Across Australia, businesses are facing a skills crisis. Unemployment is at 4% and, according to the federal government’s projections, it will drop as low as 3.75% this year. So why were there no creative ideas to really address the personnel shortage we face?
The budget is, for the most part, a cut-and-paste from previous budgets, although there are apprenticeship incentives, some cost offsets for small businesses to support training, migrant programs and so on.
Much is being said about the increased numbers for skilled migrants — 109,000 for 2022-23 — but in reality it just brings us back to pre-pandemic levels. And while it’s great that businesses can bring in more talent from overseas, there are no incentives to help businesses get people here.
It costs a minimum of $10,000 to bring just one skilled person to Australia – that’s $5000 for the visa and another $5000 at least paid to lawyers to handle the process, with no government support or reimbursement. So, if those skilled workers don’t meet the standards required, businesses are left out of pocket.
A creative solution might be having a government agency support small businesses through this process, or offering a tax cut if the skilled migrant doesn’t last longer than three months.
Another incentive scheme is the plan to give apprentices cash payments of up to $5000 during their training. That’s great, but what about vacancies now? It’s too little, too late, and again it’s not offering a creative solution to the current problem. I addressed this same issue a year ago when the Western Australia government announced its plans to get more apprentices into training. There have been claims that this has led to more people in training or apprenticeships than ever before, but it doesn’t deal with the current issue.
Tax incentives to encourage small businesses to train staff is another budget proposal. It will be warmly welcomed but businesses are already offering training, so we’re still left with a skills shortage.
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There are other more progressive ways to get people back into work now. One would be to make it easier for stay-at-home parents, largely mums, to return to work. Aside from some funding for new services in disadvantaged regional and remote areas, the budget provides nothing new for childcare. This has long been an issue for many households, where one parent is earning a higher income mean the costs of childcare make returning to work unfeasible for many mothers. If we want to deal with the skills shortage, the government must make it easier for stay-at-home mums to return to work.
On other hugely untapped source is seniors. If older Australians want to work, they lose a chunk of their fortnightly pension. National Seniors Australia has pointed out that doing away with penalties for seniors wanting to work would bring in another 450,000 available workers.
We can’t afford to wait for apprentices to finish their training or expect small businesses to pick up the heavy costs of bringing in skilled migrants. The government must stop churning out the same old ideas and start to think outside the box.