SIMON BIRMINGHAM: It’s wonderful to be here and I acknowledge Vincent and the other board members of Business SA and those interstate visitors who helped form the Australian Apprenticeship Support Network that the chambers have put together.
When I was appointed as the Assistant Minister for Education and Training in December last year it was the first time since the Howard government that Australia had a Minister appointed with dedicated responsibilities for vocational education and training. With that appointment, as a government we were signalling a real focus on how we can improve and enhance and increase our focus in vocational skills, in apprenticeships and make sure that the policies that we already had underway, had the ministerial level of attention to ensure that they are successful. As Minister I’ve sought to make sure that I really focus on how we lift and raise the status of vocational education and the career pathways that exist, how we ensure that training providers and the delivery of training are all of the highest quality possible. Perhaps most importantly in terms of some of the structural reforms we’re pursuing, it’s also about ensuring that training is as relevant to jobs and real jobs as possible. That we don’t want to see training for training’s sake, where we are investing taxpayer’s money in support in having training delivered, we want to see it occurring because it is relevant to the employment market; it is actually equipping young people to mature aged people reskilling during their lives, equipping them with the skills that they need to be able to secure meaningful employment and advance their career paths.
Apprenticeships are, of course, a fundamentally important part of any strategy that goes to the heart of trying to make training more job relevant because the wonderful thing about apprenticeships and the reason why they are such an iconic part of education and training is because of that direct link between off the job training and on the job training and a real employment link, an earn while you learn structure that actually integrates people in to a workplace setting. It gives people, especially younger people undertaking an apprenticeship, not just the relevant skills to do a job, but the cultural experience of going to work, the cultural values of going to work and the attitudes that can ensure that those people are well equipped to be good employees wherever they go throughout their lives.
So we are very committed amongst our various reforms that are trying to make the training market a market that operates very much on the basis of skilling people for real jobs and that what people are taught is relevant to job outcomes. We are particularly focussed on trying to make sure that the apprenticeship system and apprenticeships and traineeships are exceptionally well supported. Which is why, as a government, we’ve launched this new Apprenticeship Support Network. It replaces some old structures and by some targeted investment we’re able to get much better outcomes out of this new network, we’re confident, than those old structures necessarily enabled.
Firstly, we’ve invested in significant reforms to the IT infrastructure that underpin the Apprenticeships Network. It astounded me to learn in this role that we had those who managed apprenticeships around the country, filling rooms that were about this size that we’re all standing in, with boxes and boxes of paper that were all files to individually tick off the individual competencies of individual apprentices and that it was a paper-shuffling, bureaucratic nightmare in many ways. The new IT platform should allow us to simplify and streamline that and by doing so we’re able to step away from that old model of the Australian Apprenticeship Centres that was quite administratively focussed and come to a new model of the support network where I put the emphasis on the ‘support’ and the ‘network’.
I have likened the new Apprenticeship Support Network in other speeches to, in some ways, being a kin to a marriage service. That it is about, at the outset, making sure that the apprentice is married up with the right employer and in the right trade; that it’s a good fit to start with. A key part of the network is that we’re funding new gateway services that ensure that providers, like Apprenticeship Support Australia, are able to actually make sure that that marriage at the outset is a harmonious one; that it’s a good fit of apprentice with trade, with employer. We want to see out of this, a real lift in completion rates. One of the failings of the apprenticeship system over the years is that completion rates tend to stick around 50%. So there is a lot of time and effort invested in getting people in to an apprenticeship who ultimately don’t complete it. So if we can boost those completion rates by making sure that it’s a better fit to start with through these gateway services, we’ll be much better placed. Similarly, the network provides now for additional mentoring support through the life of the apprenticeship. More than 80,000 mentoring places will occur, meaning that when the marriage gets a little bit rocky along the way between the apprentice and their employer, the Apprenticeship Support Network provider will be expected to step in and help make sure that the issues that are causing that rockiness in the marriage, to be rectified and hopefully again ensure that the apprentice sticks at it, that the employer sticks at it and that we get a lift in the completion rates at the end. So, all of this is about ensuring that the funds we’re investing in our apprenticeship system are funds well invested to get more skilled people in our economy because by having more skilled people in our economy, we know that we’ll see lifts in productivity, we’ll see lifts in entrepreneurship because there are more business owners around Australia with some form of vocational skills than there are with university skills. So by getting more people in place who have those vocational skills and qualifications, we know that they will in many ways be the small business entrepreneurs who actually lift and drive innovation across our economy.
So I can come full circle as I close, as to acknowledge that Business SA, the other employer chambers from around Australia partnered together to form Chambers Australia which won the bid to deliver Apprenticeship Support Network services and are delivering them under the banner of Apprenticeship Support Australia are, of course, a wonderful embodiment of our desire to see training delivered and supported by employers. Organisations like Business SA, whose membership are employers, whose board are employers, who understand what employers want are, of course, incredibly well placed to make sure that our aspirations to see the Australian Apprenticeship Support Network actually deliver for businesses on the ground in making their lives easier to higher apprentices and take on apprentices, we know that we can have confidence that Business SA will do that well, that Apprenticeship Support Australia will do that well and that’s why I’m very pleased that the chambers came together, made this bid and were successful and that they’ve invested in creating this national network of Apprenticeship Support Australia to help thousands of apprentices around Australia and particularly here in South Australia through their many different sites. So, Nigel, to you and your counterparts around the country, Vincent to you and your counterparts around the country, thank you for what you have done in establishing this, congratulations on winning the bid and every success to Apprenticeship Support Australia for the incredibly valuable work I know you will do in the future to help apprentices, employers and ultimately, our entire economy. Thanks very much.