SMEs like Coalition small business training vouchers: but where is Labor’s policy?

Small business groups have welcomed the Coalition’s promise to give $168 million to small businesses to train their staff if re-elected.

Opposition spokesperson for small business, Craig Emerson, refused to comment on Labor policy on up-skilling small business employees. Does he have one?

The Coalition’s proposed investment in at least 100,000 new small businesses over a five-year period was announced yesterday by Treasurer Peter Costello in a debate with his Labor counterpart Wayne Swan.

Under the scheme, training worth up to $1500 for each employee would be offered to businesses employing fewer than 20 people. To qualify, employers would need to match the taxpayer-funded contribution.

Industry body Restaurant & Catering Australia’s CEO, John Hart, says the policy would have a positive effect in the hospitality industry, allowing businesses to boost productivity and lift skill levels of future employees.

“Our industry’s significant commitment to traineeships and apprenticeships has to be met by government investment,” Hart says.

National Retail Association executive director Pat McKendry says the proposed training scheme would give employees entry to the formal training system and help employers attract and retain staff. “Small businesses and their employees are being bought into the formal system,” he says.

“Businesses are now seeing training as part of retention and recruitment programs. They are saying, ‘What I’m going to do is pay for half of your training so you can be assessed’, and their employees then have a pathway into the formal training system.”

In the ICT sector, the Australian Information Industry Association says the training boost would nurture the entrepreneurial culture within ICT small businesses.

“As a venture grows it needs additional business, finance, sales and marketing skills, and it is in these key areas that the Coalition has provided a welcome boost with the Work Skills Voucher program,” says AIIA chief executive Sheryle Moon.

“With many employers feeling the squeeze when it comes to skilled labour, it’s never been more important to invest in upskilling existing employees. This step by the Coalition is to be commended.”

The Prime Minister said yesterday the vouchers would help a re-elected Coalition to pursue the goal of an employment rate of 3% within three years.

Swan, speaking at the debate, criticised the Federal Government’s record on investing in addressing skills shortages, saying Labor understood skills were the currency of the modern global economy.

“Labor understands skills are the key to fighting inflation, which is why Kevin Rudd is committed to an education revolution, including trades training centres in every secondary school in the country,” he said.



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