2015 WorldSkills Australia Skillaroos Farewell Dinner

  • Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Education and Training

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It is a pleasure to join you as you prepare to represent Australia in your trades.

One of the things you notice as you travel around Australia is this, these beautiful buildings, temples dedicated to skills training. They can be technical schools in that lovely art-deco style of the 1950s that we have all around Melbourne or they can be Mechanic Institutes. It is a sign of the importance that these skills play in building our modern country; in building the Australia that we can all sometimes take a bit for granted. I wanted to take a moment to make a few comments about that because I do believe that these buildings are a reminder of the importance of skills, not just to our past but also our future.

I bring the best wishes of Minister Simon Birmingham, he was particularly disappointed that he was unable to attend at short notice and we are going to hear a message from him later on.  

You are all rightly proud of your skills, abilities, and dedication to your chosen trades that have brought you this far, culminating in your departure for São Paulo tomorrow.

We are approaching that time of year when university ‘open days’ are being promoted. And while that is fantastic, the challenge has been that the choice of a university degree is sometimes encouraged to the exclusion of a trade qualification or acquiring skills through vocational education. Trade skills, and indeed vocational education, are a real and meaningful alternative to university education; they are not a second choice.

We sadly have, over the last twenty years, devalued technical and vocational and trades education for too many of you. Thankfully it is now being turned around.

The Commonwealth Government understands this; we know the great benefits reaped by those who complete an apprenticeship or a VET course qualification, we have heard a lot about it tonight. We know that those who choose these pathways can go on to secure highly paid jobs, to start their own small business and potentially train the next generation of apprentices and trainees to ensure Australia always has the skills we require.

We all know the importance of trades and skills training in our community, particularly in ensuring the delivery of those services that we sometimes take for granted.

Mechanics, like my Dad when he was working, keep our cars, buses and trucks on the road; plumbers make sure we can have a hot shower each morning; and builders help to create the great Australian dream a reality by building or extending our homes, to list a few.

The importance of having a fulfilling career cannot be underestimated. With around three million Australians participating in vocational education annually, and many moving into the workforce, it is clearly a sector well regarded by Australians.

Vocational education and training is delivering improved employment outcomes, higher productivity, national competitiveness and stronger economic growth. But most importantly for me, it is delivering choices and opportunities for individuals and families across Australia.

Quality vocational education and training is crucial to Australia’s future. Without a highly skilled and well-trained workforce, our country will not succeed. Australia needs more highly skilled people like you here today.

It is for this reason that, led by Simon Birmingham, the Government is consulting with employers and businesses to consider innovative and practical approaches to deliver trade qualifications in schools, and led a major national reform in 2014 to ensure the long-term benefit of VET. Put simply, the Government wants more students to follow the paths that you have.

You’ve trained for your careers at a particularly important time. Employers know what skills they need to be innovative and globally competitive, and are working with education providers to ensure that those who have undertaken training in a trade will meet industry demand at the other end.

Australian industry standards are held in high regard by many countries globally, and have been adopted in South Africa, Indonesia, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia and India. And, as has been mentioned already, vocational education and training is one of our largest exports with enormous growth prospects due to the recently signed Free Trade Agreements.

This is why I know that you are going to hold your own as you compete at the 43rd WorldSkills International Competition in Brazil, and I will be delighted when many of you come back with a medal.

I will point out that you have a mentor and a role model in the room with Jessica Martin. Jessica returned two years ago from Germany with a silver medal after competing in the Restaurant Service category. To place second in the world is a feat in and among itself, and Jessica has since gone on to become an Australian Apprenticeships Ambassador to promote her achievements on the national stage.

Her achievements at WorldSkills have helped her to access great opportunities in a career she loves and I thank her for being prepared to share her expertise with others.

It is one of the great privileges of my job to meet people such as you who have been chosen as the best of the best in your respective occupations. It is also a privilege to represent the Government here today as I wish you good luck in Brazil.

You should leave Australia full of confidence. You have all demonstrated extraordinary commitment and dedication to reach this point.

I wish you every success as you showcase your abilities on the world stage.

Thank you.

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