As the government’s final pre-budget pledges roll in, the ACCI says a $365 million boost to apprentice numbers is hardly enough

apprenticeship apprentice skills shortage

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry has criticised a proposed three-month extension to the federal government’s apprentice wage subsidy scheme, saying the program should be extended by no less than two years.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, and Minister for Employment, Workforce, Skills, Small and Family Business, Stuart Robert, announced an extension to the Boosting Apprenticeship Commencements (BAC) scheme will feature in Tuesday’s 2022-2023 federal budget.

The BAC program grants employers with subsidies equal to 50% of an apprentice or trainee’s wages for their first year of employment, with successively smaller subsidies in their second and third year.

Applications for the scheme were set to close on March 31, but will now run until the end of the current financial year.

That extension is slated to cost the taxpayer some $365.3 million, while supporting the employment of an estimated 35,000 apprentices and trainees.

Backdropped by widespread skills shortages and rock-bottom unemployment rates, Morrison said, “we’re boosting the pipeline of workers Australia is going to need for a stronger economy and a stronger future”.

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) on Monday described the planned expansion as “insufficient”, claiming the subsidy scheme will only benefit the business community if it lingers into 2024.

“The Government’s BAC subsidy has been outstandingly successful in rebuilding our country’s skills base in the COVID recovery period — since the inception of the scheme, we have seen real growth in these job and training opportunities, ending a decade of decline,” said ACCI chief executive Andrew McKellar.

“If we are to lock in these gains, a three-month extension is simply not enough.”

The Business Council of Australia (BCA) called for further action in its own pre-budget statement, suggesting the federal government reshape the nation’s skills system to remain globally competitive.

Doing so will require Australia to “urgently address the serious structural barriers that risk holding back the private sector including acute worker shortages and supply chain issues,” said BCA chief executive Jennifer Westacott.

“The government has already started to put the foundations in place to prepare, this budget is a chance to do even more,” she added.

The Coalition has already offered a glimpse of what ‘doing even more’ might entail.

Beyond extending the BAC scheme, the federal government has confirmed its intention to reconfigure pay-as-you-go tax installment calculations, a move Frydenberg claimed will unleash an estimated $1.85 billion in cash flow for small businesses and sole traders.

A proposed reconfiguration of employee share scheme rules and a fuel excise cut are also on the table, as Canberra attempts to woo companies fighting for talent and battling the rising cost of doing business.

The federal government is also keen to remind businesses — and potential voters — of its prior Budget commitments.

On Monday, Robert confirmed training organisations have been selected to deliver a $10.7 million digital skills cadetship trial, a program designed to equip 500 Australians with future-proofed cybersecurity, data analysis, and cloud computing skills.

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