Sep 13, 2004

Australian companies forced to poach skilled workers from overseas


Media Releases – Ministerial – Anthony Albanese – 13 September 2004

Reports in the media today of Australian energy companies poaching workers from overseas to fill chronic skill shortages is just further evidence that Australia is already in the midst of a skills shortage crisis.

These reports from the electricity industry support the warnings peak business organisations, such as the Australian Industry Group (AiG) and Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI), have been making for sometime.

AiG predicts that over the coming 5 years 170,000 people will be retiring from the manufacturing sector with fewer than 40,000 currently being trained to replace them. From a survey of its members, ACCI found that the availability of suitably qualified employees is now the number one constraint on the future investment decision of business.

If not addressed, skill shortages threaten Australia’s future economic development. It is absurd that at a time when more than 1 in 5 teenagers are looking for full time work and more than 350,000 jobseekers have been on unemployment benefits for than 12 months, businesses are crying out for skilled workers.

This situation highlights a failure of government policy. Under the Howard Government, inadequate funding meant that last year more than 42,000 Australians missed out on a TAFE place. Furthermore, most of the growth in apprenticeship numbers has occurred in areas where there are no skill shortages, such as retail, fast food and private security.

The Howard Government’s inaction is forcing Australian businesses to take extraordinary measures to find the skilled workers they need, including going overseas.

Labor understands the challenge before our country. At the heart of Labor’s efforts to tackle skill shortages is the commitment to invest $1 billion in both early school leavers as part of our Youth Guarantee and older workers as part of our Greater Security, More Opportunities for Mature Age Australians policy. Labor will:

• Abolish all TAFE fees for students wanting to learn a trade while still at high school;

• Fund an additional 20,000 TAFE places nationally;

• Provide a wage and training subsidy worth $10,000 to businesses wanting to take on and train early school leavers;

• Create a Training Partnership Fund to help employers re-train their older workers and a $2,000 Learning Bonus for mature age job seekers taking up an apprenticeship in an areas experience skill shortages.

A Latham Labor Government will work proactively with industry to make sure they have the skilled workers they need to run and expand their businesses.