Recently many union members, especially in the manufacturing sector, have raised concerns about employers engaging in dodgy apprenticeship schemes. The schemes allow bosses to employ new or existing employees as apprentices or trainees, and receive thousands of dollars in both federal and state government funding.
Employers commencing an apprentice or trainee can be eligible for the standard commencement ‘incentive’ from the federal government of $1650, and a completion ‘incentive’ of $2750. A total of $4400 per worker. Many employers may also be eligible for state government subsidies of up to $3500 on top of this. Also other perks including not having to pay a Work Cover premiums for an apprentice or trainee are available.
The training programs have been seriously deregulated and are not the same as what many older workers would have gone through to learn their trade. The programs do not involve the apprentice attending a TAFE college to learn technical aspects of the trade. The employer only has to engage a Registered Training Organisation (RTO) to attend the site to deliver the training. In some cases apprentices have only attended training sessions for less than an hour a month. This is not the same as the old regime of attending TAFE for 1 day per week for 3 years and obviously a lot of training is left out of the course.
The programs do not even require the employer to train the apprentice properly on the job. This aspect of the training is not regulated by the state government bodies as it used to be and therefore many apprentices have complained about being used as a form of cheap labour, only doing menial tasks.
If it is not bad enough that bosses are receiving thousands of dollars in funding to employ young people on apprentice wages whilst not training them properly. They are also engaging in programs with existing employees, mostly production workers. In some cases bosses have been signing up production workers en mass claiming that to compete in a competitive environment their workforce needs to improve its skills base.
Upon closer examination the production workers are often not receiving the prescribed amount of ‘off the job’ training and are not given any further training on the factory floor. Of course the government subsidy is quickly claimed and no pay rises are forthcoming to the workers when the training is complete.
The fact that we have a skills shortage in Australia is not disputed by anyone. Even employer organisations are pointing out that in the skilled trade areas we now have completion of apprenticeship rates 24 per cent below what they were in 1996. However these new deregulated dodgy apprenticeships are not helping to improve the skills shortage. In fact the only thing that has improved is some bosses profit margins.
Whilst the Howard government is throwing taxpayers money at employers, it has a dismal record on funding the TAFE system. For example in the 2003/04 budget there was no increase in funding at all for the TAFE system. Many state budgets went even further and actually delivered a decrease in funding in real terms. In an OECD report released last week it was shown that Australia was the only developed nation to have reduced public funding of its tertiary institutions over the past decade.
The current ’skills shortage’ did not just happen, it has been an inevitable result of the policies of neo-liberalism implemented by both federal and state governments. A user pays system for education and a massive underfunding of TAFE colleges coupled with greedy bosses taking government handouts whilst refusing to train young workers is how it was created.