Private Member’s Business – Vocational Education and Training
Mr PITT: Thank you very much. Can I say to all those who are out there listening, who might be thinking about a trade: a trade is about a journey. I’m an electrician by trade. I commenced my apprenticeship on 13 January 1987. But the story I want to tell today is quite simply not about me; it’s about some of the people that I came across as an apprentice, a tradesperson, a supervisor, a manager and an engineer. First is Gavin Hunt. Gavin started at a similar time to me at the Fairymead Sugar Mill as a fitter and turner. For those of you who are unaware of what sort of work that is, it tends to be dirty work, greasy work and heavy work. I recall very clearly finding Gavin in what was then called the loco maintenance shop where his job was to grease the locomotive wheels. As a first-year apprentice, I could see Gavin was struggling. I went past a couple of times and he was still struggling. The third time I went past he looked terrified. I thought I’d better stop and say g’day. I said, ‘Mate, what’s up?’ And he’d just had a fair blast from one of his mentors, a man by the name of Fergal—we’ll call him Fergal because that was his name. He was one of those scary individuals, Mr Deputy Speaker Zimmerman, that I’m sure you’ve come across: big, gruff, angry, knew his stuff and wanted you to get on with it. As it turned out, Gavin was pulling the grease nipples out of the locomotive wheels rather than actually attaching the grease gun to them so that he could do what he had to do.
The reason I raise this is that in his first year Gavin passed away from a very short illness. Those individuals then passed the hat around. They raised enough money for the Gavin Hunt memorial award. One of the first winners was Scott Collins, an outstanding first-year apprentice and a good mate of mine. I’ve got to say: as a fitter, he’s been pretty damn good. Scott went on to work in the mines. He’s worked in the industry for years. Unfortunately, the mills that we grew up in, that we did our time in, are now gone. However, he did return to the sugar industry. He is now a shift supervisor.
To those individuals who are listening out there, who are looking to do an apprenticeship: your journey can take you anywhere. I mean, I’m here as a member of parliament. I started my first career as an electrician. For Scott, he went through and won the Gavin Hunt memorial award. He went on as a maintenance fitter and worked his way into a position where he is now the supervisor of a factory that looks after any number of people and that has a throughput of 1½ million tonnes when they actually get cane, so he has a very substantial position. He supports his family and he supports a lot of individuals, and I think this is the story that we need to get across to those looking for a vocational education. It is an opportunity for a career. It is not just about being an apprentice or not choosing university. You quite simply can go anywhere because the skills that you are taught are life skills. They are not only technical and trade skills; they are skills which you can transfer into pretty much any career that you choose.
I know there are a number of MPs in the parliament who started their career as tradespeople. I will acknowledge Joel Fitzgibbon. I know Joel was an auto electrician before he came into other areas. But what we’ve got to say to these individuals is: ‘You need to stick it out,’ because my understanding is that our biggest loss for those who sign up as apprentices and trainees is in their second year. Quite simply, it gets much more difficult in terms of the technical training and we tend to lose them. So those individuals need help, and we are providing that support.
The Australian Apprentice Wage Subsidy scheme is an incredibly supportive scheme from the government. In the Hinkler electorate, in the first round 20 businesses were able to take on an apprentice earlier this year. I know one of those businesses actually hired two at the time when they were only going to hire one, quite simply because of this scheme. We know that round 2 is available. It is due, and we expect that there’ll be more into regional economies because small business is what drives our economy and we need to provide these individuals with skills for the future. We need to transfer the skills from those older tradespeople who are coming to the end of their time who will retire, because otherwise they are lost, and some of these roles are incredibly technical and difficult and take years and years to develop—in fact, some decades—before they are across all of their industries.
I’ve heard some commentary about Scott Cam being appointed as the Australia’s first National Careers Ambassador. I say to opposition, ‘So what?’ If Scott Cam can deliver more apprentices into the vocational training scheme, good on him. I’m happy to support whatever it is that he does because those individuals need that support and, as a nation, we need them to have those skills. We need those kids to decide they want to have a trade. We need them to be electricians and plumbers and engineers and everything else that we need as a nation, because, quite simply, we need them to add to our economy and to provide skills, particularly in the regions where we don’t have them already. I say to those opposite that you should be applauding this motion and the person who put it forward. You should be supporting the fact that the government is doing everything it can to provide more opportunities for apprentices, because without them we are lost.