I am very pleased to be able to move this motion today on vocational education and training in the ACT. As we recently heard from the minister, many advances have been made in this sector.

As some of you may know, tomorrow night the national training awards will be held in Hobart to recognise excellence in Australian apprenticeships and traineeships. These awards recognise not only learners but also the employers and trainers who give them the tools to excel. The training awards provide an opportunity to showcase the strengths of vocational education in Australia and to promote apprenticeships and traineeships as viable pathways for all students.

Last year the ACT punched well above its weight at the national training awards: Sally Moylan won the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander student of the year award; Eylish Perry won the Australian school-based apprentice of the year award; Just Better Care Canberra won the Australian apprenticeships employer award; and Berwyn Clayton, a pioneer in research in the VET sector who started her career with 24 years of service at the Canberra Institute of Technology, won the lifetime achievement award. I wish the current ACT finalists the best of luck tomorrow.

The ACT is served by a high quality vocational and education training system. The performance of the ACT at last year’s national awards should indicate to us all how strong our VET sector here is in the ACT. We all know about the fantastic work being done by more than 100 VET providers eligible to deliver government funded training in the ACT. This includes private providers, schools delivering VET, and CIT, our public and largest training provider.

The ACT’s small size gives us considerable advantages; we are able to engage employers and other stakeholders quickly and effectively and are able to deliver the training needs our local employers will need into the future. Our close links with employers are vital to ensuring our VET sector is able to provide the training necessary to grow our economy and create the jobs of the future. Indeed, earlier this year it was announced that CIT will soon provide brand new qualifications at bespoke training facilities in renewable wind technology. This will help establish the ACT as the premier knowledge and education hub of this emerging field in Australia, and it will fill a market gap when it comes to maintaining and operating renewable wind technologies.

Wind energy will play a key role in the ACT’s meeting its target of sourcing 90 per cent of Canberra’s electricity from renewable sources by 2020, and this new CIT training qualification means Canberra can be at the forefront of the renewable energy sector, leading on policy and leading when it comes to equipping our young people with the skills needed for our future workforce.

So while the Joe Hockeys of this world lament the ugliness of wind turbines, here in the ACT we are reaping the rewards not only of clean wind energy but by equipping the next generation of workers with practical skills that ensure they are at the forefront of a rapidly growing global industry. For people with these qualifications and skills, the sky will be the limit in career opportunities. Neoen, which operates the Hornsdale Windfarm, is funding 30 scholarships of $5,000 each, showing just how valuable these skills will be to our local industry.

Hornsdale is the biggest wind farm that will supply a third of Canberra’s electricity needs within two years under a 20-year deal with the ACT government. They will also base their Asia Pacific business headquarters in Canberra as part of the deal. Last month Minister Simon Corbell opened the renewable energy skills centre of excellence at CIT Bruce, which will help students gain the technical skills necessary for a rewarding career in the growing renewable energy industry.

I understand these skills are in such short supply in Australia that there may be times when technicians have to be brought in from overseas to help maintain this technology. This qualification will be particularly valuable as we grow our renewable energy industry. This is just one example of the Labor government enhancing our VET sector through reform and collaboration.

In the ACT we are fortunate to have a government that recognises the importance of a strong, public VET provider. As a result, we are able to rely on CIT to deliver high quality VET programs across a range of industry areas. In particular, we can rely on CIT to deliver training in areas that the economy needs that might not be appealing to private providers due to higher overheads.

This includes qualifications in the traditional trades with high delivery costs, as well as qualifications in areas such as automotive, landscaping and IT where delivery costs can be high and enrolment numbers relatively low. In addition, the ACT government has been exploring the benefits of contestability and increased consumer choice in the VET market.

The introduction of skilled capital has increased the amount of contestable VET funding available and supports a vibrant, private training market in the ACT, as the minister just outlined. It helps links businesses and organisations with skilled workers.

We must remember that VET, unlike higher education, is open to everyone. We need to find ways of focusing on each individual student, building on their individual strengths and catering to their individual learning styles. This can pose special challenges because training must ensure that students from vastly different backgrounds and with a range of abilities are able to meet the same training outcomes.

As the only public provider of VET in the ACT, CIT in particular plays a vital role in community development by providing pathways and access into education for members of the community as well as providing a wide range of support services for students. CIT has contributed to the social capital of the ACT in a range of ways including: general education, including second chance year 12 programs, English language programs, and access 10, an alternative year 10 program to traditional schooling; the CIT Yurauna Centre, which provides dedicated Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teaching and support, enhancing employment opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people; and providing access and opportunity for disadvantaged members of the community, including provision of training of young parents through a partnership with ETD and the Canberra College Cares initiatives, as well as the street shops program partnership with the Canberra Ted Noffs Foundation aimed at engaging youth at risk; and then there is the return to work for women program.

Skilled capital improves access and support for those experiencing disadvantage and maximising success for students by better aligning funding for training to areas of skill need. The success of our VET system compared to our peers across the country is a testament to its quality.

As I previously mentioned, CIT students win awards year after year, both locally and nationally. Just a few months ago Minister Burch travelled to India to promote the ACT’s capability in VET to enhance collaborative education arrangements. This resulted in the signing of two memoranda of understanding between CIT and educational institutions and other commitments to work collaboratively to develop skills across several key areas in India.

This government remains committed to ensuring the ACT has a high quality VET system that delivers the best possible outcomes and is able to apply learning from other jurisdictions, both in Australia and abroad, to its continuous improvement. I congratulate Minister Burch on the recent reform work that has been done to ensure we have a strong VET sector, including the Review of vocational education and training in ACT public schools: future directions final report and response. This was an opportunity to take a closer look at the intersection of our secondary schooling and training systems, that is, where vocational education and training is offered to students in ACT secondary schools.

Young people have an entitlement to high quality education and training, and I look forward to the reforms outlined in this review being implemented to improve outcomes for our secondary students. The Australian apprenticeships user choice review will also help improve outcomes for apprentices and trainees in the ACT. The ACT allocates approximately $13 million annually in Australian apprenticeship or user choice funds and currently funds 5,229 apprentices and trainees.

Because of the scope of this program, it is imperative that these funds be managed effectively and responsibly. It is also important that the user choice program continues to be flexible and responsive to the needs of employers and the ACT economy, and that it reflects our training needs and priorities.

Minister Burch has already spoken in this place extensively about this review and how it will encourage increased enrolments and completion of qualifications. It will play a key role in supporting a vibrant VET sector in the ACT and will ensure that the training needs of students and local businesses are met. Minister Burch has also worked hard to improve CIT governance with the CIT act amended in 2014 to replace the CIT advisory council with the governing board to better enable CIT to meet the twin objectives of operating as a public provider of vocational education and training and operating with greater commercial and entrepreneurial focus in an increasingly contestable training marketplace. The CIT board commenced operation on 1 July 2015 and is vital to positioning CIT for success in increasingly competitive training and higher education markets.

We tend to associate growth and innovation with a strong higher education sector and, as a result, can sometimes overlook the contribution made by VET. The benefits of VET are clear when we look at economies that both are highly innovative and boast low levels of income inequality. VET in general and apprenticeships and traineeships in particular must be seen as viable career pathways for all students.

It is the countries in northern Europe, such as Denmark, the Netherlands, Germany and Austria that have best weathered the economic crisis that battered European shores. All have dynamic and well-funded VET sectors. They also boast the lowest levels of youth unemployment, according to the OECD, and better youth engagement.

The benefits to society at large are clear: citizens who are engaged and gainfully employed are empowered to be stronger contributors to society and to support safer communities. They also have better health outcomes, which is especially important for our public healthcare system. Finally, they contribute to the economy steadily throughout their careers both as taxpayers and as consumers. Reform and collaboration are vital to the future of our VET system as well, and as the needs of industry change, so should the focus of the training sector to ensure those needs are met.

Flexibility of training provision and informed choice for industry and students is vital to maximise training outcomes and to maximise the productivity of the ACT workforce. The reforms the ACT government has initiated are vital to ensure the ACT training sector provides quality opportunities for people, access to flexible training to enhance their career prospects and training in areas of highest needs to best provide the skills needed by industry, students and the ACT economy now and into the future.

Engagement with key stakeholders enables government and training providers to ensure subsidised training is delivered in areas of skills need, maximising the return on government investment and training. The training needs of industry and business are evolving.

How we respond will require increased sophistication and flexibility. This really highlights that VET students––including apprentices and trainees––are the future of our industries and services. Expenditure on VET is an investment in our future quality of life and allows us to see the interconnections between education, skills, jobs, community safety, health outcomes and productivity. Access to high quality skills education is undoubtedly necessary to the ongoing economic and social prosperity of our community.

Once again I congratulate our ACT nominees and wish them all the best of luck at the Australian training awards tomorrow. I look forward to Minister Burch continuing to keep the Assembly informed on the great progress the ACT is making to ensure our VET sector is agile and responsive to the needs of our community, industry and students.