It was my honour recently to attend the National Association of Women in Construction ACT chapter's awards for excellence. The women who won these awards are tenacious, highly skilled and inspiring. They are women who have confronted what is, in a way, the last frontier—and it still is a man's domain. I would like to honour all of the women who received awards that night, in particular Michelle Tifan, who received the future leader award. Michelle works for ActewAGL in Canberra. She started her career as a scientist and moved into a trade at a later stage because she was more interested in pursuing that career. She is an incredibly inspirational woman. These are amazing trail-blazing women, some of whom have had tough fights and struggles to be recognised in the industry. And we need more of them.
I understand that women make up only 12 per cent of the construction industry. A 2009 report from the National Centre for Vocational Education Research said that the number of women in manual trades was probably less than two per cent. This number is too low but it is something that can be fixed. Women have done these trades before. During World War I and II women took over from men to ensure that life and work went on in this country, and we can do it again.
For our part, the government is investing heavily in training our nation. Training in trades and skills is an important component for the future productivity, employment and economic growth of this country. I have had a long interest in vocational education and trades since my days at the oldest workers college in the world, my former alma mater and the place where I was union president, the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. So I was very pleased when the Gillard government invested heavily in trades, training and education in the budget. The budget invested over $100 million to help mentor apprentices through their training. Currently, only 48 per cent of apprentices complete their training, and it is particularly difficult in the first year. This program is aimed at providing the right guidance and mentoring to young apprentices to make sure they understand and can benefit from the opportunities of learning a trade. The budget also included $281 million for a support package for additional tax-free payments to encourage apprentices in critical trades and a $1,700 bonus, which is expected to support 200,000 apprentices over four years.
The Gillard government invested $11 billion in vocational training between 2008 and 2010, and this has resulted in 448,000 new apprentices—a significant number and the highest ever recorded. These investments are coupled with the billion-dollar investment already made in the Trade Training Centres in Schools Program to ensure that as many Australian school students as possible have the opportunity to learn a skill or a trade. In my own electorate, I know how much these centres are appreciated. I have met the students and staff of St Mary MacKillop College in Tuggeranong who told me just how much their centre is helping to change lives and create opportunities. I had a tour of this new centre just recently. It has not opened yet as work is still being done on it. It has all sorts of woodwork and metal-craft opportunities and has a centre for hospitality. These new centres provide young Australians with a range of trade skills as well as life skills, and they are to be lauded. We have made a significant investment of $5.7 million in the centre at St Mary MacKillop College, and it benefits not just the hundreds of students at that college but also students throughout Canberra—students from St Clare's College, St Francis Xavier College and Merici College. They are all joint partners in the project. I mention these key programs not only because I am proud of the achievements of the Gillard government when it comes to skills and education but because I want to encourage all women and girls to take up the opportunity that this record level of investment is unlocking. I think it is important to note that this is a program that those opposite would slash and burn should they come to office, depriving thousands of Australians the opportunity of learning a trade, including the next generation of girls and women such as those who were honoured at the recent awards event I went to.
Providing a high quality education to all Australians and ensuring that all Australians can get the skills and training they need to get a job is part of the DNA of Labor. It is an integral part of our history and since this government has come to office this legacy has seen the creation of some 750,000 jobs.