2017 Speeches

Speech to the Australian Steel Convention

Good morning, it’s a pleasure to be with you all today.

Call me biased, but can I commend you on your excellent choice of the Gold Coast as the location for this year’s Convention – which is also my home town.

Once the hard work is done, I hope you will have a chance to visit our wonderful local attractions, including our world-renowned beaches. 

As a tourism and hospitality hotspot the Gold Coast is just one small part of Australia’s large and diverse VET sector, the area of the Education portfolio I am proud to have responsibility for.  

Last year alone, more than 4.5 million people were engaged in skills and training through thousands of Australian training providers.

Like tourism and hospitality, the Australian steel industry is an important contributor to the Australian economy. 

The domestic steel industry employs more than 100,000 people nationally  with an annual turnover of more than $35 billion .

The multiplier effect is a significant 3-5 indirect jobs for every direct job generated. 
We are acutely aware of the need for a VET sector that’s responsive to your industry’s skills needs into the future.

We expect increased demand for workers in structural steel and welding trades, as well as toolmakers and engineering patternmakers in the manufacturing sector over the next five years. 

You’ve told us that opportunities are opening up in the engineering drafting sector, especially for people with skills in structural and building services drafting. 

The introduction of Building Information Modelling technology is impacting on the industry and there are opportunities across several sectors for growth.
That includes opportunities in engineering drafting, structural steel production and construction, and fabrication to name a few .

Infrastructure has been at the forefront of this year’s Steel Institute Convention. 

As governments around Australia begin to roll out a series of major infrastructure programs and Defence shipbuilding works  begin, it is more important than ever to ensure we have the skilled workforce to deliver these projects.

In short, there’s a clear need for skilled workers to meet this demand. 

Our Government’s new Skilling Australians Fund is directed at just that, skilling Australians in occupations of high demand, and in growing and emerging industries.

The establishment of the Fund is a major commitment by the Commonwealth to ongoing funding for Vocational Education and Training.

An estimated $1.5 billion will be available over the next four years.

With matched funding from the states and territories, the Fund will support 300,000 more apprentices, trainees, and pre- and higher-level apprenticeships. 

The focus on apprenticeships and traineeships, the flagships of the Australian VET sector, reflects their crucial role in fulfilling the needs of industries which rely on a skilled workforce to drive innovation and growth. 

The new Fund supersedes the National Partnership Agreement on Skills Reform signed in 2012.

$1.1 billion of this funding under the five year agreement was for states and territories to achieve structural reform in VET, and around $611 million was for training outcomes.

What improvements in key indicators have we seen in VET over the five years of that NPA? 

The key indicators suggest very little and in fact, in the area of apprentices it’s been quite the reverse.

To me and many others, the most alarming statistic in the vocational education sector has been the significant decline in the number of apprentices and trainees in training.

The most recent available statistics reveal numbers have fallen by 46 per cent since 2012.

In fact, the biggest annual fall occurred in Labor’s last year in office when the number of apprentices and trainees in training collapsed by just over 110,000 – or 22 per cent, following cuts to employer incentives to take on an apprentice by the previous Labor Government.


As many here have indicated, the subsequent decline in apprentice numbers threatens the capacity of some major industries to meet their expected growth, not to mention the thousands of job opportunities that could be lost to Australians.

My priority is to arrest the decline in Australian Apprentices in training, and work towards growing the number of apprentices to meet our future workforce needs. 

One way we are tackling this is by ensuring apprentices get the support they need to succeed. 

Earlier this year the Government announced the Industry Specialist Mentoring for Australian Apprentices program that will inject $60 million into the Australian Apprenticeship system over the next two years. 

Around 45,000 apprentices and trainees will receive intensive support in the first two years of their training to increase retention rates.

Mentors will be highly skilled and possess detailed knowledge that allows them to address particular career and skills development concerns related to the restructuring or transitioning industry.

The importance of role models is a key focus of our efforts to inspire more people to take on an apprenticeship.

And our award-winning Australian Apprenticeship Ambassador program is doing just that. 

We have recruited more than 200 outstanding ambassadors from both regional and metropolitan areas to help inspire young Australians to take up an apprenticeship.

Small business owner Patrick Janes, is one such ambassador whose story is an inspiring example of where an Australian Apprenticeship can take you. 

Despite growing up on a farm and learning to weld from his father at age 10, the former Australian Apprentice of the Year says he initially assumed he would study at university after school.

The decision to complete an Australian School-based Apprenticeship as a teenager was a pivotal moment for him 

Patrick’s Australian School-based Apprenticeship was a lead-in to his Australian Apprenticeship – where he gained a Certificate III in Engineering – Fabrication Trade in 2012 ahead of schedule.

The Ballarat-resident completed his training for his Australian Apprenticeship through the University of Ballarat while employed with W.R & R.J Hunter Pty Ltd General Construction Engineers.

His employer was so impressed with Patrick’s enthusiasm, skills and dedication that he sold the business to him.

Patrick is now aiming to provide similar opportunities and pass on his knowledge and experience to the next generation of Australian Apprentices.

Once we have inspired young jobseekers to take on an apprenticeship, our focus turns to ensuring they have the support they need to succeed in the proven earning and learning pathways that apprenticeships provide.

That’s why we have invested up to $190 million annually in the Australian Apprenticeships Support Network. 

Our network providers support employers and apprentices to make it easier for employers to recruit, train and retain apprentices.

Network providers are also responsible for administering the Australian Apprenticeships Incentives Program.

Its aim, through the payment of incentives, is to encourage employers to take on apprentices and to encourage individuals to undertake Australian Apprenticeships. 

In our efforts to grow the number of apprentices to meet our future workforce needs we recognise that we cannot keep applying the same old methods and expect to achieve different results.

For that reason, the Government is also exploring new ways to deliver apprenticeships by funding five Apprenticeship Training – alternative delivery pilots. 

The pilots are trialling innovative training models across a range of industry sectors to advance the apprenticeships system so that it continues to equip Australians with the skills they need for the jobs of the future.

The results of the pilots will contribute to an evidence base that informs future policy development and funding settings.

Three of the pilots are looking into new and stronger pathways into the traditional trades in building and construction – a sector that’s vital to Australia’s economy as our third-largest industry. 

So, for example, MBA is developing and testing a number of enhancements to pre-apprenticeship training, including training programs for students about to finish high school. 

Quality pre-apprenticeship experiences have been identified as a factor in apprentice retention in construction trades, and can provide valuable insights for prospective apprentices, training providers and employers. 

Pre-apprentices get a better understanding of what it means to be an apprentice, and decide whether this is the right fit for them, before they commit to a full apprenticeship. 

Training providers and employers can assess pre-apprentices’ readiness to enter an apprenticeship, including any skills gaps that need to be addressed before they can do so. 

This includes gaps in literacy and numeracy, as well as the ‘soft skills’ apprentices will need in the workplace. 

The aim is to encourage more industries to use apprenticeships as a training pathway to help them get the skilled workforce they need.

And of course, every apprenticeship represents a job created.

All five of the Alternative Delivery pilots are in STEM-related fields.

New technologies demand certain types of skills particularly in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (also known as STEM)

PWC  reported in 2015 that about 75 per cent of the fastest growing occupations need skills and knowledge acquired through STEM training. 

This is why we are committed to encouraging more students to undertake study in these fields.

The Government has committed $24 million to create 1200 Rural and Regional Enterprise scholarships for undergraduates, postgraduates and vocational students to take up STEM studies. 

They’re valued at up to $18,000 each and will be awarded from next year.

While apprenticeships have been the focus of my speech today, they are but one of a multitude of VET pathways to obtain skills relevant to industries like the steel industry.

In order to be properly equipped to face the trends that will drive future change, graduates will need analytical skills, management and supervisory skills, and digital and software skills .

They’re all skills that can be acquired through a VET qualification.
I’m committed to raising the status of VET as a valued pathway to a career and promoting VET as equal to higher education as a choice for young people 

The VET system is currently going through a period of national reform to make it even more flexible, relevant and responsive to the needs of all Australians.

The Australian Industry and Skills Committees has almost completed its review of all Industry Reference Committees.

The review has provided an important opportunity for industry to shape training to meet its needs and equip learners with the right knowledge and skills to pursue fulfilling careers in the sector.

Nominations for the Manufacturing and Engineering Industry Reference Committee recently closed and I look forward to seeing its final structure and membership.

More broadly speaking, we also need to ensure that our vocational education system is credible, strong and sustainable so that we can continue to serve the needs of industries like yours.

Through these initiatives and others, the Government is committed to ensuring all Australians have the opportunity to obtain skills for industry, now and into the future.
© Karen Andrews MP 2014 | Authorised by Karen Andrews MP, 47 Watts Drive, Varsity Lakes QLD 4227 | Login