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Ms BIRD: (Cunningham) (12:23): I move:
That this House calls on the Government to:
(1) acknowledge that:
(a) the drop in apprentices currently in training from 417,700 in September 2013 to 319,700 in March 2015 will impact on the future availability of skilled workers in Australia; and
(b) apprenticeship commencements and completions are down approximately 20 per cent for the 12 months to 31 December 2014;
(2) recognise that the $1 billion in cuts to apprenticeship support, including Tools For Your Trade payments and mentoring and access programs, have had an impact on apprentice numbers;
(3) implement strategies as a matter of urgency to encourage more apprentices into training to prevent skills shortages in the future; and
(4) invest in skills and training young Australians to ensure that Australia does not have to rely heavily on Temporary Work (Skilled) visas (subclass 457) resulting from a lack of investment in skills and training.
I have to bring to the House's attention—and this is the reason why I put this notice of motion on the Notice Paper—a fairly dramatic recent release of figures on apprentice and trainee numbers in this country. In particular, I want to outline for people how the impact on apprentice and trainee numbers has been affected by government decision making and put a very strong call out to the government to reconsider what they are doing in this space.
First of all, what is the situation we find ourselves in? The National Centre for Vocational Education Research, NCVER, which is our premier data collection and analysis body in this sector, on Friday a week ago released its report Australian vocational education and training statistics: apprentices and trainees 2015—March quarter
What this report told us was that, since the government has been elected, nearly 100,000 apprentices have been lost in that time period.
A government member interjecting—
Ms BIRD: I have to say: I would not go to what the rates of loss were previously, because this is an unprecedented decrease in the number of apprentices and trainees. In particular, I would point out that the time period that I am talking about covers from the election of the government—that is, the September 2013 numbers, which were 417,700 in training. For the March quarter of this year, that has dropped to 319,700. That is almost a quarter of the number of apprentices and trainees in training that have been lost. And the reason that this is such a significant and indeed critical issue for both our economy and our communities is that that means that we are not putting in place the next pipeline of skilled people to take on the jobs that are emerging—and I am sure people in this house would know exactly what it is like trying to get a plumber or a tiler in the current environment. They are in very short supply, and we need to be training young people in order to meet those skills shortages. I of course would point out that apprentices and trainees cover a wide range of employment areas from hairdressing, plumbing, tiling to construction but also across areas where the trainees operate, in particular, in the services sector. And so we need to be getting the balance right to get the next generation trained.
The other reason it is so important to our communities is that we have this persistent high youth unemployment and, in particular, for many of our regional and rural areas. One of the most effective and important pathways for young people to get a start in the employment market is through the apprenticeship and traineeship system. I would call on Minister Birmingham to have a very urgent look at these figures and to go into bat for some additional funding. His portfolio has suffered a billion dollar cut in programs to support apprentices. I am sure members opposite are going to talk all about their new Australian apprenticeship network system and I would point out to them: it will replace the old apprenticeship centres and it will replace them with $10 million a year less than they previously had.
The government is also asking the centres to do mentoring, to do job matching—jobs that were not done previously by the apprenticeship centres but under specific funded programs, which were cut. So not only are the networks having to do more work; they are having to do it with less money at a time when clearly there is a need to be getting behind the apprenticeship system and our young people getting that chance.
The Tools for Your Trade was cut—I hear complaints on this all over the place. There is a very low uptake of the trade support loans—only about 25,000 at last count, out of over 300,000 apprentices in training. So there is a real problem out there, and we need to take it seriously and take urgent action. The minister needs to give this his urgent attention. I have to say I have not heard him speak on apprentices and trainees at all. The government has taken its eye off the ball. If 'Sticking to Our Plan', which was the brochure that recently came out, is accurate, it is actually sticking it to apprentices. We need to do a much better job than that for our young people.