Friday, 17 July 2020 04:29

Government announces $2b skills program to help boost economic recovery from COVID-19 Featured


The Federal Government is investing $2 billion in a move it says will give hundreds of thousands of Australians access to new skills by retraining and upskilling them into sectors with job opportunities, as the economy recovers from COVID-19.

The Prime Minister Scott Morrison said this week that the "JobTrainer skills package will also guarantee support for thousands of apprentices in jobs across the country by subsidising their wages to keep them employed and their training secured".

In his statement, the Prime Minister said the new $1 billion JobTrainer program will provide up to an additional 340,700 training places to help school leavers and job seekers access short and long courses to develop new skills in growth sectors and create a pathway to more qualifications.

Courses will be free or low cost in areas of identified need, with the Federal Government providing $500 million with matched contributions from state and territory governments.

The announcement by the Government has been welcomed by the Australian Information Industry Association, with chief executive Ron Gauci saying that the funding is a “step in the right direction for a post-COVID recovery Australia - however we need more focus on agile training packages that are able to react faster to the emerging opportunities and new skills required for the technology industry”.

According to Gauci, it is clear that the system of training “to address skills needed by employers is fractured; both the policy environment and the qualification levers are siloed and inconsistent”.

But Gauci said the AIIA supported the Prime Minister’s JobTrainer announcement and “are encouraged to lead an increased profile of the available IT training packages - in turn, reducing barriers of entry for potential workers into the digital economy”.

Prime Minister Morrison said the JobTrainer package was focused on getting people into jobs.

“JobTrainer will ensure more Australians have the chance to reskill or upskill to fill the jobs on the other side of this crisis,” the Prime Minister said.

“COVID-19 is unprecedented but I want Australians to be ready for the sorts of jobs that will come as we build back and recover.

“The jobs and skills we’ll need as we come out of the crisis are not likely to be the same as those that were lost.”

The package also includes an additional $1.5 billion to expand the wage incentive to help keep apprentices in work, and builds on the initial $1.3 billion package announced in March.

In addition to small businesses already covered, the wage subsidy will now be available to medium businesses with less than 200 employees for apprentices employed as at 1 July 2020. Around 180,000 apprentices and 90,000 small and medium businesses that employ them will now be supported, with the program extended by six months to March 2021.

The initiative covers 50% of the wages paid to apprentices and trainees, up to $7,000 per quarter.

Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business Michaelia Cash said the JobTrainer package would form a vital part of the national recovery efforts.

“Our nation has faced many challenges, and it is critical that we keep our apprentices in jobs and help those looking for work,” Minister Cash said.

“This package will be essential as the economy rebuilds so that people looking for work can reskill and upskill for in-demand jobs, provide school leavers with a pathway into their careers, and ensure businesses are able to get the skilled workers they need.”

Cash said the National Skills Commission would play a critical role in identifying current and future skills needed in a challenging and changing labour market.

“We will work with States and Territories to develop a list of qualifications and skill sets that will provide job seekers with the skills that are in demand by employers and are critical to the economic recovery.”

Assistant Minister for Vocational Education, Training and Apprenticeships Steve Irons said the expanded waged subsidy would more than double the number of supported apprentices and trainees.

“The Supporting Apprentices and Trainees wage subsidy will now help almost 90,000 businesses employing around 180,000 apprentices and trainees throughout Australia,” Assistant Minister Irons said.

“This will dramatically improve the viability of tens of thousands of apprenticeships and the businesses employing them right across the country.”

Elaborating further on his response to the government’s announcement, Gauci said the AIIA supported micro-credentialling courses and “we encourage school leavers and young people to attain skills in IT and have a long and successful career in an industry where jobs are in demand - particularly key technical areas such as artificial intelligence & data, cloud computing, cyber security, automation and internet of things”.

“The AIIA also recognises the importance of gender imbalance that currently exists in STEM. As detailed in a recent set of recommendations put to Australian Government as part of the AIIA White Paper titled ‘Building Australia’s Digital Future in a Post-COVID World the issue starts in primary learning and continues through to university where almost 80 percent of males complete a STEM qualification compared to 20% of women.

“The AIIA are supportive in encouraging opportunities for young women and look forward to having discussions with the National Skills Commission on this matter.

“We encourage an open dialogue with the National Skills Commission and ask that they work with the IT and tech industry in an effort to deliver the skills required to drive jobs in this field - effectively championing and becoming a global leader in digital sovereignty,” Gauci concluded.

The government says States and territories need to sign up to a new Heads of Agreement to access JobTrainer funding, with the agreement setting out immediate reforms to improve the vocational education and training sector, and providing the foundation for long term improvements as outlined by Prime Minister Scott Morrison in a recent speech to the National Press Club.

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Peter Dinham

Peter Dinham - retired and is a "volunteer" writer for iTWire. He is a veteran journalist and corporate communications consultant. He has worked as a journalist in all forms of media – newspapers/magazines, radio, television, press agency and now, online – including with the Canberra Times, The Examiner (Tasmania), the ABC and AAP-Reuters. As a freelance journalist he also had articles published in Australian and overseas magazines. He worked in the corporate communications/public relations sector, in-house with an airline, and as a senior executive in Australia of the world’s largest communications consultancy, Burson-Marsteller. He also ran his own communications consultancy and was a co-founder in Australia of the global photographic agency, the Image Bank (now Getty Images).

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