The Hon. HENRY TSANG: My question without notice is addressed to the Minister for Energy. Can the Minister update the House on the efforts by the New South Wales Government to boost government apprenticeships?
The Hon. IAN MACDONALD: I thank the member for his question, and commend him for his knowledge and interest in this matter. As we have said on many occasions, we are facing unparalleled times: a global financial crisis unlike anything we have seen since the Great Depression. As the Treasurer told this place earlier this month, because the bulk of the New South Wales economy is service based, we are particularly exposed to the global economic crisis. That is why the New South Wales Government is pumping much-needed investment into the economy through major infrastructure spending—some $56.9 billion over the next four years and beyond. This infrastructure spending will support 150,000 jobs.
One growing area of investment is the electricity industry. Energy businesses are investing billions of dollars to upgrade essential infrastructure to ensure families and businesses have the power to grow. In these uncertain economic times it is reassuring that there is scope for a lifelong and prosperous career in the electricity industry. Integral Energy expects to invest $4.2 billion over the next four years—its largest network investment plan ever. This is vital work not only in replacing and upgrading electricity assets, but also in meeting an expected growth in peak demand. To help deliver this massive capital works program, Integral Energy will continue to recruit people, in particular young workers, through its apprenticeship program.
This year it will welcome 59 new apprentices, taking the number of apprentices training at Integral Energy today to 239. That is a record for Integral Energy and demonstrates its commitment to training the new front line—the next generation of electricity workers. Many of these apprentices are fresh out of school. However, a number have joined the program in a bid to change their career direction and learn new skills. One member of the 2009 class is 47 years old, proving the adage that it is never too late. Integral Energy is achieving another important milestone today. As we speak, Integral Energy chairman, Mike McLeod, is formally opening the $14 million state-of-the-art Hoxton Park Technical Training Centre in Sydney's west.
The training centre will train 300 Integral Energy apprentices over the next five years, complementing their TAFE studies at nearby Miller TAFE. I am advised that the Hoxton Park facility boasts many features unavailable in other technical training centres throughout Australia, such as the all-weather pole training area. The centre boasts a simulated substation, covered electrical safety training area, seven lecture rooms and four workshops, and an outdoor power pole training area, including cables capable of being energised safely to give apprentices an understanding of working on live electrical equipment.
The centre also incorporates the latest in energy and water-efficient design, including a 180,000 litre water tank to store rainwater collected from the roof for use in bathrooms and gardens, and on sensor-controlled air conditioning and lighting. I congratulate all those involved, especially past and present trainers, who have dedicated many hours providing wise counsel to the next generation of electricity workers. The New South Wales Government supports efforts by its electricity businesses like Integral Energy to invest in young people. Young people fresh out of school are among the most vulnerable in times of rising unemployment.
Last month the Premier announced a $370 million investment in government apprenticeships, tripling the number of government apprentices by an additional 1,000 every year in the next four years. In more good news on this front, Country Energy has announced a drive to recruit 60 new electrical workers across regional and rural New South Wales. It is good to see Country Energy investing in jobs that will boost service levels in this essential industry. The new recruits will work out of 40 field service centres across the State, strengthening Country Energy's already strong field-based workforce. Close to 1,700 are currently working on government projects, including power generation and supply, water supply, transport and health. We will continue to support these efforts, and we applaud Integral Energy for doing its part in securing a future for young people.