High unemployment is a continuing blight on my electorate of Paterson. It currently stands at 10.8 per cent, while general unemployment is 4.1 per cent. I'm therefore really pleased to be helping to drive a new initiative in my region that pulls together people from the education, training and employment of our youth and puts this on top of the agenda. The Hunter Youth Transition Advisory Group brings together stakeholders from industry, education, community and government. The goal is to partner and collaborate to achieve positive results for youth as they transition from education to employment.
In 2017, young people are the product of an education system that funnels many of them towards a tertiary education rank and therefore a university degree. There's nothing wrong with getting a university degree but not everyone aspires to or is suited to a university degree; it doesn't actually serve everyone well. Even a university degree is no sure path to financial stability or career longevity. The average gap between a young person completing their degree and attaining full-time employment is 4.7 years. These are current figures. Tack onto that a three-, four- or five-year degree and you have a situation where a young person has little earnings potential for an average of eight years. Plus, they have a HECS debt on the end of that.
Wind the clock back a few years and there was absolutely nothing shameful about leaving school in year 10 and getting an apprenticeship. The Hunter region has a long history of high-level manufacturing that requires heavily and practically skilled workers. Yet it has become evident in recent years that young people aren't going into trades. Australia needs these tradespeople but the Turnbull government's policy hasn't encouraged workers or tradies. At the end of the day, it's government policy that regulates and shapes how this works. The whole system is in very poor shape. The government has slashed $3 billion from support for apprenticeships, TAFE and VET. Vocational training has been privatised. There are 148,000 fewer trainees and apprentices than there were when the Liberals came to government and 46,000 fewer trade apprenticeships. In contrast, under a Shorten government, we are going to reinvigorate TAFE. We are going to make sure that, for every government infrastructure project, one in 10 jobs is an Australian apprentice. We are going to put our faith back in good old-fashioned apprenticeships because we need those jobs and we need those people. They are incredibly important to the future of the Australian economy.