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Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (10:30): I want to report to the House on a very important matter that has been raised in the media over the weekend. It is something I think is an issue that at a national level we need to engage with far more seriously. Over the weekend there have been a number of reports of comments by the New South Wales Minister for Skills, Mr John Barilaro, about the impact of decreasing numbers of apprentices. He was obviously talking about the New South Wales situation, but it is something that I am conscious of being at a national level an issue that has been raised, particularly with the most recent figures for apprenticeship numbers indicating that there has been a drop of about 20 per cent in commencement and about 20 per cent in completions.
Many of us across this House are very conscious of the impacts of high youth unemployment, and one of the most significant and effective pathways for young people into a job is through the apprenticeship system, so it is important that we sustain and indeed improve the apprenticeship system and the capacity for young people to take up an apprenticeship as a way of getting into the full-time workforce.
The Financial Review article said:
Mr Barilaro said that higher wages for apprentices and trainees, and more student support in vocational education, was necessary because the demographic profile of students had changed.
He was outlining the fact that many young people undertaking apprenticeships and traineeships now do so post secondary school, so they are quite often 18 or 19, not like the old model where they might have been 15 or 16. The impacts of wages and support have a serious effect on their capacities. He is absolutely right about that concern. Indeed, with the member for Lalor I visited some apprentices in Werribee, and only a couple of Fridays ago I attended the hairdressing national conference for RTOs, TAFE and industry about apprenticeships. Every place I go and speak to people like this, they are raising this concern.
The Abbott government's record is contributing to the problem. There was $1 billion of cuts to apprenticeships in the 2014-15 budget and, directly to the issue that Mr Barilaro raises about apprenticeship financial support, they have abandoned the tools for your trade payments, which helped them with the costs of their training, and only offered them a debt in return: the trade support loans, which the minister in detailed discussion of the budget last week confirmed that only around 24,000 apprentices had taken up out of several hundred thousand who are actually in apprenticeship training. They need to get better at supporting apprentices in this nation. (Time expired)