Release type: Speech


Australian Apprenticeships, NECA Skills Centre


Senator the Hon Chris Evans
Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Jobs and Workplace Relations
Leader of the Government in the Senate

NECA Skills Centre—Brunswick Campus

107 Brunswick Rd, Brunswick VIC

10.30 am Tuesday 6 December 2011

Check against delivery. 


I wish to acknowledge the traditional owners and custodians of the land on which we meet today—the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation—and pay my respects to their elders past and present.

I extend that respect to other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who are present. 


Good morning and thanks everyone for coming.

I see we have some Skillaroos here today along with a couple of winners from the recently held Australian Training Awards. It’s great to have you here—you’ve been doing some great things and I’m glad you are getting the recognition you deserve. 

Speaking of recognition, there’s a few other well known faces in the room today  and I will shortly outline why we are in such good company.

First up, I’d like to thank the National Electrical and Communications Association and ‘370 degrees’ for letting us use this fantastic building today.

What better place to talk about Australian Apprenticeships than at a state-of-the-art training facility—one of Victoria’s leading electrical training providers.

Transforming the apprenticeships landscape

This Government is working hard to modernise and simplify the apprenticeships system in this country.

We are doing that for very important reasons.

Firstly we want to be able to train people for the jobs of tomorrow and make sure we have a workforce that can meet the challenges of a modern, diverse economy.

We want Australians to have the opportunity to realise their full potential and we understand the difference having a qualification can make—not only for an individual’s life but for their families and communities.

Getting a trade qualification under your belt can be life-changing.

Learning a trade—and learning it well—can be the passport to a different future.

That’s why it is so important that we have the right system in place—a system that supports our trainees and apprentices but also our employers.

We’ve already done a lot of the groundwork but, as you know; good reform by definition doesn’t happen over night.

A one-size fits all approach does not work anymore

In 2010 we called in the experts and asked them to look long and hard at our apprenticeship system to tell us what was working and what wasn’t.

While we have record numbers of Australians now in training, the statistics tell us that completion rates remain at about 50 per cent and it is critical that we put in place reforms to improve these outcomes.

The world has changed and our system has struggled to keep pace with this change. Long gone are the days when it was normal for a 15 year a old to leave school and start an apprenticeship. 

The apprentice of today is older, may have finished Year 12 and has possibly already worked in a number of jobs.

Over the 10 years to 2010, the proportion of apprentices and trainees aged 25 and over has increased dramatically, with this age cohort now comprising more than 42 per cent of all new students.

With the changing demographics, a one size fits all approach to apprenticeships just doesn’t work anymore.

Our vision for Australian Apprenticeships

Today I am pleased to respond to the Expert Panel’s review of our apprenticeship system.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Jim McDowell and the Expert Panel for their work—it has provided the basis for our discussions and the way forward for reform.

Over the next two years we will take a series of steps that will transform how Australian Apprenticeships are delivered.

We will build a streamlined and harmonised national apprenticeship system.

A system that reduces unnecessary red tape and simplifies the apprenticeship process for apprentices and employers alike.

A system without passport controls at our state and territory borders – a system that allows an apprentice or trainee to move and take their apprenticeship with them.

That isn’t possible under the current arrangements. There are different durations for some qualifications and at times different rules apply.

For example, you can do a Certificate III in Automotive Retail Service and Repair anywhere in Australia but the training time differs markedly.

In one state it’s 30 months; in two other states it’s 24 months; and that blows out to double at 48 months elsewhere around the country.

Likewise, a Certificate III in concreting takes anywhere between 24 and 48 months to complete depending on where you live (and work).

There are hundreds of other examples—but what it comes down to is a system where your postcode determines the length of time it takes to complete a qualification. 

And that makes no sense.

How can it make sense to have different operating systems across the country—especially at times when we facing the challenges inherent in a patchwork economy. 

We need to make it easy for trainees, apprentices and skilled workers to get the qualifications they need and to go to where the work is. 

This is about harmonising the differing laws and regulations for apprenticeships across the country. 

I am pleased to say that all my ministerial counterparts in the states and territories are on board with the harmonisation agenda and have already agreed to a set of principles to underpin this reform.

This is our first step towards putting in place a system that works better for businesses and sees more apprentices completing their training.

And it builds on the Government’s significant  investment of more than $200 million in apprenticeships in the 2011–12 Budget to deliver the skilled workers the economy needs.  

With the assistance of the Minerals Council of Australia and the cooperation of the union movement the Government has recently introduced a new model to supply adult apprentices to the mining industry.

Last month  Bechtel announced the first major intake under the program declaring it will hire 400 adult apprentices to work at its Gladstone operations.

Further, we have received a strong response under our Skills Connect initiative for industry partners wanting to provide mentoring for their apprentices.

We’ve taken a couple of other steps too.

We’re undertaking a review of the Australian Apprenticeships Incentives Program.  More than $1 billion is spent each year on incentive payments and we want to make sure taxpayers’ dollars are targeted  to provide  maximum benefit.

With regard to training wages and conditions, as I’ve said on a number of occasions, the Gillard  Government will support a review by Fair Work Australia, the independent umpire, and we will be putting forward a strong submission to FWA on this issue. 

Clearly any consideration of incentives and training wages should be looked at together to ensure that we maintain training effort and do not inadvertently damage the pathways for those seeking skills. 

So the Government will not rush these two matters and will consider them in tandem.  

The Government holds the view that any changes to wages and conditions should also recognise the importance of competency based progression, which will encourage more experienced individuals to undertake an Australian Apprenticeship

The Government has already made a considerable investment in competency based progression, providing $100 million under the Accelerated Apprenticeships package. 

Australian Apprenticeships Ambassadors

But as I started out saying—the most important piece of the apprenticeship puzzle is the people.

And that’s why it’s my great pleasure today to announce our new Australian Apprenticeships Ambassadors who, like us, know just how life-changing it can be to complete an apprenticeship.

Each of our Ambassadors has accepted the challenge to join the Government and industry in promoting the benefits that come from gaining a skills qualification.

During the next year our Apprenticeship Ambassadors will share their experiences and we are joined today by 

AFL great and head coach of the Greater Western Sydney Giants Kevin Sheedy,

TV landscaping guru Jody Rigby, 

Former Canterbury Bulldogs Captain Andrew Ryan

We are also joined by here today by Brian Phelan and Peter Robinson who are the Welfare and Education Managers for the Melbourne Storm

We are also happy to have members of our highly successful Skillaroos team —Kate Crocker and Andrew Seeley;

the 2011 Australian Apprentice of the Year, Colin Wilson; 

the 2011 Australian School-based Apprentice of the Year, Jessica Pendlebury;

and the Victorian Australian Apprentice (Trainee) of the Year, Amanda Divola.

I’ve had the opportunity to chat to many of them and I encourage you to do the same after the formal part of this morning is over. 

They have all travelled very different paths but the one thing they have in common is the fact their working lives got off to a great start because they completed an apprenticeship.

They gained a formal qualification that became the building blocks for successful careers.

I am delighted that these Ambassadors will help us lift the profile of Australian Apprenticeships.

They will share their personal experiences and inspire Australians from all walks of life to take advantage of the training opportunities the Gillard Government is funding. 

Our Government’s priority is training Australians first to fill the high-paid, high-skilled jobs of the future. 

We want to target our investment and work in partnership with employers to train the skilled workers they need.  

Getting an apprenticeship is a great start in life. 

It is a ticket to a better future and to a world of career opportunities.

Thanks to all our Ambassadors for joining us today – their personal stories are testament to the benefits that come from gaining a qualification.

I look forward to working with you all as we promote Australian Apprenticeships as a great start in life. 

Thank you.