A National Workforce Development Fund, bringing 130,000 new training places, will be created as part of a fresh drive to increase skills and participation rates in Australia’s workforce.
The government revealed that $3 billion will be spent over the next six years to tackle Australia’s skill shortage and encourage the long-term unemployed back to work, amid a declining unemployment rate.
Of this, $558 million has been earmarked for the National Workforce Development Fund, which will work with industry groups to tackle skills shortages.
The government says the initiative will deliver 130,000 “high quality training places directly tailored to industry skills needs” over four years.
Training will be a third funded by small businesses, with medium-sized enterprises contributing 50%. The scheme will target “high need” industries, with the resources, construction and aged care sectors highlighted as immediate priority areas.
A competitive process will be set up to apply for grants, with the fund set to be supported by the creation of a new National Workforce and Productivity Agency from July 1, 2012. This agency will be tasked with identifying skills shortages in Australian businesses.
The new fund is the flagship announcement among a raft of government measures in what is a noticeably skills-heavy budget.
In his budget speech, Swan said: “In a growing economy like ours, we cannot justify the fourth highest proportion of jobless families in the developed world.”
Major workplace initiatives unveiled in the budget include:
The government has taken a carrot-and-stick approach to the states and territories over vocational education and training.
The Budget commits an extra $1.75 billion in funding over five years from 2012-13 to the states for training, but only if they sign up for “more ambitious” reform of the sector.
The government says it will introduce “tougher new standards” for its National Agreement for Skills and Workforce Development, including better quality training and aligning programs with economic needs. Negotiations are set to kick off in the coming months.
Elsewhere, $143 million has been put forward in the budget to improve basic employment skills, with the creation of 30,000 additional places in the Language, Literacy and Numeracy Program.
Mentoring programs for apprenticeships have received an additional $200 million in funding. The government says this cash will help remedy the current situation, where less than half of apprentices finish their training.
More than 300 mentors will be funded to help nearly 40,000 apprentices in traditional trades and small businesses.
In addition, 144 apprentice advisors will be employed to assist school leavers to select the best option when taking up an apprenticeship.
Faced with a declining unemployment rate, the government has set its sights firmly on raising participation rates among long-term workforce absentees.
Income support for single parents will be restructured to encourage them back into the workforce. $103 million will be spent on training and career advice for single parents to ease them back into work.
From July 1, 2012, there will be participation requirements for those on Disability Support Pensions aged under 35. The DSP will be made more stringent, while wage subsidies will be given to employers who take on disabled workers for at least 15 hours a week.
A further $68 million will be spent to help school leavers develop basic employability skills, while $95 million in funding will reward businesses who give a job to someone unemployed for more than two years.
A “measured” increase in permanent migration will see 185,000 visas issued in 2011-12. This is up slightly from the 180,000 given in the year ending September 2010.
Of this total, 125,850 will be skilled migrants, with the government fast-tracking permanent residency for temporary business visa holders who have spent two years in regional Australia and where their employer is prepared to sponsor them for a further two years.