Trade Support Loans Amendment Bill 2023, Student Loans (Overseas Debtors Repayment Levy) Amendment Bill 2023

The coalition will be supporting these bills—the Trade Support Loans Amendment Bill and the Student Loans (Overseas Debtors Repayment Levy) Amendment Bill—as we’ve heard. They are sensible reforms which the coalition developed whilst in government, starting these reforms, as we’ve heard from previous speakers. I encourage all the great young people out there—and those of all ages—to take up apprenticeships, and I hope that these measures assist you in your efforts and help you to complete what you’re doing. We have an enduring commitment to apprenticeships and training not just because of skills shortages but because apprenticeships have helped set up so many Australians for life. That early training has seen them go on and become very, very successful in life.

When we look back at our history in government during the pandemic, we made sure that we protected apprenticeships and apprentices with the wage subsidy measures and we supported jobseekers and young people to be able to get skills for the jobs of the future with low-fee or fee-free training through the JobTrainer Fund. That included 48,000 places in aged-care training, as well. We committed over $13 billion to the skills sector during the pandemic. It was very important that we retained the connection between apprentices, workers and employers at that time. We supported over 530,000 apprentices and trainees through those wage subsidies when the pandemic hit. That support was very significant, reaching over $7.9 billion. We delivered a record 240,000 trade apprentices in training, which was the highest since 1963, and we invested $2.4 billion to upskill apprentices in streamlining the new Australian Apprentices Incentive System.

That is just part of what we did during our time in government, particularly during COVID, but we also supported small businesses to invest in the skills of their employees and train new ones through the Skills and Training Boost, which was also very useful to small businesses and to apprentices and trainees. The National Skills Commission provided expert advice, and we created the National Careers Institute to improve careers advice across the tertiary sector.

But we cannot underestimate the importance of apprenticeships and traineeships. As I said, we started these reforms in government. Like in the majority of Australia, skill shortages are a real challenge in my electorate of Forrest, in the south-west of WA, whether you’re talking machinery operators, technical or trade roles, community and personal services, or retail and hospitality.

The Forrest electorate is in the top five electorates in the country in terms of the proportion of technicians and trade workers. The latest census figures show that more than 13,400 technicians and trade workers are in my electorate of Forrest. It’s also the case that four of the nation’s top five electorates for this category are actually in Western Australia, my home state. The very diversity of the economy in the south-west is reflected in the high number of people also working in community and personal services categories, in labouring, as machinery operators and as drivers. I am always inordinately impressed with the naturally talented, manually skilled young people, in particular, that I meet. There’s nothing they can’t fix and there’s no problem they’re not prepared to take on.

Over many decades, the businesses in the south-west have built their workforces through apprenticeships and traineeships—whether it’s a multinational or right through to the smallest of small businesses engaged in any group training program, or just as an individual business. One of the largest in scale, in both the south-west and Peel regions, is Alcoa. I think they’ve trained more than 2,500 apprentices, trainees and graduates since they began operating in our part of the world.

There are other significant local businesses who are genuinely and continuously invested in training their staff. One that comes to mind is Piacentini & Son, a major mining contracting business in my electorate. They’ve got 63 apprentices across the trades of heavy diesel mechanic, the boilermaker-welder space, auto electrical and 240-volt electrical. They have seven dedicated trainers for their mobile plant operators alone. That’s a massive commitment to training and developing their staff.

However, it is a real challenge for companies like Piacentini & Son. They make a huge commitment, but know they are going to lose a significant number of these very well trained people into the mining and resources sector. This is something that happens continuously in regional parts of WA. For those who are prepared to get involved in fly-in fly-out work there are certainly very attractive salary packages. It is a continuing frustration for the companies and small businesses in my region who are delivering so much of that high quality training to their apprentices and trainees. They need the people that they’re training in their own businesses.

I also see companies like Simcoa, in my part of the world. They are a world class silicon producer. They have six apprentices covering the mechanical and electrical trades. The softwood sawmiller Westpine Industries has around 10 apprentices and trainees. A major local builder of nearly 60 years in business, Perkins Builders, with their head office in Bunbury and premises in Perth, have four apprentices in the carpentry trade, plus administration trainees.

I look at what this has done to the fabric of our communities, particularly in rural and regional areas. Even though we’re now seeing some of the highest vacancy rates for apprenticeships, I look and see just what it’s done to help our small regional communities. I look at a couple of young guys who started as apprentices in the building trade for a company called Newby Building Contractors in Harvey. They were brothers, Peter and Russell Willmott. They did their apprenticeships, and later their business became Willmott Constructions. They took on apprentices of their own, built some fantastic premises and did great work around the south-west, particularly around Harvey.

The value of the apprenticeship is that it sets you up for life. You’ll see these young people often going on and starting or owning their own small business and becoming a key part of making sure that, in the regional and rural areas, we still have access to all the services and supports we need in our regions.

We’ve got Jones Welding Solutions. Luke and Zane Jones have six apprentices in engineering and fabrication, which is what they do. They offer a 24/7 breakdown service for their customers. They’ve won so many small business awards and electrical trades awards, because they look after their teams so well and do their jobs so well.

Then I see a young woman who came through, Ester Italiano, in Harvey. She started as an apprentice in the local hairdressing salon and now she owns that business, and she’s employing others and providing apprenticeships. So there’s this inter-generational work that goes on, starting with the first person who gives you an opportunity, even as a small business, as an apprentice. Nixon Electrics is another one that is inter-generational in my part of the world and is now run by David Faulkner. He and the Nixon Electrics crew have won a number of awards as well.

Down in Busselton there’s Ray Mounteney, who has a car dealership. He has a very long history in the industry. He has nine light-vehicle apprentices, right now, supplied by three different Group Training Organisations. He spoke about some of the challenges when you’re a trainer of apprentices, the demands in his car dealership space of fast-moving technology and the requirement for ongoing training beyond that initial trade qualification, keeping apprentices, trainees and workers up to date.

Ray also touched on that constant loss of trades people to the mining sector. We often see this happening, in my part of the world, across the board. As well there is the cost to the business itself—in training their own apprentices, in the loss of productivity of the other skilled workers who are supervising, instructing and working with the apprentices, putting that time and effort in to help them be the best they can be. Often the auto industry is not necessarily viewed as a career or for potential development, when, in fact, it is.

There are many reasons why some businesses find it difficult to take on and train apprentices themselves. At the moment, with the constant increases in costs of inputs, the labour shortages and supply chain constraints this makes that even more challenging. So many small businesses are working overtime just to keep their businesses running. With these skills shortages, some of them don’t have anyone in the business with the skills and time to support the training and manage all of the compliance issues. I know in Ray’s business they are working very hard on a team-building approach, tracking and retaining people from a diversity of ages and gender, and creating the workplace that people want to be in, in that business.

I also look at the Harvey agriculture school in my patch. They offer a range of trades within that ag school, whether it’s in agriculture, construction, metals, engineering or furniture. When I go to one of their graduations, these young people have often already been placed. They get a very good traineeship at the ag school and they become very attractive to the business sector and often find themselves employed before the end of their time. They develop those industry skills and experiences. They get that hands-on training. Through an apprenticeship, they can get their nationally recognised qualifications. When you’re doing this sort of work, you’re networking with the industry that you want to be engaged in from day one, and you’re developing knowledge and confidence and that inter-generational transfer of skills.

I remember when my brother was a mechanic and worked in our little home town of Brunswick Junction. It was the mature-aged men, at that time, who had vast experience in the industry, who were so keen to pass on what they had learned over a lifetime to my brother, Lindsay, as an apprentice. He carried those skills with him into business, in the contracting, earth-moving and cartage sector. Such was his training that in later life he was able to build himself a fantastic dragcar, from the chassis up, and was able to do that quarter mile in under 6½ seconds.

There are so many job and life opportunities for people who take up apprenticeships. I want to encourage people who are considering this, even young people.

In the rural and regional areas, there are some very, very good opportunities for young people and people of all ages. I encourage you to take up these opportunities, no matter what stage you are at in life, because whatever you learn through that apprenticeship in those early years will sustain you throughout your life and your career. I encourage anyone with an interest in this space or who is thinking that this might be for them to take up that opportunity and take on an apprenticeship. I’m sure the businesses will assist you to get you to where you need to be.