National Employment Services Association National Conference

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In one of his fire side chats to the nation in 1934 President Roosevelt told the American people: “No country, however rich can afford the waste of its human resources.  Demoralisation caused by vast unemployment is our greatest extravagance.  Morally it is the greatest menace to our social order.” 

The menace of unemployment

Just imagine what this election campaign would be like if unemployment was 10 per cent and 1 million Australians were unemployed. That’s the forecast we faced 18 months ago. Just imagine the homes lost and families destroyed.  Imagine the anger. Imagine the news. It would be a very different election.That’s what it would have been like if we didn’t take the action we did.

That’s what it’s like right now in America. Unemployment is almost 10 per cent.  6 million Americans have lost their job in the past 12 months.  They go to the polls in November for their mid term congressional elections – and unemployment is the red hot issue. Here it is not even on the media’s radar. It’s not, because of the work the government has done, and the work we have done together.

Mark spoke on Monday about the success of Job Services Australia.  I won’t repeat what he said – other than to say thank you. I also want to thank you for the help you have given me.

As many of you know Julia and Mark gave me two responsibilities – Keep Australia Working and the National Green Jobs Corps.  Mark and I came up with a third – Apprentice Kickstart. Your support has been critical in the rollout and success of all three.

 Apprentice Kickstart

Apprentice Kickstart would not have worked without you.  You got out there and promoted it. As a result almost 26,000 teenagers got an apprenticeship over summer.  The summer before it was 17,000.  We boosted it by 53 per cent.  It is so successful we are now recruiting more apprentices than before the global recession.  It’s so successful we are rolling it out again.

National Green Jobs Corps

National Green Jobs Corps is now up and running.  Our first participants are already graduating. I have visited many of the sites across the country in the last few months and met some incredible young people.  Many that haven’t finished high school and weren’t sure what they wanted to do with their life.  Now they have got a qualification and a plan for the future. We put it together by talking to you.  I consulted, listened, and made changes to the draft RFT based on your advice.  I am still making changes based on your advice.  Last month I made changes to allow providers to directly register participants.

Jobs Expos

As many of you know I have been on the road since October running Jobs Expos in unemployment hot spots. I have seen some of you there. It’s a simple idea and it works.  We put local employers with jobs, and local people looking for work in the same place.  I call it a jobs supermarket. We have now run 25 around the country.  In places where it is hardest to create jobs we have filled more than 11,000.

One of them was a young bloke named Joshua.  He left school four years ago at 16 and has never had a job.  He got a job in April at the Job Expo we held on the Central Coast.  He’s now working at the Ali Baba shop in Tuggerah Westfields.  He wants to join the Navy. Remember this is a young bloke who had been unemployed for four years.  I caught up with his mum recently and she told me “he is a different boy to the one he was a few months ago”.  That’s the difference a job can make.  It doesn’t just pay the bills, it can change your life. There are lots of Joshua’s.

I got a letter from Sally a few weeks ago about the Jobs Expos that meant a lot to me.  It quoted one member, who might be here, who said: “This expo was the single most effective event that I have experienced in my 20 years in employment services, and I have been involved in many different industry strategies and events”. That’s pretty high praise.

But the fact is none of this would have been possible without you.  It is your involvement that has made these the success that they are, and that’s why if we are re-elected we have promised to keep going and keep running them until the end of the year.

Whether it’s Apprentice Kickstart, National Green Jobs Corps or Jobs Expos – this is a real partnership between the government and the employment services industry.

Moving Forward

But today I don’t want to talk about what we have done.  I want to talk about what we do next.  The future.  The theme of our campaign is Moving Forward.  I want to tell you what this means to me and what this means for you. 

First, the workforce is changing. The jobs of the future are going to require more skills and the proportion of low and unskilled jobs is going to fall. I was in Washington last month and had a look at some research that’s just been released from Georgetown University. It shows that 63 per cent of new jobs created in America, over the next eight years, will require postsecondary skills. In other words, three out of five available jobs will require a high school diploma plus a college degree or other qualification. Australian universities have done the same research and reached similar conclusions.

You can see early evidence of that in this slide. This is employment growth by occupation in the past five years.  It shows the rapid growth in employment of professionals and managers, as well as the drop in machinery operators and technicians.


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And this is what DEEWR projects is going to happen over the next five years.


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This creates an enormous challenge for both of us. More jobs requiring more skills, and fewer low skilled jobs, will make life a lot tougher for the people we are focused on helping – unless we do something about it.

The key is education. If most of the jobs of the future are going to require post secondary qualifications, then we have to boost the number of students who finish school and the number who go on to get qualifications from university or TAFE.

That’s why the Prime Minister has set the following targets:

  • 90 per cent of students completing high school by 2015
  • Halving the number of adults without a Certificate 3 qualification or higher in the next ten years
  • Increasing the number of 25 to 34 year olds with a university degree to 40 per cent in the next 15 years.

Today I just want to concentrate on the first of these.

Increasing School Retention Rates

At the moment about 76 per cent of young people finish high school. Getting to 90 per cent won’t be easy. 

To help the Prime Minister announced this week we will increase the maximum amount of money that parents on Family Tax Benefit A receive for teenagers aged 16 – 18 who are still at school from $57 a fortnight to $208. It means up to an extra $4000 per teenager – and provide a lot of help to stay at school.

More people finishing school also means schools themselves have got to change.  They will need to meet the needs of a different group of students. School will have to become a place that provides more than just a pathway to university.  It also has to be a place that prepares students for the workforce. The Trade Training Centres we are building in high schools across the country give us the capacity to do this. This is where the next generation of plumbers, electricians, carpenters and hairdressers will be able to start an apprenticeship.

National Trade Cadetship

One of the first announcements the Prime Minister made on the campaign trail was the establishment of a National Trade Cadetship.  It means students from Year 9 on will be able to start a pre-apprenticeship at school.

We know that about 60,000 students leave school every year and don’t get a job or go on to further education. Employers tell me all the time that young people they interview (often from JSAs) don’t have the practical skills – employment skills – they are looking for.

I think we are leaving it too late.  We have to start earlier – at school. That’s why students will also be able to start a Trade Cadetship in Year 9 that focuses on basic job skills.  Things like team work, job preparation and personal responsibility. These are the sorts of reforms we have to make if we are going to build the workforce we are going to need for the future. They are also reforms that have the potential to cut unemployment in our most disadvantaged communities.

As many of you know, in the past 12 months I have been working in 20 areas across the country where unemployment is high – everywhere from Cairns to Burnie, from south west Sydney to the south west suburbs of Perth. They are all very different.  But they all have one thing in common – in every one of them high school completion rates are lower than the national average.

Here is just one example – Kwinana in south west Perth.  It’s on the doorstep of the Australian Marine Complex, where work is ramping up on the Gorgon liquid natural gas project. Very few of the jobs are being picked up by young people in Kwinana, where teenage unemployment is through the roof.  Unemployment is almost double the national average.  Retention rates are about 20 per cent lower than the national average. If we can boost retention rates in places like Kwinana the impact will be transformational.  It’s the key to dislodging entrenched disadvantage and high unemployment.

The Opposition

None of this will happen though if Tony Abbott  becomes the Prime Minister of Australia in two and a half weeks. If that happens there won’t be any more Trade Training Centres.   He has said he will cut the whole program. It means more than 1,800 high schools will miss out and more than a million students will miss out on the chance to start an apprenticeship.

The Liberals haven’t announced any policy to boost skills yet.  I won’t surprised though if they announce they want to go back to their old ATC scheme. If that’s the case it’s worth remembering this – they only built 22 and 90 per cent were in Liberal electorates or marginal seats.  It gives you an idea about the Coalition’s approach to the importance of building the skills we need for the future.

Conclusion

This election might not be dominated by the menace of unemployment, but it is still there. There is a lot at stake. Will we take the steps we need to now to start building the workforce of the future – or not. I believe it is one of greatest challenges we face – and it will be determined by this election. That’s why it will determine whether we move forward or not.

In my first speech in Parliament I said we have the chance to turn the Australia of our imagination into something real. For me that’s a country as fair as it is strong.  Where post code does not determine opportunity. Where there are no excuses. Where we don’t have to import skilled workers on one side of the country and teenage unemployment is 20, 30 or 40 per cent on the other.

The key to this is education. We have a lot of work to do.  Work we have to do together. But if we get it right, the impact will be transformational. It’s the key to moving Australia Forward. Building a stronger, fairer Australia – and I hope I have a chance to build it with you.