SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Thanks to Paul and Elizabeth. Ladies and gentlemen it’s great to see you all here today, it’s wonderful to be here in enemy territory at the Port Adelaide Football Club; probably one of the most historic and, dare I say, sacred sites in Adelaide and South Australia. Not my preferred place of worship, but a sacred site nonetheless. It is wonderful to be here to help launch ‘The MAS Experience’ making apprenticeships simple and their operations across, not only South Australia, but Victoria and Tasmania as well. 

As a government we recognise that Australia needs to be as competitive as possible and productive as possible to be able to make the most of the opportunities that are before us. We have a wonderful way of life in Australia, we enjoy a richness of opportunity in Australia and a quality of life that is the envy of the world. To maintain that, we will have to compete in an increasingly globalised economy with nations in our region; and to maintain our standard of living, we must be as competitive and productive as possible and our government’s competitiveness strategy recognises that there are a number of pillars that underpin Australia’s competitiveness in to the future. They relate to things like the cost base of doing business here, having competitive and efficient tax arrangements, investment in infrastructure, which we’re pursuing at record levels, but it also recognises that one of the key aspects for Australia’s competitiveness in the future is our skills base. 

Last year when the Prime Minister invited me in to the Ministry to become the first dedicated Minister for vocational education and training at the national level in some seven years, it was with a recognition that we need to give real focus to the development of Australia’s skills base in to the future and in particular to the role of vocational education and training, apprenticeships and traineeships in that development of our skills base. 

The New Australian Apprenticeship Support Network (AASN) is a real demonstration of how we want to lift the skills base of Australia in the future and invest government resources where we know they make the best difference to the lives of people undertaking apprentices, to the businesses who invest in those apprentices and to our overall economy.
So the AASN is a $200 million investment in apprenticeship support activities around Australia. That is a per annum commitment, in broad terms, replacing an old system which was very bureaucratically driven. The old Australian Apprenticeship Centres were really about helping people file and discharge and dispatch their paperwork when it came to apprenticeships. We’ve instead, invested millions of dollars in upgrading the technology platforms that support apprenticeships to mean that support services need no longer be so focussed on the paperwork and the bureaucracy and the administration, but can instead start to focus on actually helping get the right people in to apprenticeships, helping them through their apprenticeship and ensuring that we actually have more successfully skilled people in to the future. 

If you think about our economy, you think about a business, you think about a building, even like the one we’re standing in at present, you can see that skills and vocational education and apprenticeships are at the heart of it. The building we’re standing in now, of course, took many tradespeople to construct over the years. The bricklayers, the carpenters, the electricians, the plumbers, the designers brought all of their skills to the construction of this building. The hospitality services available in this building, the cooks, the chefs, the bar staff all bring their vocational skills and qualifications to the service they provide. Looking out the window, the grounds staff, the sports trainers many of them bring their vocational skills to the roles they apply through their lives. So, apprenticeships touch a very rich range of qualifications and opportunities and the AASN is about ensuring that we give the best advice and opportunity to both apprentices and employers to get the best possible outcome from our apprenticeship system. 

I like to joke that the new AASN is a little like a marriage service. What we’re doing is we’re helping with the dating game in the first instance; the new gateway services are really about trying to match the right individual with the right employer and the right trade and ensuring that we actually have a good coupling, a good marriage to start with when people embark up on their trade life. The mentoring services that are now available through the AASN are about providing the marriage counselling when things get a bit rocky; whether it’s with the apprentice or with the employer, they’re actually able to work in tandem and ensure that the support network steps in, if required, and actually provides that assistance to ensure that the apprentice has the help they need to deal with whatever might be making it hard for them to complete their apprenticeship or that the employer has the assistance they require should they be having difficulties in managing the apprenticeship.

All up, what we hope to do out of this is to really lift completion rates because the thing that struck me is that completion rates for apprentices in Australia sit around the 50% mark. As Paul mentioned, they’re a bit better in South Australia, which is great, but if you compare the fact that for those who do complete their apprenticeship they enjoy, in the trade space, more than 90% employment outcomes at the end of it. So, we know that for the apprentices in the room that if you see it through and you get your qualification, there’s more than a 90% chance that that will guarantee you of getting a job and holding that job in to the future which is a very high return rate when it comes to investing in education and training. Much higher than many university graduates enjoy, much higher than some other vocational pathways, it is as close as you can get to a guaranteed job outcome in many instances. So, if we can lift that completion rate, we can have confidence that we help the people and apprentices in apprenticeships to actually secure jobs, that we help our businesses in Australia to be able to access a better, more skilled workforce and that we lift the competitiveness and productivity of our overall economy. 

So, I want to thank the entities, like ‘The MAS Experience’, for the commitment they are bringing to the new network, for the way in which they have conceived of how to make apprenticeships simple, on how to provide that marriage service to get the right couples in place in the first place, to get the matching arrangements in place and then to provide support throughout the life of that apprenticeship to get those completion rates up. It’s an exciting opportunity to actually get, ultimately, more employers engaged in delivering more apprenticeships in the future because they see a simpler system, a system where they can get the right apprentice in through the front door, where they can have the right support for those apprentices and where they can really get positive outcomes for their business, for that apprentice and for the overall economy.

So, thank you very much and good luck with the new model. We look forward to seeing great results from it and I really appreciate the chance to be here today for the launch. Thank you.