My focus in this adjournment debate is on apprenticeships and youth employment. Last week in my electorate I focused on apprentices and apprenticeships. The Lalor electorate currently has 3,800 apprentices. I visited Cummins, a heavy diesel-engine maintenance company, a global company that was a recent winner of the Wyndham Business Awards for their great work with local schools in trades and in preparing and training apprentices. This company has links to the local LLEN and the Beacon Foundation, as well as schools. I also had a visit from shadow minister for vocational education, Sharon Bird. We had a meeting with apprentices at the Werribee Plaza building site. I learnt a lot from both visits. At Cummins I heard about their membership of Beacon, which speaks to this global company's positive corporate attitude to youth employment. I also heard about their involvement in the Local Learning and Employment Network—the LLEN—whereby they have donated diesel engines to the Point Cook Senior Secondary College Trade Training Centre. Students from across the Wyndham VET cluster access this equipment. They provide great support for apprentices and their current apprentices act as young ambassadors in mentoring roles for students from Lalor and Wyndham. Through Beacon, they help develop employment skills through mock interviews and resume requirements in a voluntary capacity. It was a terrific visit.
With the shadow minister I had a very powerful meeting with apprentices at the huge Werribee Plaza redevelopment site. It was great to see the pride in these young adults as they move to adulthood and work. In the meeting the dozen or so apprentices raised a few issues with the shadow minister and me. They talked about the great program that was Tools for Your Trade. One young plumber talked about his regret that in his second year he would not be able to purchase the tools that he had planned to buy after purchasing a collection of hand tools in his first year. None of the dozen or so apprentices that we spoke to were interested in the loan option. There was only one apprentice considering it, but he expressed that his parents were not keen. And now we know that only one per cent of apprentices across Australia have applied under the new loan scheme.
It became apparent that, when we were talking about licensed trades of both plumbers and electricians, half-a-dozen apprentices on the site joined us that day but, when it came to carpentry and non-licensed trades, there was only one carpentry apprentice on site.
It came to light in our discussions that there were many 457 visa workers on that site who were potentially taking the place of young apprentices from my local area. I think that is a shame. They also discussed increased TAFE fees and the quality of their courses. They expressed concern about some of the private providers and that they did not think they were the best option. They talked about a lower quality and sometimes more expense. They also talked about a lack of reimbursements sometimes from their employers for up-front fees for TAFE. They talked about the high cost of licensing test fees at the end of their apprenticeships, particularly the electrical apprentices who were faced with fees of $1,500 to sit their A-grade exams and of course that is at the apprentice's cost. They also spoke with great remorse about cuts to the mentor program. However, I was pleased to hear that the apprentices value the union support they were getting on site for those in licensed trades. The CFMEU officer was a member of the LLEN and was assisting in that capacity to ensure local kids get connected to commercial building opportunities. The ETU has an apprentice advocate who visits the site regularly and acts as a sounding board and support for apprentices.
I am critically concerned about youth unemployment and youth underemployment, because Melbourne's west has high youth unemployment. I am critically concerned about what I heard from some of those apprentices. Although we saw fabulous work happening with Cummins and its links to the LLEN and schools, I am afraid that unless a state Labor government is returned to government in Victoria that will be gone too. (Time expired)
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