Subject: (Regional Apprentices; INAP Conference)
JOURNALIST: So Senator what’s your take on the importance of apprenticeships within regional Victoria?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Look, apprenticeships are critical. We’ve got more than 300,000 apprentices nationally, more than 2,000 in Ballarat alone and it’s a demonstration of the fact that apprenticeships provide pathways for people to both earn and learn simultaneously, they lift productivity, they lift workplace capacity, but they also lift individuals in terms of their skills and capacity. What we know of apprentices is that people who complete an apprenticeship are more than 90% likely to procure employment. People who complete an apprenticeship are likely to be business owners and innovators and entrepreneurs in the future. So, they’re really critical for all aspect of our economy and skills mix.
JOURNALIST: What’s your take on, I guess, funding cuts to incentives for employers to take on apprentices?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: We’ve seen that incentives have a real impact in terms of apprenticeship commencements and when the previous government cut some incentive programs in 2012 we saw, as a result of that, 12 months later more than 100,000 fewer people in apprenticeship programs which is why I’m going to be reviewing the structure of our incentive arrangements. We spend more than $400 million per annum on apprenticeship incentives and I’m not convinced that we’re getting the best value for money from that. I’m not convinced that they are getting additional apprentices in the system rather than subsidising people who would already be there and I certainly think the incentive arrangements are too complicated to navigate at present. So, I want to have a look at a simpler model for apprenticeship incentives that gets more apprentices in the front door commencing apprenticeships and boost completions as well.
JOURNALIST: And if it is a simpler model, is that simpler in terms for employers to navigate? Is that what you mean, or simpler in terms of the system itself?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: I think that it’s important that incentives are simple for employers to understand because if employers have to spend too long thinking about what an incentive for an apprenticeship actually is, then they’re likely to think it’s all too hard to start with. Now, we’re investing already through a new apprenticeship support network, more than $200 million in helping apprentices and employers to have assistance in navigating the apprenticeship pathway, that’s one part of the puzzle, but actually simplifying incentive arrangements is a very important addition.
JOURNALIST: Now what’s your take on the quality of school leavers? Do you believe that that’s a correlation between NAPLAN results and having less apprenticeships or having lower quality apprentices coming out of school?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: I think there are a few challenges that apprenticeships face in terms of the nature of students picking them up. We’ve seen big growth in recent years in the number of students going on to university pathways and some of that is probably at the expense of students who might otherwise have gone in to apprenticeships. Equally, we see some growth and greater possibility in terms of school based apprenticeships. So there is scope for schools to support a stronger apprenticeship system and that’s got to be part of the overall picture for how we centre apprenticeships. Importantly, though, I think schools can play a real role in what is known as pre-apprenticeship training and providing people with a greater mix of vocational experiences so that students have a better understanding of the different career options they can pursue and that they can choose the right pathway for them with some information and experience of what those pathways are thanks to a school based, pre-apprenticeship type program.
JOURNALIST: You said that Labor cuts to incentives had reduced the number of apprentices coming in, are you not concerned that that might happen again if you tidy up the system by reducing those incentives?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: I’m very conscious of the fact that past changes to incentive arrangements and cuts to incentive arrangements reduced the number of commencements and the number of people in apprenticeships and it is why I want to take a very cautious and steady approach to addressing problems, that I think do exist, in the incentive payments arrangement. It is about simplifying them and ensuring that they encourage additional apprentices to be taken on, but I want to make sure that there aren’t any unforeseen consequences of changes that we make that could have any type of impact, like those that occurred under the Labor government.
JOURNALIST: Would you support the changes to RTOs going national, that Jay Weatherill is putting in South Australia?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Look, I think there is a great possibility for a greater national approach to management of vocational education and training and I welcome the fact that the Prime Minister and Premiers, when they met a few weeks ago, did highlight vocational education and training as an area for greater national leadership and involvement and I think it could simplify arrangements for major employers who operate across states, for training organisations who operate across states, for universities like Federation University here who are dual sector providers in both higher education and vocational education and would benefit from a more simple national approach to managing all areas of post-school learning rather than the current divided approach between the federal government managing universities and the state governments managing vocational education.
JOURNALIST: and just finally from me, what was your message to the delegates today?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: To the delegates today, this is an exciting international conference that’s being held here in Ballarat. It is going to provide knowledge and information about best practice innovation in managing and developing apprenticeships from right around the world and I think we, in Australia, have a proud story with apprenticeships that we can share, but we’ve equally got things that we can learn from those around the rest of the world. This is an exciting gathering of experts in apprenticeships and I look forward to gaining as much knowledge that I can get from those who have come from overseas about what is working in their countries.