Tamworth TAFE Plumbing Trade Course
TAMWORTH TAFE PLUMBING TRADE COURSE
Mr SLACK-SMITH (Barwon) [5.36]: I speak on behalf of a constituent, Mr David Griffiths, and his employer, Mr Greg Avery, regarding the restructure of Tamworth TAFE and the stage 1 plumbing trade course which students have been forced to travel to other centres to complete. Mr Griffiths has to travel to Coffs Harbour, which is a six to seven-hour drive from Wee Waa, three days every three weeks instead of a 2½-hour drive to Tamworth every five weeks for one week's tuition. My constituent's employer will now be without his employee every three weeks instead of every five weeks and will have to allow him travelling days because of the distance he has to travel. This could well put my constituent's job in jeopardy because of the length of time he has to travel back and forth instead of being at work. I believe this is total inefficiency. It does not seem reasonable to me to have my constituent travelling to Coffs Harbour when there is a perfectly good TAFE facility in Tamworth which has been adequately training plumbing apprentices for many years. Why now is there a need to transfer apprentices from Tamworth to other regions to complete their stage 1 plumbing trade course?
My constituent, who was given the option to go to Orange, Wollongbar, Wyong, Coffs Harbour or Maitland, chose Coffs Harbour as it is only six to seven hours away. The other centres are a lot further in terms of time and distance. I have not received any response to my letters to the Minister asking him to look into this matter. My constituent's employer is as concerned as I am about the lack of response to letters and subsequent faxes requesting such a response. Students at Tamworth who are trained in domestic plumbing, liquefied petroleum gas installation, post-trade plumbing technology, and urban irrigation systems also attend commercial programs and trade classes.
In 1996 there were only six enrolments for non-apprentice six-month entry level domestic plumbing training courses, or building trades plumbing introductory courses. Those six students have been combined with stage one apprentices and approval has been given to run a combined class of stage one apprentices and non-apprentices only in semester one. The course for the six non-apprentices ends in June 1996. If this class is not joined by at least six other apprentices during this semester the existing six apprentices will be directed to other TAFE courses for the second semester in 1996. This large, good and comparatively new facility in Tamworth, which represents a major capital investment, includes some donated plant.
With such a small throughput of students the use of the building must be reassessed. There is pressure for accommodation on campus to cater for growth areas such as child care, welfare and retail training. I am concerned that tradesmen are not encouraged to enter trade courses. Down the track we will sadly lack the tradesmen that we require. I urge the Minister to take a closer look at where our TAFEs and trade courses are going. The plumbing facility at Tamworth, which is recognised as the best in New South Wales, has produced many award-winning apprentices. The director of that facility has said, "We want to maintain the facility and hopefully get the first-year course running again next year." Why is Tamworth not an option for students from other areas, rather than having the facility remain idle? I urge the Minister to investigate thoroughly the economics of having first-year plumbing students travelling all over the State when such an excellent centrally placed facility is available.
Mr AQUILINA (Riverstone - Minister for Education and Training, and Minister Assisting the Premier on Youth Affairs) [5.41]: The honourable member for Barwon should have alerted me to the fact that he intended to raise this matter as I have prepared a fairly good response. He referred to the fact that student numbers for plumbing have been declining at Tamworth for a number of years. Statistics for apprentice enrolments indicate that that facility has not been at maximum capacity since it was established. The minimum number for a student group is 12 and the maximum number is 15. Staff members have encouraged employers to support apprenticeship training and to encourage coastal students, who attend at less adequate facilities, to travel across the mountains. That has had limited success. Approval was given to Tamworth to run a combined class of six stage one apprentices and six non-apprentices in semester one this year.
A letter to this effect was sent to the honourable member for Barwon and to apprentices and to employers in April 1996. The letter stated that the course would continue on the proviso that if six additional apprentices were not enrolled during the semester it would be necessary for studies to continue at another college. It is now necessary for the six students to transfer to another college for semester two this year for the following reasons. The honourable member for Barwon has already referred to the fact that plumbing trade training is offered in other country areas. In addition, several Sydney TAFE colleges conduct trade training. Block release is available at Maitland, Coffs Harbour, Orange and Wyong. Tamworth will offer to run stage two in 1997 if minimum enrolment numbers are met and will continue to run stage one in the second semester this year if there are 12 enrolments. Teachers have been assisting the six displaced apprentices to find the best alternative college. The plumbing facility will not be closed. No teachers will be sacked. As soon as student numbers increase, plumbing training will be provided.