Tackling the skills shortage with a Kickstart

Sunday Telegraph, 1/11/09

It’s not often you meet a bloke named Kevin. A couple of months ago I met two in the same place. Kev the PM from Queensland and Kev the builder from Bankstown.

The Prime Minister was in Bankstown to talk about jobs. Kev the builder told him the economic stimulus meant he was flat out – building classrooms and libraries from Bankstown to Toukley.

Watching the two Kevins on the news that night was a young bloke, Matthew Jenkins. Matthew had been out of work for six months and saw an opportunity. He rifled through the Yellow Pages, found Kev’s business and gave him a call. Kev was so impressed he offered Matthew an apprenticeship. For the past three months Matthew has been on the tools, training to be a carpenter.

Australia needs more apprentices like Matthew. As the economy recovers from the global recession we are going to need a lot more skilled workers. The problem is employers are putting on fewer apprentices at the moment – not more.

In the last few months I have been on the road with Mark Arbib, Bill Kelty and Lindsay Fox talking to employers around the country. We have been everywhere from Penrith to Perth, and where ever we went employers told us the same thing – they need more help to put on new apprentices.

I checked the data and they were right. In the last 12 months there has been a big drop in the number of people starting apprenticeships. This year 10,000 fewer people started an apprenticeship than last year.

The same thing happened in the 1990s. When the recession hit there was a big drop in the number of people starting apprenticeships. Around 35,000 people started an apprenticeship in a traditional trade like carpentry or plumbing in 1990. In 1991 this dropped by 35 per cent to 23,000.

It took another 13 years before we recruited more than 35,000 traditional trade apprentices a year again. This is one of the reasons we had a skills shortage before the global recession – and it’s happening again.

That’s why we recommended to Julia Gillard that the Government triple the bonus that employers get if they put on a young apprentice this summer from $1,500 to $4,850.

It is called Apprentice Kickstart and will help employ 21,000 new apprentices in traditional trades – butchers, bakers, bricklayers, carpenters, electricians, plumbers, hairdressers, pastry cooks and a lot more. It starts on 1 December and runs until 28 February or until the 21,000 apprenticeships are filled.

This is badly needed in Bankstown, where Kev the builder has a workshop and I have a big responsibility.

Teenage full time unemployment in Bankstown is higher than almost anywhere else in the country – 47.7 per cent.

For some of these young people an apprenticeship will change their life. Just like this job has changed mine. It gives me the chance to help the people of my electorate and the whole country.

I caught up with Kev the builder again on Friday. Matthew’s going well. He’s a quick learner and a hard worker. Kev knew all about Apprentice Kickstart and he is going to put on another apprentice.

That’s good news – not just for Kev the builder or Kev the PM, but for all of us.