Labor pledges to increase apprentice numbers but business groups say the scheme is unlikely to help employers

Bill Shorten: Next federal election will be about small business

Labor has pledged to increase the amount of apprenticeship opportunities across the country, with a plan unveiled by opposition Leader Bill Shorten yesterday.

The Labor Party has promised to create an estimated 2,600 new apprenticeships if elected on July 2.

This will be accomplished by ensuring apprentices fill a proportion of jobs on Labor’s upcoming priority infrastructure projects.

The current target is one in 10 jobs, and the party has detailed further plans to create “tens of thousands more apprenticeship places in the years to come”.

Labor states that if elected, it will develop procurement rules for apprentices on projects with over $10 million capital expenditure.

On top of this, an online portal will be established to help provide apprentices jobs, and a new Apprentice Advocate will be appointed.

However, small businesses are unlikely to be among the beneficiaries of the scheme, warns Council of Small Business Australia chief executive Peter Strong.

“It’s not going to encourage diversity for small businesses, think of hairdressers, chefs, we need more skilled people in those areas,” Strong told SmartCompany.

“It’s difficult to employ apprentices if you’re a small business, so they have to make it small business friendly – and they’re not.”

The policy is Labor’s response to the decline in apprentice numbers since the last election, with Labor claiming the number of apprentices across the country has dropped by 120,000 during the Abbott-Turnbull government.

Meanwhile, the Coalition’s plan to increase jobs amongst young people comes in the form of its internship scheme.

Treasurer Scott Morrison outlined the plan in last month’s federal budget, with businesses to receive a $1000 payment for taking on an intern.

The intern will also be paid $200 fortnightly while participating in the internship.

The scheme has come under scrutiny, with some experts worried about the programs exploitability, and how likely it would be to actually increase employment.

In a statement, Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive James Pearson said the Labor Party’s announcement was “heartening.”

However, Pearson was cautious, attributing the recent decline in apprenticeships to poor policy decisions and cost increases.

“The best solution is for government to work with all industry sectors to build the business case for employing apprentices, rather than setting quotas and increasing red tape in a sector that is already doing fairly well in offering apprenticeships,” Pearson said.

Pearson also said the “blame game” between political parties had to stop and both the Labor and the Coalition are responsible for the decline.

He believes a push for better opportunities for employers is what is needed.

“The next Federal Government must work with industry to reverse the fall in apprenticeship commencements by improving the business case for employers to offer opportunities, particularly to young people that need a reliable pathway from school or unemployment into work,” he said.


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