The NSW Nationals are delivering for rural and regional communities by building up a generation of skilled workers. An unprecedented $285 million skills and training package means that 100,000 free apprenticeships will be offered to newly enrolled apprentices in any course from July 1.

The NSW Government has committed more than $80 billion to infrastructure projects over the next four years, including significant road, rail, school and hospital projects across the state. This unprecedented level of construction requires even more skilled tradespeople.

Deputy Premier and Minister for Skills John Barilaro said NSW needed more apprentices to ensure we had a strong pipeline of skilled workers for the NSW job market.

“We know that without skilled workers, our economy will stall,” Mr Barilaro said. “The single biggest threat to our $80.1 billion infrastructure spending program is not having the workforce to deliver it. You can have the money to spend, but if you don’t have the skilled workers to actually bring the projects to life, it all counts for nothing.”

Employers are often required to reimburse apprentices for the cost of their training, but the apprentice usually covers the cost up front. This means that someone on one of the lowest incomes in Australia, can have to pay $2000 to get their qualification and earn a decent salary.

“As an ex-tradie turned Skills Minister, it is extremely rewarding to be delivering this free training opportunity, particularly for our youngest workers,” Mr Barilaro said.

“This sort of free training offer has never been made before, so I encourage people thinking about skilling up, or starting a new career to make the most of it.”

This funding will reduce up-front costs for apprentices, who are some of the lowest paid people in the nation and have to fork out up front for their training. It will also take away costs for small businesses who would like to take on apprentices, as these employers won’t have to later reimburse these costs. The NSW Nationals expect this to give a real boost to apprenticeships and to attract many more young people, who otherwise would have looked elsewhere.

On top of the free apprenticeships, students starting a Certificate I Foundations Skills courses and Smart and Skilled will not pay a fee from July 1, which means anyone in NSW who wants to upskill, boost their knowledge and enhance their career prospects through a Foundation Skills course, will be able to do so free-of-charge. This initiative applies to all apprentices, training with all types of training providers, and applies to all student fees, in recognition that all apprenticeships are vital to keeping businesses moving

Why is this program needed?

An apprenticeship can be the first step on a great career path for a young student finishing school, or a more experienced person looking for a career change. Fees for apprenticeship training, of up to $2,000, are seen by apprentices and their employers as a cost barrier which will be removed (for all new apprentices and their employers).

When you’re an apprentice on less than the minimum wage and have to fork out $2,000 for your training, that’s a big ask. This fee-free training will ensure there is a strong pipeline of skilled workers for the NSW job market, enabling NSW businesses to adapt more readily and respond to future job needs.

How many apprentices are there in NSW?

There are currently 21,719 approved apprenticeship contracts in New South Wales. This has increased from 16,737 contracts in 2014 to 21,719 contracts in 2018. Despite this, there is a need to invest more – the state is growing like never before – there is more infrastructure, more housing, and more job opportunities. We don’t want the costs of training to stop any young person to have the opportunity to take up an apprenticeship.

Are we experiencing a shortage of apprentices? 

There are skilled labour shortages in many industries in New South Wales including the construction, hospitality and automotive repair industries. New South Wales is embarking on the biggest infrastructure program in a generation. We need a skilled workforce that is ready to deliver this infrastructure. The main reason for the labour shortage across the nation is because of strong market growth in the industries that require these skilled workers.

Research shows fees can be a barrier to students in taking up training. The minimum apprentice wage is lower than the national minimum wage. Low wages are among the main factors that contribute to a person leaving their apprenticeship, with almost half of NSW apprentices dropping out in the first year. Making training fee free will help to alleviate the initial financial pressure on apprentices.

How many additional apprenticeships will this program bring?

We are forecasting that this will deliver a 10% increase in the take up of apprenticeships. While we expect to have 100,000 new apprentices take advantage of this over the next four years, if the take up exceeds our expectations, then that’s a bonus.

Apprenticeships are the cornerstone of workplace training in NSW. They train highly skilled tradespeople in more than 70 occupations. By investing in apprenticeships the NSW Government is supporting businesses, particularly small businesses, who make up about 70 per cent of employers of apprentices, to train their staff in the skills they need now and in the future.