Release type: Speech


Bechtel and Commonwealth Government provide second chance for 400 adult apprentices Gladstone, Queensland


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

Firstly I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners and pay my respects to their elders past and present.

To the Premier of Queensland, Anna Bligh – it’s great to see you here.

Mr Andy Greig, Managing Director of Bechtel Australia – thanks for having us today.

It’s no short haul between Gladstone and my hometown Perth but the fact that I am here reflects the importance the Federal Government places on this project.

Today is a very significant day.

It’s an important day for Bechtel obviously—but it is also an important day for government, for industry and for the hundreds of people who will benefit from this joint initiative.

We are talking about the recruitment of 400 semi-skilled workers who will be trained to trade qualification level and then be in line for employment with Bechtel.

This is the single biggest uptake of the Australian Government’s National Apprenticeships Program since it was launched in March this year.

As a result of today’s announcement, 400 adult Australians will be getting a second chance in life to get a trade.

This is a tremendous opportunity for those people who have been in the workforce for a while but haven’t had the opportunity to get recognition for their skills.

This is a second chance to get a trade and get access to the high-skilled and well-paid jobs on offer in the mining and construction industries.

Many Australian workers have significant skills but don’t have that all important, official piece of paper to back them up.

We created the National Apprenticeships Program to provide people with a way to turn their skills into a qualification without requiring them to start over or complete a traditional apprenticeship.

Today’s announcement is a tremendous opportunity for individuals and it’s a result of industry and the Government working together to try and build new partnerships to deal with the skills shortages confronting our economy as we see growth in areas like Gladstone.

I was saying to the Premier on the way up here today that I am sick of people talking about a skills “crisis” in this country.

It’s a skills challenge and it’s a great problem to have.

My counterpart in America has nine per cent unemployment. They are closing down suburbs and towns.

Our challenge is to get enough people to fill high paid jobs.

Well I reckon that’s a pretty good problem to have and what we are doing today is helping to solve that problem by giving 400 Australians the chance to get a trade and get employment in these fantastic development projects.

As Bechtel have made clear, it is going to continue to train young Australians in apprenticeships. But in order to meet the skills demands of the construction industry that is reaching a peak in the next few years - here in Queensland, in the Northern Territory and in my home state of Western Australia - we are going to need more skilled workers.

And I would rather that we trained our own as our first choice and supplemented them with migrant workers.

The Federal Government’s priority is to give as many training opportunities as we can to young and more mature Australians and then to meet any shortfalls with migration – not the other way around.

And this is the sort of project that is going to allow us to do that.

That is why the Federal Government as part of this year’s budget focused so much on skills development and investment in skills.

We also focused on new systems that were industry led because rather than training people for training sake, we want to train people for jobs.

What Bechtel is doing is training people who will take up opportunities. People who take on the adult apprenticeship can look forward to employment at the end of it, provided they develop their skills to the required level.

So we are very keen to partner these sorts of projects. We put a lot of money in the Budget to fund the next six years of skills development so we can see more projects like this.

Bechtel’s leadership will hopefully see more companies take this type of training project up in a big way.

I’d like also to congratulate the trade union movement for its flexibility in agreeing to this type of project.

They are recognising the skills need and working through the skills councils to encourage greater qualification take up among existing workers – not by reducing standards but by recognising skills, having competency based assessments and supporting many of their members get a chance to get a trade, high skills, higher wages and better long term job prospects.

So this is real cooperation between employers, unions and governments to get good outcomes.

I would also like to thank the Queensland Government for its tremendous support and engagement. We have been working very closely with the Queensland Government as they deal with the structural issues in our economy.

The reality is that jobs are going to grow in the north and the west of Australia and it’s our job to respond to that challenge. I’m confident it is a challenge we can meet together.

So I’m very pleased to be part of today’s announcement and very pleased to be working with employers like Bechtel on these sorts of projects.

We hope to grow this program and have more mining and construction companies follow the lead of Bechtel.

So congratulations and thanks to all my Departmental people who have been involved.

Well done and thank you.