plumbers, carpenters, sheet metal workers, fitters et cetera.
The New South Wales economy will now have a greater pool of skilled labour. In our $60 billion plus capital works program we have supported apprenticeships by including requirements in contracts for apprentices to be employed. We have also required that our State-owned corporations deliver a number of those apprenticeships across the State. That process works hand in hand with the continuing apprenticeship placements scheme that I worked on as Premier with Minister Firth. The scheme, which was announced at Ultimo, means that if an apprenticeship is interrupted because an employer strikes difficult times, the apprentice goes into a pool and is then placed in another location to continue the apprenticeship. We were also able to announce scholarships worth $5,000 for apprentices who struck hardship. Not every apprentice goes straight from school at the age of 15 or 16 years into an apprenticeship.
In many cases, particularly in this modern era, apprentices are of mature age, some are paying mortgages and rent, and many are trying to raise a family. First-year, second-year and third-year apprentice wages make it difficult to meet those obligations. Scholarships were made available for those who were doing it tough financially. The member for Bathurst and I were proud to announce the $5,000 Chifley scholarships in Chifley's home in Bathurst. The State has some 25 trade schools either established or underway at which students can start their apprenticeship before they leave school and in some cases commence a trade course as part of their Higher School Certificate. The member for Penrith, the Minister for Education and Training, Verity Firth, and I opened a nursing hub at Jamison High School in Penrith to enable some students to start studying for their nursing qualifications before they left school.
These trade schools are integral to ensure that New South Wales has the full suite of skilled labour as we prepare for the future. Never again do we want to see our economic growth capacity constrained by a shortage of skilled labour. Of course, that means continuing support for apprentices in the form of travel allowances et cetera, continued support for employers who want to put on apprentices, a continued emphasis on the ability to start an apprenticeship before leaving school, and continuing to support employers who are trying to put on apprentices and keep them on in difficult times. There is no question that apprenticeships have delivered a skilled labour base to build New South Wales. The measures put in place by the Government will ensure that that skills capacity and its growth will continue into the future.
Mr NICK LALICH
(Cabramatta) [12.32 p.m.]: I support the motion moved by the member for East Hills on apprenticeships and cadetships. I became an electrical tradesperson after completing a five-year apprenticeship. The Government's new trade school initiative is designed to enable young students to undertake the first year of a trades course at the end of high school. My apprenticeship was a five-year course and my brother, who is eight years older than me, did a five-year course that involved two nights a week at Granville Technical College. It is enlightening that steps were taken to reduce the course time for some trades. Enabling apprenticeships to commence in year 12 will reduce an apprenticeship from four years to three years. I found it daunting knowing I was going to be stuck in one place for my apprenticeship for five years when other friends were travelling to different employers and places and looking for better money while I was stuck on apprenticeship money.
I congratulate the Government on its initiative for the 6,000 apprenticeships and cadetships over the next four years and the spending of some $31.2 million in capital expenditure for the 25 trade schools. Trade schools are important and the Government's initiative is designed to deliver broader opportunities and choices for young people and tackle local skills shortages. Fairfield, where I am the mayor, and my State electorate of Smithfield have one of the largest industrial estates in Australia, if not the Southern Hemisphere. Our employers are crying out for apprentices. We want jobs available for apprentices within our local area so that our young people do not have to travel. During my five-year apprenticeship I had to travel an hour and a half each morning and afternoon—Bonnyrigg to Bathurst Street in the city and return. Travelling three hours a day to get to and from my workplace tested my mettle. When I finished my apprenticeship I left my workplace, not because I did not like it but because of the time and distance I had to travel. Jamison High School in the Penrith electorate is Australia's first trade school and in 2009 commenced addressing the allied health skills shortage in the area.
Part of our commitment is to offer all young people at school a relevant and engaging education so that they want to stay at school because we know it will give them the best start in life and the best opportunity to make something of their lives. It will help them economically and it will also help the New South Wales economy. The Government will continue to establish 25 trade schools across the State over the next four years. Each trade school specialises in one or more areas of local industry demand. These specialty trades include construction, electrotechnology, metal and engineering, commercial cookery and health services. The New South Wales trade schools initiative is cost effective. It builds on existing infrastructure by locating trade schools in government high schools and TAFE colleges.
The Government is spending $3.2 million in capital expenditure on the 25 trade schools to ensure students have access to state-of-the-art facilities and equipment for their trade training. Key New South Wales employers, including Australian Business Limited, the Housing Industry Association and the NRMA, have welcomed this initiative. Students will have the option of undertaking a school-based apprenticeship, traineeship or other vocational course while completing their Higher School Certificate. Apprentices will undertake the first year of their apprenticeship while they are at school and complete their apprenticeship after finishing school. I commend the Government for this apprenticeship and cadetship initiative. Many young people now attending school will thank the State Government for what it has provided.
Mr ALAN ASHTON
(East Hills) [12.37 p.m.], in reply: I thank the member for Ballina, the member for Toongabbie and the member for Cabramatta for their contributions to the debate. I shall address one point made by the member for Ballina, who is the shadow spokesperson on this issue. I appreciate that he wrote the Opposition's policy, but that policy was announced for the 2007 election. I politely put to the member for Ballina—I call him Don, but we are not allowed to do that—that I am sure he will take a policy to his shadow Cabinet for re-endorsement. They will probably tinker with it around the edges and change a few things. When the policy is endorsed and announced, the member for Ballina will try to sell that policy, whatever it is. However, the point is that the policy was set in 2007. We have moved three years beyond that, and we are a year away from an election, as we are continually reminded.
The member for Ballina criticised the Government for not using competency-based completion of trade apprenticeships in New South Wales to give students a chance to complete their course over a period of three years instead of four years. The reality is that the Government is doing that, and that 30 per cent of apprentices are concluding their traineeships and cadetships early. In that regard, the Government is doing a very good job. The member for Ballina also said that what the Carr Government had introduced subsequently had been reintroduced, or at least he had that impression. That is not the case. We are still moving well ahead with the Carr Government's original proposals relating to apprenticeships and cadetships.
The Government will not accept the Opposition's amendment. Without canvassing all the issues raised during the debate, I simply make the point that New South Wales is creating approximately 50 per cent of apprenticeships in Australia. Members will not find that information on the front page of our newspapers and we will not see the Sydney Morning Herald
trumpeting that as it undertakes its witch-hunt of computers for information it is not supposed to have access to.
Mr Donald Page:
You are still thinking about that one.
Mr ALAN ASHTON:
We are not going to leave that one alone. A police inquiry is being undertaken, and we will see what happens. I merely make the point that the Government is doing a good job in the area of apprenticeships and cadetships. The Government is insisting that students remain at high school for longer. It is important to keep in mind that in the past Australia has been able to get by with digging up minerals and exporting coal and wool. Largely Australia's economy was based on natural resources and export markets that would buy those products. We exported meat, fruit and vegetables and it is true to say that we were an export-oriented economy. One of the problems was that the labour force was not required to perform highly skilled tasks.
Two years ago a young fellow I know was asked to go to Western Australia to work at a mine for a horrendously great salary. He was driving a truck that is approximately half the size of this Chamber and the truck was being filled with coal, bauxite and all sorts of minerals. There was a great shortage of skilled labour, and people migrated to the area to obtain employment. That is all well and good, but a country can only dig up so many minerals at one time. When the world economic crisis hit last year, suddenly all that type of activity had to cease because companies could not afford to continue making steel that no-one could afford to buy, and we could not continue to export raw materials to countries that no longer wished to buy them.
Fortunately the world economy is beginning to recover. As everybody knows, China and India need Australia's resources. That will not be much good to us if we do not have a secondary tier of trained and skilled employees who can work in export industries and can do more than drive a truck from one desert part of Australia to another to offload onto a coal loader or a bauxite loader and send natural resources overseas. We need young people who can be fast-tracked with on-the-job training through the school system and then into the TAFE system to contribute to our wider economy.
They will be better educated and they will get a better job than otherwise would be the case, or they may become self-employed tradesmen. They will make products that the New South Wales economy needs. As everybody knows, if the New South Wales economy is going well—and it is, in comparison with other States—Australia also will be going well. The program is worth $370 million over four years and it is well underway. I congratulate the Government and the Premier on introducing it.
Question—That the words stand—put.
The House divided.
Mr J. H. Turner
Mr R. W. Turner
Mr J. D. Williams
Mr R. C. Williams
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Motion agreed to.