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Land of Opportunity: Australia's post-war reconstruction

Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme

The Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme (CRTS) had a long gestation. From the outset, vocational training was seen as a vital component of re-establishment, following the precedent of the Department of Repatriation training courses in 1918–20. It was discussed in March 1941 by the Inter-Departmental Advisory Committee on Reconstruction, which set up a Sub-Committee on Repatriation, Training and Placement, chaired by Roland Wilson. The report of the sub-committee circulated in July 1941 was surprisingly detailed, suggesting precise categories of eligibility and weekly rates of payments for trainees. It urged the closest possible collaboration among the Army Education Service, the RAAF Rehabilitation Service, the Repatriation Commission and the Department of Labour and National Service. The RAAF responded favourably, but the Repatriation Commission and the Treasury considered the proposed scheme to be far too broad and probably far too costly. They argued that training should be largely confined to members of the forces who had actually suffered some disadvantage as a result of war service.

In its second report in October 1942, the sub-committee extended the categories of eligibility, while claiming that the number of trainees would probably not be much higher than in 1919. It stated that the basis of eligibility should be suitability, in terms of both an individual's suitability for an occupation and the occupation's place in the post-war economy. Meanwhile, the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Repatriation, chaired by Reg Pollard, took an even broader view of training, embracing civilians engaged in war production as well as servicemen and women.

In October 1941 the Repatriation Commission set up an interim vocational training scheme for ex-servicemen who, because of war-caused incapacity, were unable to return to their previous occupations. It operated until June 1944. In December 1942 yet another committee, headed by Norman Mighell and including HC Coombs and PWE Curtin, looked at the question of training. It recommended that a comprehensive scheme of vocational training be deferred until the end of the war, but a Reconstruction Training Committee should be set up immediately. The War Cabinet on 2 March 1943 responded by approving the establishment of the committee under the direction of the Department of Post War Reconstruction.

The essential features of the training scheme were worked out at the early meetings of the Reconstruction Training Committee (later called the Central Reconstruction Training Committee). Chaired by either Coombs or Curtin, its members included EP Eltham, who had set up and directed the Commonwealth Technical Training Scheme, RB Madgwick, the Director of the Army Education Service, and RC Mills, the Chairman of the Universities Commission. At its first meeting on 16 March 1943, the Committee decided that university training should be organised by the Australian Universities Commission and other types of training by the Industrial Training Division of the Department of Labour and National Service. It subsequently made recommendations to the War Cabinet about funding of the scheme, the establishment of state, regional, professional and industrial committees, living allowances, travelling allowances, and loans for books and tools of trade. From 1944 onwards, the central committee was chaired by the Director of the Re-establishment Division of the Department of Post War Reconstruction, while his deputies chaired the state committees. All the training committees included representatives of ex-servicemen's organisations, employers' organisations and trade unions.

The statutory basis of the CRTS was the Re-establishment and Employment Act, which came into force in August 1945. Training under the scheme had actually begun in March 1944, when a small number of discharged servicemen and women began attending courses at universities and technical colleges. In April 1945, 751 trainees, mostly full-time, were enrolled in university courses, while 4964, mostly part-time, were enrolled in vocational courses. After general demobilisation began in October 1945 the numbers escalated. By June 1946, 13,166 trainees were taking university courses, including a small number at overseas universities, and 37,613 had started vocational courses, mostly provided by technical colleges. The number of trainees peaked in 1948. In that year the Cabinet decided that the closing date for applications would be 30 June 1950, provided the applicants had enlisted in the forces before 30 June 1947 and been discharged by 30 June 1949. The numbers fell sharply after 1950 and by 1954 the scheme had virtually come to an end.

In principle, all Australian ex-servicemen and women who had served for at least six months overseas or in Australia, and also the widows of servicemen, were eligible for training under the scheme. In 1945 further categories were added, including members of the Red Cross and other bodies associated with the forces, official war correspondents and photographers, merchant seamen, members of the Women's Land Army, and members of British and Commonwealth forces who had settled in Australia. In practice, large numbers of eligible applicants failed to be selected. Priority was usually given to applicants who had enlisted before the age of 21, whose training had been interrupted by war service, who required a refresher course in their profession, or who suffered a 'war-caused incapacity' and could not return to their pre-war occupation. In addition, selection officers assessed their suitability for training and civil re-establishment and considered the absorptive capacity of the nominated professions or trades.

Staff of the Department of Post War Reconstruction, the Commonwealth Employment Service, trade unions and employers' organisations made estimates of the employment prospects in particular industries, which were passed on to the CRTS industrial committees and regional committees. An outstanding case was the building industry, where unions strongly resisted pressure to increase greatly the number of trainees in the building trades.

By June 1950 the Commonwealth Government had spent £43.5 million on the CRTS and more than 200,000 individuals had been given some training. In his memoirs Coombs judged the scheme 'an undoubted success'. Over the years, thousands of former trainees have expressed gratitude for a scheme that enabled them to embark on fulfilling careers. In particular, many from lower-income families acquired university degrees and diplomas and joined professions that would have been beyond their reach in pre-war times. Nevertheless, there were widespread criticisms of the scheme by trainees, ex-servicemen's organisations and the press. From 1941 to late 1945, the planners could only guess how many discharged servicemen and women would seek to make use of the scheme. Ultimately 334,269 were accepted for training, compared with the 75,000 who received training benefits after World War I. Such large numbers made the task of organisation extremely difficult. The Universities Commission managed reasonably well: it already had a close relationship with the six universities, it dealt with a relatively small number of trainees, most of whom were full-time, and the courses they attended were generally well-established. About 21,000 (67 per cent) of university trainees completed their courses.

Vocational training

The challenges with the vocational trainees were much greater. The Division of Industrial Training and the Department of Post War Reconstruction jointly dealt with numerous technical colleges, many of them poorly staffed and with inadequate resources, which sought to provide hundreds of courses for huge numbers of trainees, often with little support from employers or trade unions. The majority of the trainees were part-time and many were unsure whether they really needed training. Some were highly critical of the living allowances, which were roughly similar to the basic wage, although there were increases in 1947 and 1948. While the number of applicants who were rejected was relatively low, many waited for up to 12 months before they were admitted to courses, or gave up waiting and took up unskilled occupations. The Commonwealth Government provided funds to enable colleges to erect or extend buildings and acquire equipment and, in addition to paying the fees of trainees, it paid subsidies to cover the cost of engaging additional lecturers and administrative staff. Even so, there were serious shortages of buildings, equipment and staff, and many courses were conducted in primitive conditions. Not surprisingly, the apparent wastage rate in the vocational side of the scheme was high: 67 per cent of the trainees did not complete their courses.

War Cabinet
Series: A2671
Educational and vocational training for the AIF and the Australian Military Forces in Australia, 6 February 1941 55/1941
Educational and vocational training for the AIF and the Australian Military Forces: extension of scheme to RAN and RAAF, 9 May 1941 55/1941 Supp. 1
Vocational training for ex-members of the forces, 22 October 1941 55/1941 Supp. 2
Army and Air educational services, 17 December 1942 442/1942 Supp. 1
Army and Air educational services and basis of entitlement to post-discharge training, 2 March 1943 442/1942 Supp. 2
Rates and conditions of financial assistance for post-discharge vocational training, 4 June 1943 442/1942 Supp. 3
Re-establishment of members of the Forces and civilian war workers, 14 April 1943 166/1943
Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme: estimates of cost, 8 December 1943 522/1943
Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme: organisation and special conditions, 4 February 1944 61/1944
Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme: eligibility for selection for training, 9 May 1944 242/1944
Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme: training in Australia of British personnel, 4 August 1944 390/1944
Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme: stocks of equipment and tools for training, 4 August 1944 395/1944
Training of Service medical officers, 9 January 1945 610/1944
Extension of technical college training facilities to meet CRTS requirements, 18 June 1945 237/1945
Extension of technical college training facilities to meet CRTS requirements, 18 August 1945 237/1945 Supp. 3
Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme: living allowance for women, 11 July 1945 274/1945
CRTS: acceptance under non war-caused disablement categories, 18 August 1945 326/1945
Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme: eligibility of members of the Permanent Forces, 19 September 1945 405/1945
Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme: training of groups attached to the Forces and similar groups, 19 September 1945 416/1945
Series: A2700
EJ Ward: Vocational training for members of the Forces, 29 October 1941 72
Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme: training of Service medical officers, 30 October 1945 961
Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme: review of categories, 30 October 1945 977
Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme: postgraduate training and training abroad, 18 January 1946 1028
Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme: eligibility under vocational categories acceptable for professional courses and vice versa, 23 August 1946 1232
Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme: proposed additional category of eligibility: members who interrupted a full-time vocational course to enlist, 23 August 1946 1233
Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme: special plans for professional courses in case of enlistment on or before 25th birthday, 23 August 1946 1234
Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme: admission of widows of UK and Empire ex-servicemen, 2 March 1948 1426
Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme: procedure for recovery of over-payment of allowances, 2 August 1948 1490
Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme: closing date for receipt of applications, 2 August 1948 1496
Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme: closing date for receipt of applications for training of war-caused disabled persons and widows, 14 June 1949 1496A
Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme: repayment of personal living allowance received by professional trainees in fourth and subsequent years of training, 14 June 1949 1607
Central Reconstruction Training Committee
Series: A12227

Registers of submissions, mostly undated, from the Department of Post War Reconstruction, the Universities Commission, the Repatriation Commission and the Director of Industrial Training.
Series: B5415

Decisions and amendments arranged by organisation for the handling of the scheme, pre-discharge training and training through the Repatriation Commission, operation of the training scheme, university type of training, technical type of training, rural training, allowances, trades and callings suitable for full-time vocational training.
Commonwealth Office of Education
Series: A1361
Reconstruction training: miscellaneous correspondence, 1947–60

Leaflets and correspondence of RC Mills on miscellaneous matters, including facilities for training and the pass rate at the University of Sydney.

[Part 1 is missing]

12/1/1 Pt 2
Reconstruction: postgraduate and overseas training, 1945–48 (3 parts)
Correspondence mostly concerning Australian students in Britain and elsewhere; entitlements of Rhodes Scholars and other scholarship holders; the appointment of a representative of the Office of Education in London; the obligations of overseas trainees to return to Australia; living costs in Britain, France and North America; and the interpretation of conditions and benefits. The correspondents include RC Mills, EJ Hook, RF Archer, LC Wilcher and A Nelson.
Department of External Territories
Series: A518
Re-establishment of natives and rehabilitation of native economies, 1946–51 (2 parts)
Includes documents on the operation of the Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme in Papua and New Guinea, training allowances paid to locals, and the transfer of the scheme in 1949 from the Department of Post War Reconstruction to the Papua New Guinea Administration.
Department of Health
Series: A1928
CRTS training of medical officers, 1943–46 (4 parts)
Correspondence and notes on negotiations between the Department of Health, the Central Medical Coordination Committee and the Central Reconstruction Training Committee on the rehabilitation and training of medical officers. The correspondents include JM Fraser, JB Chifley, JHL Cumpston, F McCallum, HC Coombs, RC Mills, SR Burston and WGD Upjohn.
Department of Labour and National Service
Series: MP463/2
Report on Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme, 1946
Report (20 September 1946) on the CRTS by a committee of review (chair: Brig. J Field), submitted to the Director of Re-establishment, Department of Post War Reconstruction.
Development and coordination of correspondence training, 1948
Includes a statement on correspondence education (primary, secondary and technical) in connection with the CRTS and a list of technical type correspondence courses (September 1948), published by the Department of Labour and National Service.
Memorandum on aspects of training for rehabilitation purposes, 1943
Memorandum (2 February 1943) by the Department of Labour and National Service on aspects of post-war training for rehabilitation purposes, with a supplement (8 March 1943) by EP Eltham.
Reports, 1940–49
Includes CRTS survey of available facilities in technical colleges (December 1943), a list of vocational courses approved for 100 per cent training in technical schools under the CRTS, technical education in the textile industry (March 1946), a building trades investigation into workforce needs under the CRTS (29 May 1946), and a minute (9 July 1946) by EP Eltham on work carried out by CRTS trainees for housing projects.
Department of Post War Reconstruction
Series: A9816
Reconstruction Training Committee, 1944–45

Minutes and agenda papers of meetings (June 1944 – December 1945) of the Central Reconstruction Training Committee, chaired by RF Archer, including reports of sub-committees.

[Parts 1–5 are missing]

1943/1064 Pts 6-11
Australian Aborigines: general, 1945–48 (2 parts)
Minutes of a meeting (4 February 1947) on the training of Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people (chair: RF Archer) and correspondence, minutes and memoranda on the extension of the Commonwealth training scheme to Aboriginal people. The correspondents include HC Coombs, RF Archer and G Rudduck.
Series: MP513/1
Allied ex-servicemen: training, 1946–48
Includes documents and correspondence on the training of British and Allied ex-servicemen under the CRTS.
Apprenticeship, 1946–47
Correspondence and other papers on supplementation of wages of apprentices and training of apprentices under the CRTS.
CRTS: eligibility – professional capacity 3(ii): contemplation, 1944–48
Papers concerning individual applicants for courses, including law, architecture, philosophy, theology and medicine, and the general application and interpretation of the 'contemplation' criterion.
Basic information on Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme, 1946–5
Reports, notes and statements on the CRTS, including allowances and conditions and the closing date for applications.
Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme: conference with Universities Commission, 1944
Minutes and agenda papers of two conferences (11–12 January, 25–26 August 1944) of the Australian Universities Commission and representatives of the Reconstruction Training Committee.
CRTS conference on industrial aspects of training scheme, 1945
Notes and decisions of a conference (11–13 September 1945) on industrial aspects of the CRTS, chaired by HC Coombs, and related correspondence.
Abandonment of CRTS courses, 1947–50
Papers concerning entitlements of ex-servicemen to Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme benefits, including men who abandoned courses in order to re-enlist in the defence forces.
Training of medical officers, 1943–54 (3 parts)
War Cabinet submissions, reports, correspondence and minutes concerning postgraduate courses; pre-discharge training, specialist training, refresher training; the availability of courses at universities, teaching hospitals and medical colleges; the question of special treatment of medical officers under the CRTS; financial provisions; and the closing date for training. The correspondents include JB Chifley, JJ Dedman, HC Coombs, RF Archer, PWE Curtin, RC Mills, FR Sinclair, JHL Cumpston, F McCallum and SR Burston.
Postgraduate overseas training, 1945–51 (3 parts)
Papers concerning the suitability of overseas courses for trainees; the selection of trainees; allowances, conditions and rates; instructions to deputy directors of re-establishment; and the entitlements of scholarship holders. The correspondents include HC Coombs, RF Archer, LC Wilcher, AS Brown, AW Paul, RC Mills and HJ Goodes.
Placement of trainees, 1947
Correspondence, mostly between the director and deputy directors of re-establishment, on relations with the Commonwealth Employment Service, unplaced trainees at technical colleges, the observance of ratios when placing trainees in subsidised employment, the placement of trainees in country areas, and the compilation of lists of employers.
A1210 Pt 2
Papua New Guinea: courses for natives under CRTS, 1946–47
Minutes and other papers on the eligibility of locals for training and courses in teaching and theology.
Training of Torres Strait Islanders and Australian Aborigines, 1946–49 (2 parts)
Papers concerning the application of the CRTS to Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, the development of a scheme similar to the New Guinea scheme, a conference (14 February 1947) of Directors of Native Affairs, and training in the pearling industry. The correspondents include HC Coombs, RF Archer, AS Brown, AW Paul and EP Eltham.
Series: MP513/2
ID committees on reconstruction problems, 1941–43 (4 parts)
Includes the report (31 July 1941) of the Sub-Committee on Repatriation, Training and Placement of Members of the Forces, chaired by R Wilson, reports on the CRTS and draft proposals for the organisation of soldier training.
Vocational training, 1943–44
Correspondence and other papers on the establishment of the CRTS, the formation of local reconstruction training committees, technical education in the states, and buildings and equipment for training purposes. The correspondents include J Curtin, LG Melville, HC Coombs and EP Eltham.
Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme: special private training scheme, 1945
Correspondence about training and rehabilitation schemes provided to ex-servicemen by private companies.
Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme: additional buildings and equipment for universities, 1944–46
Correspondence concerning proposals by universities for extensions to buildings and the erection of temporary buildings for training purposes. The correspondents include HC Coombs, RC Mills and HJ Goodes.
Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme: conference on industrial aspects, 1944
Agenda, proceedings and correspondence of a conference (12–14 September 1944), chaired by HC Coombs, of trade unions, employers and directors of training on industrial aspects of the CRTS.
Department of the Army
Series: MP742/1
Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme, 1944–46 284/1/213
Prime Minister's Department
Series: A461
Repatriation: Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme, 1941–47 (3 parts)
Correspondence of J Curtin and JB Chifley with state premiers and organisations on educational courses for service personnel, the establishment of the CRTS, the extension of technical training facilities, the employment of discharged men in textile and forestry training, and the funding of extensions to university and technical college buildings.
Reconstruction training scheme for natives, 1947–49
Notes of a meeting (4 February 1947) on the training of Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and correspondence on the application of the Re-establishment and Employment Act to Aboriginal people and the training of Torres Strait Islanders in the pearling industry.
Series: A571
Educational and vocational training: members of the forces, 1941–42

Reports of the Sub-Committee on Repatriation, Training and Placement of the Forces, chaired by R Wilson, and correspondence and minutes on the extension of vocational training, financial implications and War Cabinet submissions. The correspondents include AC Joyce, WE Dunk and GPN Watt.

[Part 2 is missing]

1943/3117 Pt 1
Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme, 1943–53 (3 parts)
War Cabinet and Cabinet submissions and correspondence on the funding of the CRTS, estimates, decisions made by the Central Reconstruction Training Committee, textile training, training of medical officers, the extension of the scheme to civilians and the closing date for applications. The correspondents include HC Coombs, GPN Watt, J Brophy, AJ Goodes and H Newman.
EP Eltham
Series: MP463/1

Files on industrial training kept by EP Eltham, the Director of Industrial Training in the Department of Labour and National Service (1941–58). They include material on the Commonwealth Technical Training Scheme, the CRTS, the Korea/Malaya Training Scheme and the Disabled Members Training Scheme.
Correspondence: training, 1943–49 C2
Disabled persons: training, 1943–54 D2/1-2
Instructions for guidance of regional committees, 1944 I3
Technical training in New Guinea, 1946–50 N3
Psychological testing, 1942–44 P1
Pre-discharge training, 1943–50 P2
CRTS allowances, rates and conditions, 1940–43 R1
Special training plans, 1944–45 S6/1-2
Training target figures, 1945–46 T4/1
Training: full employment policy, 1945–48 T13
Sir John Jensen
Series: MP730/14
Papers on technical education and the work of EP Eltham, 1944–53
Cabinet papers and correspondence on the Commonwealth Technical Training Scheme, the CRTS and vocational training, and the work of EP Eltham as Inspector and Chief Inspector of Technical Schools in Victoria (1923–47) and Commonwealth Director of Industrial Training.
Sir Frederick Shedden
Series: A5954
Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme, 1941–48

War Cabinet minutes and agendas, prime ministerial statements and correspondence, and newspaper cuttings relating to the Army and Air Educational Services, post-discharge vocational training, and the CRTS.

Details of records of CRTS applicants and trainees can be found in Fact sheet 179 – Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme (CRTS) applicants and trainees.


Further reading

Butlin, SJ and Schedvin, CB, Australian War Economy 1942–1945, Australian War Memorial, Canberra, 1977.

Gallagher, Hector, We Got a Fair Go: a history of the Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme 1945–1952, H Gallagher, Melbourne, 2003.

Spaull, Andrew, Australian Education in the Second World War, University of Queensland Press, Brisbane, 1982.

Watters, John, A study of the Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme, PhD thesis, La Trobe University, Melbourne, 1992.