Union apprentices share their stories with the highest tiers of government

This month an impressive delegation of ETU and CEPU apprentice members attended our national apprentice conference including a visit to Parliament House to speak to federal representatives about what issues apprentices are facing in the electrical trades.

Our apprentices asked for two key things to ensure the electrical workforce in Australia has what it needs to make the transition to renewables and have a bright future:

  1. Improved systems for mentoring and support of electrical apprentices to improve completion rates.
  2. A circuit of six centres of excellence in renewables across Australia, to help deliver the training apprentices will need to transition to a renewable future but also have capability to up-skill the existing workforce as the transition takes place and no communities are left behind.

The Union apprentices met dozens of politicians, including Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, and spoke to them about the challenges and opportunities of electrical apprenticeships today, such as high dropout rates due to poorly delivered mentor programs.

Apprentices had the opportunity to talk to the Federal Energy Department for workforce planning and consult with them and discuss ideas that will affect their futures.

They also got to tour the building, sit in on question time, discuss apprentice retention rates and the future of training and support, learn about the different houses of parliament and see our democracy in action.

The delegation also attended the Illawarra Clean Energy Expo at Parliament House where Energy Minister Chris Bowen gave a speech, and where they were able to speak to MPs, businesses and organisations involved in the sector and give their perspectives on behalf of the workers who will make a clean energy future a reality.

There was lots of discussions about training, what skills will be required in the future as we transition to renewables and how important being politically aware is for your rights at work and the delivery of trade education.

Female apprentices spoke to MPs about the roadblocks for women entering the electrical trades, solutions to those roadblocks and what work still needs to be done to improve the 2% participation rates.

Acting National Secretary Michael Wright spoke about the importance of getting the electrification of our nation and transition to renewables right, with good union jobs and careers.

ETU WA apprentice Wade is a third-year electrical apprentice at Muja Power station in Collie, about three hours from Perth. The power station is operated by Synergy and is due to close in 2029.

Wade shared his powerful story with MPs about how his hometown of Collie will be devastated by the closure, and the lack of opportunities for apprentices like him to re-skill and retrain for a renewable future. State and company funds allocated for workers to assist with the transition to renewable energy industries are not available for apprentices in his area, and there is no sign of a renewable training centre yet in WA.

“If we had places where we can actually train for the jobs of the future, so that apprentices can see they have a future in the industry, then we can start to address poor completion rates,” said Wade.

One of the most valuable parts of the experience for Wade was meeting other apprentices facing similar issues.

“Regional WA can feel a bit distanced from everyone else, so meeting other keen apprentices going through the same problems at their workplaces as me was really great. It helped me feel like I wasn’t alone,” he said.

Third year apprentice linesman Dan from Tasmania had a similar feeling.

“Tassie is quite remote and can be isolated so it was really nice to meet a bunch of sharp people in the union facing the same issues as me, and great to see the bigger picture of what the union is doing nationally,” he said.

Having a direct line to speak to federal MPs who make decisions about the industries the apprentices work in was the highlight for him.

“We were well-prepped the day before by the Union, and then it was just about sharing our authentic experiences with the politicians. They were very receptive and approachable, particularly Jacqui Lambie and Adam Bandt,” said Dan.

“I’d definitely recommend this experience to any other Union apprentices in Tassie. It’s probably one of the best things I’ve ever done in my professional life.”

ETU National Policy Officer Trevor Gauld said the apprentices had really done themselves and their Union proud.

“They were passionate, they were professional, and their stories have made a massive impact. I have since returned to Canberra for further lobbying activities on behalf of the Union and politicians and their staff are still talking about how impressed they were with the apprentices they met a week ago.”

The Union had made pre-budget submissions to the government on these issues, which came out of the 2022 ETU National Industry Conference, but having real people telling real stories added real context and relatability to the issues.

Electrical workers are the most in-demand trade our country requires to get the transition to renewables right. The ETU and CEPU apprentices did a fantastic job of telling their stories about their experiences as apprentices, and highlight just how powerful and essential it is for working people to have their voices heard in Canberra.

Thanks to all the elected representatives who met with us – it’s great to see our federal representatives are listening!

These are just some of the members of parliament who made themselves available to hear from our apprentices:

Read more ETU news

This article was publised on 30 March 2023.