Budget aims to lift skills, participation

Federal Budget 2011

By Kate Southam

The Federal Budget has allocated $3 billion to boost workforce participation rates and skill levels in Australia including creating a new national agency dedicated to productivity.

Treasurer Wayne Swan says his raft of initiatives were designed to build Australia’s future workforce by providing job skills to school leavers, mentoring apprentices, and skilling up the unemployed to get them into work.

Official unemployment rates are tipped to drop to 4.75 per cent this year and 4.5 per cent in the financial year 2012-13 and the Treasurer says without more skilled workers Australia’s economic growth will suffer.

Federal Treasurer Wayne Swan said:  “In a growing economy like ours, we cannot justify the fourth highest proportion of jobless families in the developed world.”

Employment and training highlights from the Federal Budget include:

* Setting up a new National Workforce and Productivity Agency
* Creating a National Workforce Development Fund.
* Additional funding for state and territory employment programs and stricter rules to align training to specific economic needs.   
* A boost for the apprentices mentoring program
* Job skills for school leavers
* Incentives for the unemployed including those on disability support to return to work.

National Workforce and Productivity Agency

The National Workforce and Productivity Agency is to be operational from July 1, 2012. Funded at a cost of $25 million, the agency’s brief is to identify areas of skills shortage.

National Workforce Development Fund

With a budget of $558 million over four years, the fund will pay for 130,000 “high quality training places directly tailored to industry skills needs”. Immediate priority will be given to “high need” sectors namely resources, construction and aged care.

Funding for States and Territories employment programs

An extra $1.75 billion has been committed from 2012-13 to fund the states/territories training programs.

To receive the funds, governments around Australia must buy into “tougher new standards” under the National Agreement for Skills and Workforce Development.

These include higher quality training programs that directly align with Australia’s economic needs. In the past, many training programs have been out of step with  demand for specific workers. Negotiations are yet to get underway.

Single Parents

Income support to be restructured to change the income test for parents to create greater incentive to work. From January 1, 2013, the Newstart benefit will change the taper rate from 50 or 60 cents in the dollar to 40 cents thus allowing single parents to keep more of their wages earned from part time work.

The Federal Government has also allocated $103 million to fund a training and career advice program for single parents over the next four years.

Mature aged workers

$30 million has been allocated to fund skills assessments, gap training for those over 50 and to help those with skills but no formal training gain recognised qualifications.

From July 1, 2012, people aged under 35 who are on disability support pensions will face more stringent eligibility criteria.
However, 1000 job hunters with disabilities who have been unemployed for a year or more will benefit from a work experience program. Employers will be paid a wage subsidy for providing this group with work. The scheme will cost $11.3m over three years and provide a subsidy of $3000 for employment placements that are at least 15 or more hours a week over 26 weeks.
School leavers: $68 million will be spent on helping school leavers develop basic employability skills.

Long term unemployed

$94.6 million will be allocated to provide businesses with wage subsidies if they hire someone who has been unemployed for more than two years. The scheme, to start from January 1, 2012, will pay a subsidy equivalent to the average rate of the dole for six months and be administered by Job Services Australia.

The Budget allocates $133m to fund 11-month work experience placements for those who have been unemployed for two years and working with a Job Services Australia agency. An additional $1000 credit per person will be paid to the Job Services Employment Pathway Fund to cover the cost of work for the dole, job trials and training.

Mentally ill workers

$2 million has been allocated to fund a Personal Helpers and Mentors service to support employers that take on and retain workers with a mental illness.

Less than half of apprentices in Australia currently finish their training. To change this, the Federal Government has allocated an additional $200 million to an apprenticeship mentoring program.

More than 300 mentors will be funded to help nearly 40,000 apprentices in traditional trades and small businesses plus 144 apprentice advisors will be employed to guide school leavers to a suitable apprenticeship.

The Australian Apprenticeships Access Program will be given a further $20 million to continue its work.

Other skills initiatives

A further $143 million has been allocated to fund 30,000 additional places in the Language, Literacy and Numeracy Program including $20 million to fund the Workplace English Language and Literacy program.

Permanent migration visas will increase in 2011-2012 to 185,000 compared 180,000 for the year ending September 2010.
Of the 185,000 visas to be granted 125,850 will be skilled migrants. Temporary business visa holders who have spent two years in regional Australia who have an employer willing to sponsor them will be given fast-track priority.

Article from CareerOne, May 11, 2011.

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