Aug 25, 2004

Skills crisis set to worsen


MEDIA RELEASE: Anthony Albanese – 25 August 2004

Figures released today confirm that acute skill shortages are set to worsen, particularly amongst the traditional trades. Vacancies for tradespersons have reached the highest level since such data was collected.

The Department of Employment and Workplace Relations’ (DEWR) skilled vacancy index for August reveals that vacancies in the key traditional trades is 17.6% higher than at this time last year.

This means that the demand for more skilled workers in industries such as the metal, automotive and electrical trades is increasing – making it more difficult for many businesses already struggling to find skilled workers.

These latest statistics come on top of warnings from the Australian Industry Group (AiG) that over the next 5 years 175,000 people will leave the traditional trades in Australia and only 70,000 are expected to enter.

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 more 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, the number of people undertaking a ‘traditional’ apprenticeship has remained virtually unchanged since 1996.

To date the only response from the relevant Government minister, Brendan Nelson, to the growing skills crisis has been a grab bag of toothless communication measures.

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 up to $10,200 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 areas experiencing skill shortages;

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

While the Government talks about the need for action, Labor has already announced a number of policies that would address the current skill crisis. Further significant initiatives will be announced before the election.