SIMON BIRMINGHAM: …to direct future qualification frameworks and arrangements to be responsive to those future needs of our economy. We’ve already of course announced the new models in relationship to training package development that will put industry reference committees at the heart of that process and in the next few days I hope to announce the final composition of the new Australian Industry and Skills Committee, which is a COAG sanctioned committee that will oversee the final arrangements in relation to training package development under the new model. 

We’ve established the $400 million plus Industry Skills Fund which is about empowering employers and businesses to make greater investment and more decisions about the training they need to grow their businesses in the future, all of it about putting jobs at the centre of the VET agenda. The status of course of vocational education and training flows very much from those first two elements; quality and jobs. High quality training leading to strong job and employment outcomes provides of course the greatest opportunity to ensure VET training is regarded as being on par with the university sector and as something that students and people of all ages should be contemplating as a valued career pathway. 

Central to vocational education and training are apprenticeships and traineeships. They have an iconic status, in a sense, around Australia. That’s partly driven by the well understood nature of apprenticeships and traineeships and perhaps most importantly, by the understood connection that apprenticeships and traineeships have between on the job training, actual employment and a real job, and the off the job training component. The government firmly recognises the value of apprenticeships and wants to see more apprenticeships completed in Australia in the future. Here in New South Wales, there are around 98,100 current apprentices. About 8,000 of those, with members of GTA New South Wales and ACT engaged in group training activities. We recognise that that’s a valuable contribution. Particularly a valuable contribution in terms of providing opportunities that assist employers in small enterprises and regional areas and particularly disadvantaged areas that perhaps access apprenticeship opportunities.

Recently, of course, I announced the outcome of the new Australian Apprenticeship Support Network; a $200 million annual investment by the federal government in approving the way our apprenticeship system works in to the future ensuring we do everything possible to attract, retain and train apprentices. Central to that is our ambition to try and lift completion rates amongst apprentices in Australia which currently hover around the 50 per cent level under existing models, an unacceptably low level for completions in what is meant to be a structured pathway and I hope that our new model which provides greater emphasis around gateway services to ensure we have the right selection methodology to get the right person in the right apprenticeship with the right employer and provide improved opportunities for mentoring and assistance to both the apprentice and the employer through the life of that apprenticeship, that all of those measures within that new support network will help to lift completion outcomes.

The process for undertaking the apprenticeship support network tender was a proper value for money consideration. Like everything our government is seeking to do, it has shifted to very much an outcomes driven approach. We want to pay people more for getting outcomes for ensuring that completions occur and that’s central to the changed model from the old Australian Apprenticeship Centres to the new Australian Apprenticeship Support Network that it provides payments geared around completion, not just around sign ups. It is also important to make sure that we actually, in the tender process, didn’t apply the old model of price caps or price guidance, but actually went to the market to see what could be delivered at the best price. Now of course like all tender processes, there are winners and losers and I acknowledge not everybody was happy with the outcome. 11 organisations across Australia were successful in the process, 4 of them being active GTOs. 

From my perspective, I’m agnostic about how it is that apprenticeships are delivered. What it is that I want to see, is that we have strong take up of apprenticeships and stronger completions of apprenticeships than we’ve had in the past. GTOs, I acknowledge, play a very valuable role in providing particular support to small businesses to regional areas, to areas of disadvantage in terms of their accessing of apprenticeships and their employment of apprentices. I pay tribute to the role that many in this room and the GTOs over the years have done in general to provide those apprenticeship opportunities. What I want to make sure happens in the future, is that the myriad of incentives and repayments and arrangements that have existed are geared in a way to ensure we’re providing the support for those small businesses, for those businesses in regional and rural Australia, for those businesses who are looking to employ people in areas of disadvantage to be able to do so through the model that they choose to embrace. If that model is through GTOs, then we need to make sure that the arrangements around those incentives and those payments are structured to facilitate that and enable that. 

Over the course of the coming months and in the lead up to, ultimately next year’s budget, I certainly intend to be having a close look at the legacy arrangements that I’ve inherited from the previous government in terms of the structure of the various incentive payments that exist. Incentives that are paid, some of them for commencements in certain instances, some of them for completions in certain instances, the odd one for disadvantage in certain instances and of course different arrangements exist in different state frameworks and to try to make sure that we have a coherent framework in the future that provides the right model to support the maximum uptake of apprenticeships just as I hope the new support network provides the type of framework to support improved completions of apprenticeships.

So as we embark on that process, I really do look forward, and encourage the feedback from people like those gathered in this room today. It’s a great opportunity for all of you to provide clear feedback to me and to the government about how it is that incentives and arrangements around apprenticeships are working, where it is that they in fact act as disincentives and what it is that we can do to make the system work better. You all understand, particularly as we are less than one week from another federal government, the financial constraints the country operates under now. So, I’m inviting you to be open and frank with me and with the government about how we might get better outcomes from the incentive and policy settings we have. I encourage you to do so, mindful of the fact that there is not a bottomless pit of money that can be accessed, but to do so in a way that actually ensures we are best able to target the resources we’ve currently got in ways that get the best possible outcomes to encourage more people in to training, to ensure they complete that training and to ensure we have a good, strong apprenticeship system operating in Australia. So thank you all very much again for the work you’re doing.