Nov 10, 2003

New apprenticeship scheme failing our economy


MEDIA RELEASE: Anthony Albanese – 10 November 2003

Today’s report in the Herald Sun supports what Labor has been saying for sometime: under the Howard Government the national training dollar is not being targeted towards addressing acute skill shortages in the economy and is being increasingly used by some employers as a source of cheap labour.

Minister for Education and Training, Brendan Nelson, regularly boasts that under his Government the number of people undertaking apprenticeships and traineeships has doubled. However, most of the growth in the New Apprenticeship scheme has occurred in industries where there are no skill shortages such as retail, fast food and private security.

At the same time acute skill shortages have emerged across a range of industries. The Department of Employment and Workplace Relations has identified skill shortages in areas such as childcare, secondary school teaching, panel beating, metal fitting and fabrication, carpentry, plumbing and cabinet making.

In their submission to the Senate’s recent Skills Inquiry, the Australian Industry Group found that: “over half of the businesses surveyed face skill shortages.”

At a time when many communities in this country are experiencing high levels of unemployment and youth unemployment stands at over 20%, we have businesses crying out for skilled workers. This situation is nothing short of irrational.

In addition, this growth in numbers appears to have come at the expense of quality training outcomes both for the individual as well as the Australian economy. In particular, between 20 and 30 percent of those undertaking traineeships are receiving inadequate training.

In a study undertaken by Mark Cully from the National Institute of Labour Studies and Richard Curtain from Curtain Consulting it was revealed that almost half (47%) of those who did not complete their apprenticeship or traineeship did so because they felt they were “being used as cheap labour.”

In the 2002/03 financial year, $7.6 million worth of incentive payments were paid out to employers to commence trainees who did not complete their traineeships.

These flaws in the New Apprenticeship scheme are of the Government’s own making. The financial incentive structure put in place by the Howard Government needs to be rebalanced to ensure that our scarce training dollars are being used to address areas of skill shortages and improve the career prospects of young Australians.

Furthermore, considering that the Commonwealth Government invests more than $400 million in the New Apprenticeship scheme it is incumbent upon them to ensure that that money is not being wasted or abused by unscrupulous employers.

Or as the Herald Sun said in its editorial:

“That money could do a world of good. We need to know, for sure, that it is.”