Kickstart program extended as apprentice dropout rate soars

Employers in the building, construction and engineering trades have an extra two months to take advantage of the Apprentice Kickstart Initiative, amid calls for an apprentice pay rise.


The Apprentice Kickstart Initiative, which launched in December, is an employer incentive designed to increase the number of Australian apprenticeship commencements in certain sectors.


The program was initially aimed at the building and construction industries, but was expanded in January to encapsulate engineering trades.


These include aircraft maintenance engineer (both avionics and mechanical), fitter, fitter and turner, fitter-welder, metal fabricator, metal machinist, pressure welder and toolmaker.


The $57.5 million program was designed to create up to 21,000 extra apprenticeships.


It tripled the incentive paid to employers in the first year who take on a new apprentice between December 1 and February 28.


This was in addition to the $1,500 commencement payment for eligible employers.


Chris Bowen, Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research, announced this morning the government will extend the program by two months.


The extension means employers in the building, construction and engineering trades now have until the end of April to benefit from the extra incentive payment.


“We know that times are tough for many Australian businesses so we are giving them a helping hand by extending the Apprentice Kickstart Initiative,” Bowen said in a statement.


“We want to encourage employers to take on an apprentice, train them up and position their businesses to take advantage of economic conditions as they improve.”


As at February 28, more than 12,000 apprentices have commenced employment under Kickstart.


While uptake has been lower than expected, it’s hoped the extension of the scheme will boost numbers.


The news comes amid a major union push for an apprentice pay rise, after it was revealed a first-year apprentice electrician earns $250 less than an 18-year-old trainee at McDonald’s.


Unions want the minimum rate of pay of all first-year apprentices increased to $423.66 per week.


Speaking to The Australian this week, Australian Manufacturing Workers Union president Andrew Dettmer said unions are determined to curb the dropout rate of nearly 48% of apprentices, mainly in their first and second years.


“Competitive pay is necessary to attract and retain apprentices,” Dettmer said.


“$7.80 an hour for first-year apprentices is not a living wage for an independent person, effectively ruling out almost anyone without the financial support of their parents.”


The Fair Work Commission in Sydney has begun hearing a union bid to deliver substantial pay rises to hundreds of thousands of apprentices.


Bowen said the government wants to see more people take up – and see through – an apprenticeship to meet Australia’s “changing workforce needs”.


He offered no comment on a potential pay rise for apprentices, instead focusing on the Kickstart extension.


“The two-month extension is good for employers, good for young people seeking apprenticeships and good for job seekers,” he said.


“We need to start training more people in the construction trades now to meet the expected upturn in the housing sector.”


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