Senator GRIFF (South Australia) (14:30): My question is to Senator Canavan representing Senator Cash, the Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business. In the latest budget, the government committed about $350 million over five years to support 80,000 new apprentices in areas of skills shortages. Last week, Senator Cash told a VET conference she was 'passionate about lifting the profile of vocational education'. What is the government's plan to support these young apprentices, many of whom are school leavers, to ensure they stick with their training all the way and actually emerge with a qualification?
Senator CANAVAN (Queensland—Minister for Resources and Northern Australia and Deputy Leader of The Nationals in the Senate) (14:31): Thank you, Senator Griff, for that very relevant question. You are correct in saying that the government is providing significant support to help young Australians get into apprenticeships. It is a significant challenge to do that in our economy at the moment. While apprenticeship numbers have been down for some time, youth unemployment is also down over the past few years. The government is investing to help support new apprenticeships through our $60 million investment in the Australian apprenticeship wage subsidy trial. That builds on other initiatives the government has in place, which include an additional identified skills shortage payment of $156 million and the incentives for the Australian Apprenticeships program of $44 million. These are new initiatives that build on the Skilling Australians Fund, which was established in the last couple of years.
The government has announced a request-for-tender process associated with the Australian Apprenticeship Support Network. That was announced in June by Minister Andrews. The process will ultimately lead to an RFT which will outline the kinds of services and support that service providers would provide to help apprenticeships, not just to fill those positions but also to make sure they have the requisite training and, as the senator outlined, make sure they continue in their apprenticeship and ultimately to get support. That is in the process of being developed with service providers and those interested in this space.
Senator GRIFF (South Australia) (14:32): Two years ago, we negotiated the implementation of a national mentoring program to support apprentices through their first two years. That was via the then minister, Senator Birmingham. This program assisted over 17,000 apprentices from almost 8,000 employers. In my home state of South Australia the automotive industry saw retention rates jump from 50 per cent to over 90 per cent. Funding for the program ends this year. Will the government commit to continuing this program?
Senator CANAVAN (Queensland—Minister for Resources and Northern Australia and Deputy Leader of The Nationals in the Senate) (14:33): The government is proud of the performance of the industry specialist mentoring program that Senator Griff mentioned in his question. It was established in 2017. It was always a time-limited program, due to finish on 30 June this year, which it has done. According to my notes, it has assisted 30,000 apprentices, which is a great outcome. The program provides in-training support and mentoring in particular to help apprentices stay in their program. While the program has ended, the government intends to ensure that, going forward, all Australian Apprenticeship Support Network contracts will require providers to facilitate mentoring as part of their in-training support—it will be taken into an existing program. The government recognises the important value that mentoring has in supporting young Australians through their apprenticeship. This of course is in addition to many other of the other investments I mentioned, over $500 million in skills and our skills package, which is a $3 billion investment in vocational education. (Time expired)
Senator GRIFF (South Australia) (14:34): The actual program still runs, even though it expired effectively midyear. It will run to the end of this year. While you're putting in place a process for mentoring to be taken over by other programs, will you commit to extending this program until there is full continuation?
Senator CANAVAN (Queensland—Minister for Resources and Northern Australia and Deputy Leader of The Nationals in the Senate) (14:34): Mr President, I am informed from the minister's office today that the intention is to have those mentoring funding arrangements in place by the end of the year. As you have said, the mentoring still continues, even though the program has closed. Participants are still involved in that, and the government will ensure we continue to support mentoring through our various programs.