Labor leader Kevin Rudd has sought to trump John Howard in the skills shortage debate with a promise to spend close to $500 million funding 450,000 new training positions across Australia.
But to fund the new places, Labor says it will abolish the existing Work Skills Voucher program, a program the Coalition says has been successful in providing 50,000 training places since its introduction 10 months ago.
Under Labor’s plan, funding will be focused on providing more advanced Certificate III training positions – in short, apprenticeships. This contrasts with the Coalition’s Work Skills Voucher program, which is targeted more at lower-level training more suited to school leavers and people without pre-existing training.
Labor will also deliver its training changes through industry skills councils – localised bodies comprised of employer, union and government representatives – rather than making vouchers directly available to employers and individuals to purchase training.
The Housing Industry Association’s national skills policy manager, Stuart Collins, says his members will welcome Labor’s additional investment in skilling the construction industry.
But, he says, there are some disadvantages to Labor’s focus on higher level training.
“Places should not just be made available for traditional apprenticeships at the Certificate III level. We should also look at more construction qualifications for sub-trades at the certificate II/III level, we think they provide more flexible career pathways that especially Gen-Ys are attracted to in the current environment,” Collins says.
The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s director of education and training policy, Mary Hicks, says that although both policies have their pros and cons, Labor’s commitment to additional funding for training places is a good thing but may involve more bureaucracy in the way it delivers the training compared to a market-based voucher approach.
Hicks says it is vital that, should Labor be elected, it consults with ACCI and other bodies to ensure that the industry skills councils at the centre of its policy operate efficiently.
“We have some concerns about the industry skills council and how they operate at the moment. Sometimes organisations are left out of the consultation process or a body that doesn’t really represent the industry as a whole dominates the process, so we would like to talk to Labor about how the system will work,” Hicks says.
Collins and Hicks agree that the current focus by both parties on the skills shortage is a good thing for business.