Transcript - ABC Illawarra - Apprentices, 15 June 2016




SUBJECT/S: Apprentices 

JOURNALIST: In a way you can do that with you new career as some apprentices, or people who would like to do an apprenticeship can get a taster of several kinds of trades and finally choose the one that suits them and commit to it. 

This is one of the ideas put forward by the Federal Labor Party and we have the Federal Member for Cunningham, who is also the Shadow Minister for Vocational Education, Sharon Bird, who joins us now here at ABC Illawarra, good morning… 

BIRD:           Good morning Nick. 

JOURNALIST: How’s this going to work? 

BIRD:           This is a really important initiative I announced with Bill Shorten yesterday. What we have seen in the last, a bit over two years, under this government is the loss of about 120,000 apprentices across Australia. It is over a quarter of all apprentices and this is, we think, a really devastating outcome, we need apprenticeships. Firstly we know it’s a really good pathway to good jobs and good careers and secondly we need skilled workers. We need to make sure that we have those people in places that the economy and different sectors that have a demand for skilled workers. 

What we announced was that, a lot of employers have said they would take on an apprentice but they have this problem they put them on, the apprentice is there for a couple of months, they discover it is not really what they wanted to do, it wasn’t what they thought it would be and they leave. Employers say this is very disruptive and they have been put off putting on apprentices. So the idea of this program is that young, unemployed people could go to TAFE for about 20 weeks and they would get some work ready skills and have some skills of being in the workplace but just as importantly they get a taste of a number of trades so they can work out which one they have a real talent for and a real interest in. At the end of the course when an employer puts them on they know that that apprentice already understands the basics of that sector and what will be required of them and we think that is a good way to provide, particularly in areas like ours with high youth unemployment, a good pathway for that young person and a good outcome for that employer who knows that they are getting somebody ready to go and commit to the apprenticeship. 

JOURNALIST: So how does it work from the student’s point of view? What will the experience be like? 

BIRD:           Its targeted at anybody who has been unemployed for more than six months, so probably already been out there trying to get a start, trying to get themselves an apprenticeship and haven’t been having any success. That may be because maybe their skill level is not quite ready or they haven’t indicated an understanding of the sector but they can apply to the local TAFE who can run the course. 

They go along to TAFE for 20 weeks, they do a number of industry approved courses, things about being in the workplace, workplace health and safety and things like that and then they will do three or four different trades. Now we saw this, Bill and I were in Queensland last week and there was a school group doing this, a group of young women, because the TAFE up there was trying to get more women into trades. They did painting, tiling and they did plastering. They did those three trades and we met a couple of apprentices who had done that at school and were now in their second year of their apprenticeship. 

That is how it would operate. Our idea is that it’s for people obviously who are unemployed, post school, and at the end of the course we fund a TAFE person to work with them and to then work with employers to get them placed into a full-time apprenticeship. So the employers will get an additional $1,000 incentive to take those young people on into the apprenticeship. 

JOURNALIST: How can this work? Is this only going to work through TAFE or would private providers be able to do this kind of taster technique? 

BIRD:           We’ve decided with this program only to run it through TAFE. The importance here is that you have to have the capacity to give access to a range of trades and so our TAFE’s are well set up with all their workshops, their different sections like hospitality, engineering and all the different sections in one place so that they can get that real range of experiences that they might be looking for. 

JOURNALIST: I know as part of your announcements on TAFE you were saying you were going to rid the VET sector of dodgy operators and deliver a funding guarantee to ensure TAFE remains strong. How are you going to do that? Or at least any better than the Liberal party are doing?  

BIRD:           We’ve made it very clear, in fact Bill announced on National TAFE Day last year and we are about to have National TAFE Day this year, so nearly a year ago that we feel the pendulum has swung much too far towards the private sector and it is impacting on our TAFE system. We think TAFE should be strong and a dominant provider in the sector because firstly it is a public provider, so it has additional responsibilities and communities need that and secondly it is a good standard setter because it’s a pubic provider, it’s not there to make a profit, it tells us a good idea of what quality looked like what a reasonable price looks like and so forth. 

Our TAFE funding guarantee is based around the fact that the federal government’s and state government’s fund the sector. The federal government puts in about $3 billion a year in and the states combined about $4 billion and so we are going to use the COAG process to get a definition of what the role of TAFE is describe exactly what we expect it to do and then direct guaranteed funding to enable it to do that job and that is to make sure that we continue to see TAFE strong into the future. 

In terms of the private sector there are some great private providers out there, there always has been, and they have our support but we do know that there has been some really shonky, unethical, rip offs going on and we are not willing to tolerate that continuing.

JOURNALIST: OK but on the other hand have some reasonably reputable providers of education being punished by getting their funding taken away? Has the brush been too broad? 

BIRD:           What we have announced is that we will have a cap on the amount of the loan that students can access so, at the moment there is no cap, other than a lifetime one of about $97,000. What you have seen is some course priced simply because that cap is not there so, for example to do a Diploma in Hairdressing at a TAFE under $7,000 it was being provided by some private providers at over $25,000. We just think that is price gouging and that is not fair and reasonable so we have put a cap of $8,000 per student, per year on the loan and if there is a course that is genuinely very expensive to run the providers can put a case and can get an exemption. 

We think that is really important because people, quite honestly, sometimes these organisations, their completion rate is less than five percent but the vast majority of those 95 per cent of those that didn’t complete still had a big debt but that is not a good system and we can’t continue to allow that to happen. 

JOURNALIST: Alright. Sharon Bird thanks for talking to us this morning. 

BIRD:           Thanks Nick.