SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Thanks so much George and to you and the team. Ian and Michael and all here at Apprenticeships Matter and your key stakeholders and your colleagues and friends that you work with, thanks for having me along here today. I must say as I am the father of a two year old and a four year old and as I walked into this room full of people, but even fuller it seems of helium filled balloons and party food, I was looking for the face painter in the corner.

It's almost got all of those elements of a celebration attached to it. But thanks for having me along and it's great to be at such a positive event with a group of people who are so committed to something that is so incredibly important in Australia – that I think is recognised throughout the community as being very important and as a government we are certainly strongly committed to building on a sound legacy of Australian apprenticeships and making sure they play an even bigger and better role in the future.

It's wonderful to see an organisation like yours that is grown from that collaboration of not-for-profit organisations into something that now will have a state-wide reach and focus in supporting the delivery of apprenticeships. And congratulations on not just winning the contract but the approach you've brought in the past, brought to the tender to win that contract and will now bring to the delivery of it. And that includes that sense of who you are – an identity that comes from the transition from Apprenticeships Melbourne to Apprenticeships Matter. And it is really important because apprenticeships do matter.

I'm pleased to hear that the departmental team in pitching the tender made that clear in their presentation. I'm delighted to hear that you separately came to the same conclusions. Because apprenticeships matter across a whole range of different factors. They matter of course to individuals, to young people leaving school, to more mature aged Australians accessing new careers and new pathways.

They matter in that sense that they provide often the first real work experience and job experience and therefore a culture around work, attending work and being engaged in the workplace to young people. They matter because they provide that support or that change in life for people wanting a new career. They matter of course to individual businesses because they provide the skilled labour that those businesses need. But they matter to the entire economy because they back the productivity that comes from having a skilled workforce.
A highly skilled workforce who with recognised trades and qualifications and skills are able to transition between employers and between roles and create a more competitive and productive economy across the board.

So it is at every level that we recognise apprenticeships do matter and that's why the government we sought to reshape the Australian apprenticeships centres into the new Australian Apprenticeship Support Network, with some of the new features that we have. And no doubt one of the reasons why Apprenticeships Melbourne has Apprenticeships Matters, was successful as a tenderer, is because some of the key attributes we put into the new model were things that you already valued.

That element of the gateway services and the support that you'd already started to develop and that element of providing mentoring that I hear you were already delivering. The really important attributes that we recognise were valuable, especially to lifting completion rates. For me as a new minister in this space, it was a concern to see that across the apprenticeship spectrum completion rates sat at around about 50 per cent. That meant that a lot of investment, time and energy and resources from employers, from governments and from individuals as apprentices was going into the system and not necessarily resulting in people realising the full potential of that. So we hope that by putting that emphasis on the gateway services to start with, through the mentoring through the life of the apprenticeship that we can make sure we actually do more to improve completion rates, to through the whole cycle of apprenticeships and traineeships, to attract, train and retain apprentices to that point of completion.

I liken it sometimes in interviews very much to a marriage service. What we're hoping to do with AASN providers like Apprenticeships Matter, is to help marry up the right apprentice with the right trade that best fits them and the right employer for that person. And that the mentoring service, of course, is there for when the marriage gets a little bit rocky sometimes, and to make sure that we get it back on track. So we're trying to get that right coupling at the front, and that support through the relationship that gives the outcome end, and it's great to see you encapsulate that in your marketing material by identifying that the support you are there to provide is about matching, managing and mentoring. Those three M's that support that successful marriage between the apprentice and their employer.

Overall the AASN represents a bit of continuity in terms of the value of government investment, but that significant redirection into higher value outcomes that shift away from administration and paperwork and I want to thank those of you who are involved in handling the administration of apprenticeships, for dealing with the transition. It's always challenging, implementing new technology and I know it has its elements of challenge at present, but hopefully we can successfully address and ensure that you can step away from the walls of filing cabinets to an online world that works effectively and that ensures that in future you are spending less time, as we envisage, dealing with the paperwork of apprenticeships, and more time providing the support to the employers and the apprentices to ensure the success behind those apprenticeships.

It's allowed us to support delivery across more locations and the changing nature of the tender has done that, and if you of course are living example of that in going from a regional basis to a state-wide basis. Across the country around 100 additional locations will receive support through the Apprenticeship Support Network. Here in Victoria a good step up from over and around 25 or so additional locations across the state. And so recognition that more areas should be able to better access apprenticeship support services right around the country. And it's complemented by other policies of the government that we're pursuing.

Trade support loans are about trying to provide more flexible support to apprentices, especially in their early years that can be applied to cost of living, or to whatever the cost pressures they face as an apprentice are. And we should treat apprenticeships very much on an equal footing to those who might be going to university, by being able to access those income contingent loans to support the cost of their training and their opportunities.
But of course apprenticeships are quite unique because unlike going to university you do get paid for an apprenticeship. And what we want to do as the government as well is really elevate the status of vocational training and particularly of apprenticeships. And by elevating that status I want to make sure that people have a better appreciation of the reality that, by pursuing a trade, and particularly pursuing an apprenticeship or a traineeship, young people are able to actually be paid while they learn – earn and learn at the same time is a unique opportunity that apprenticeships provide.

But at the end of many apprenticeships people will often enjoy a salary that is higher than many graduates get when they first leave university. And indeed that the data demonstrates that more Australian business owners hold a vocational qualification than there are Australian business owners holding a university qualification. So if you want to earn more especially in the early years and be your own boss and potentially establish your own business then an apprenticeship pathway is something that is of real value to young people and something we want to encourage schools and families to consider talking about more.

In closing can I say there's one part of the contract that is not written in the contract but I hope and trust the Apprenticeship Support Network providers will operate as well, and that is as effective eyes and ears for the government. That really what I need and want to do is ensure we get good sound feedback about what is working in the apprenticeship system and what needs enhancing and improving and where government policy decisions can help to do that.

We don't have billions of dollars to be able to throw at every problem nowadays but there is absolutely the willpower to make sure that where we can change policy levers to help improve completion rates or improve commencement rates that that's what we do. And it certainly is of concern to me that in the period since 2012, we've seen some reductions in apprenticeships commencements. Many factors can be at play there: overall economic circumstances, decisions of Fair Work Commission but of course also whether government policy settings and subsidy arrangements most effectively geared into getting the best possible outcomes.

So your feedback on how all of those different settings work is critical to make sure that as the minister and as a government, we're doing the right thing to help lift those commencement rates in the future, which can complement and supplement the work that you'll be doing as a provider to lift completion rates overall through the demands matching the mentoring services complimenting your management services. So congratulations on winning the tender, congratulations of relaunching yourselves as apprentices- Apprenticeships Matter.

Good luck with the service delivery over the months and years to come and thank you very much for all that you're doing, I think many young Australians and older Australians and Australian businesses make the most of our apprenticeship system. Thanks so much.


Media contact: Caitlin Keage 0427 729 987