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It’s a pleasure to be here with you for the launch of National Skills Week.
This week is a great opportunity to raise the status of practical and vocational learning. After all, we can all agree in the mission, that ‘learning by doing is as important as academic learning’.
I’m a mechanical engineer. And as a matter of fact, in 1983, I was one of the first two women – ever – to graduate in mechanical engineering from the Queensland University of Technology. In my 30 years working in industry and industrial relations, I have developed a deep understanding of the importance of trade skills. You don’t work at power stations and chemical sites without understanding that degree qualifications and vocational qualifications are complementary. One doesn’t work without the other.
As the Assistant Minister for Vocational Education and Skills, I look forward to working with people like you to create positive outcomes for Australians undertaking vocational education and their employers.
National Skills Week showcases the vital contribution that VET makes to our daily lives. The week brings together events and activities from around Australia to celebrate the significance of our VET system. The idea is to inform students, parents, career advisors, employers and the public about the diversity, talent and strength of our vocational education and training sector. It’s a big and invaluable sector.
The food and drinks you’re enjoying tonight, the markets, the lighting and audio-visual displays all rely on people trained in the VET sector. The VET market has more than 4,600 registered training organisations delivering training to around 4.5 million students.
We need to focus on continuing to build strong and diverse VET system for a prosperous future. Through training that will equip students with the skills they need to get a job. This is essential in a competitive global economy. It’s also essential here at home. VET adds value to our local economy, builds stronger regional communities, and helps develop our national economy.
Tonight, we’re fortunate to have some proud training graduates with us, including: Melinda Lethbridge, 2014 Australian Apprentice of the Year; Samantha Galea, 2015 Australian Apprentice (Trainee) of the Year Runner Up; Elliot Grayling, a finalist 2016 Victorian Apprentice of the Year. Best of luck at the awards Elliot; Rebekah Drake; and Heikma Siraj.
All five of these graduates are Australian Apprenticeships Ambassadors for the Australian Government. The training these five young people have undertaken showcase the potential of our VET sector. I’m certainly looking forward to hearing from Melinda, Samantha and Elliot as they share their stories and experiences. I encourage you to engage these wonderful ambassadors to spread the word in your own organisations.
In 2016, we all understand the need for innovation and flexibility in our workforce. We need to build science, technology, engineering and mathematics capabilities: they underpin many current qualifications - as Elliot can tell you for example, in electrotechnology - and ensure we can take advantage of technological advances in all industries, businesses and in infrastructure.
On-the-job learning coupled with quality education is vital for the workforce of tomorrow. At the centre of this must be a well-functioning and high-quality VET system. This is why the Government is redesigning VET FEE-HELP, the loans system that facilitates individuals to study.
We are also committed to the Australian Industry and Skills Committee and the Industry Reference Committees, made up of people who understand what it’s like to run a company and what skills are needed. These committees will inform us now and into the future.
Australian Apprenticeships are also high on the Government’s agenda. We must raise the status of apprenticeships. I’m on a mission there.
We’ve already introduced significant reforms, support services and new pilots. This year, for example, the Government is providing up to $189.1 million for the Australian Apprenticeship Support Network. This will help ensure the right people are matched with the right employers. Because this is not only about people starting apprenticeships, it’s about completing them.
I look forward to celebrating, promoting and discovering more about our VET sector and the people in it during National Skills Week.