Jul 27, 2004

Only Labor will fix Australia’s skills crisis


MEDIA RELEASE: Anthony Albanese – 27 July 2004

Research released today by the Australian Council of Trade Union (ACTU), which estimates that the growing shortage of skilled workers in the traditional trades will cost the Australian economy up to $9 billion in lost output over the next 10 years, reinforces the need for immediate policy action from the Federal Government.

These findings from the ACTU follow repeated warnings from the private sector. The Australian Industry Group in its submission to the Senate’s 2003 Skills Inquiry reported that “over half of the businesses surveyed face skill shortages”. ACCI warns:

“Australian firms are greatly concerned at their (in)capacity to recruit employees with appropriate levels of skills, and retaining skilled employees, with such pressures being particularly acute in regional and rural Australia.”

ACCI, Review, June 2004, p10

Even the Government’s own National Skills Shortage List reports acute shortages across a range of traditional trade occupations including: metal fabricators; motor mechanics; auto electricians; panel beaters; electricians; bricklayers; plumbers; chefs; cabinetmakers; hairdressers.

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 almost 400,000 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 apprenticeships and traineeships has occurred in areas where there are no skill shortages such as retail, fast food and private security.

Addressing today’s meeting of the ACTU Executive I emphasised that under a Latham Labor Government fixing skill shortages would be a national priority.

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;

• Fund 125 Mature Age Workplace Trainers in key industries to develop and implement workplace training plans.

While Minister Nelson talks about the need for action, Labor has already announced policies that would ensure skill shortages are addressed.