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The Assistant Minister for Vocational Education and Skills, Karen Andrews, outlines details of the federal government's new flagship $1.5 billion Skilling Australians Fund.

Announced as part of the 2017-18 Budget, the Fund will replace the National Partnership Agreement on Skills Reform (NPA), which has seen apprenticeships decline by a staggering 46 per cent over the five years of the agreement.

The biggest annual decline in apprentices in Australia occurred in Labor’s last year in office from June 2012 to June 2013 when the number collapsed from around 515,000 to 404,000, or 22 per cent.

Clearly, the NPA signed off by Labor in 2012 is not working and that is why we are replacing it with a new permanent Skilling Australians Fund from July 1, 2017.

Our Skilling Australians Fund will work to reverse the decline in apprenticeships and traineeships in key areas identified by industry and states and territories.

It will focus on occupations in high demand, sectors of future growth and regional and rural areas.

The Fund will also provide every opportunity for Australians to gain the skills to fill Australian jobs, rather than business and employers having to rely on overseas trained workers.

This Fund represents a new way for the Government to work with its state and territory counterparts, and includes a strong emphasis on accountability and transparency. It will re-engineer the relationship between Commonwealth and states and territories in vocational education and skills training.

We will work with states and territories to identify clear targets and outcomes with funding provided only to those projects that meet the aims of the Fund.

This significant and critical change to the previous arrangement represents a genuine commitment to co-investment to benefit skills development locally and nationally. It will be financed by the Government’s recent reforms requiring employers hiring temporary or permanent employer-sponsored foreign workers to pay a fee.

We understand that overseas skilled migrants may be necessary to fill a short term need, but the Turnbull Government is ensuring that in the long term we can fulfill those skills needs with Australian workers, which is good for Australian business and good for our economy.

Industry also has a key role to play in another initiative announced in the Budget.

Our new $60 million Industry Specialist Mentoring for Australian Apprentices program will benefit around 47,000 apprentices and trainees over two years.

This mentoring support will complement the support services available under the Australian Apprenticeship Support Network and will help to improve completion rates and support the supply of skilled workers in industries undergoing structural change.

These two new measures represent a significant commitment to raising the status and value of vocational education and training and will provide certainty in skills funding.

The focus of the Fund is on skilling Australians in occupations of high demand including engineering, manufacturing, building and construction.

The Skilling Australians Fund commits $1.5 billion over four years – a funding increase equivalent of about $70 million compared to the previous NPA.

This funding is on top of the Government’s yearly commitment of $1.2 billion to support Commonwealth Skills programs and the additional $1.5 billion per annum of Australian Government funding already provided to state and territory governments for their VET sectors each year.

About the Author: Karen Andrews, Assistant Minister for Vocational Education and Skills

Andrews brings her experience in engineering, industrial relations and running her own business to her roles as Assistant Minister and Federal Member for McPherson (QLD).

As one of only two female graduates in Mechanical Engineering at QUT in 1983, and later working at power stations and petrochemical sites in regional Queensland and interstate, Andrews knows that it takes hard work and determination to succeed in sometimes difficult circumstances.

A long-term resident of the Gold Coast, Andrews is married with three children.

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