Government to dump Australia's most successful job training scheme

To prop up a failing scheme. McDonalds imparts precisely those habits and attitudes which are vital for success in any job -- but which are very poorly taught (if at all) by the schools. But McDonald's is a successful business, so is hated by the Left

Tens of millions of dollars in wage subsidies paid to McDonalds, KFC and other retail giants would be slashed as part of a radical plan to tackle skill shortages and boost apprenticeship numbers. In a bold blueprint to tackle an apprentice drop-out rate of 50 per cent, young workers in "traditional" trades such as plumbing and mechanics would be paid higher market-linked wages. They would also be able to fast-track their on-the-job training - qualifying much faster if they can prove they have the necessary skills.

But thousands of traineeship jobs in big retail stores, restaurants and fast-food chains are at risk, with a Government-appointed taskforce calling for major changes to $1.2 billion in annual subsidies.

The apprenticeships taskforce has also recommended a new "training levy" on employers to boost skilled workers and ensure the economy keeps ticking over. But the Minister for Skills and Workplace Relations, Chris Evans, has immediately stomped on the plan - putting him at odds with his own taskforce.

After a 12-month inquiry, the taskforce has warned Australia's 400,000-strong apprenticeship scheme needs "significant improvement" to make sure the economy has sufficient skilled labour. It wants a national apprenticeship "tsar" to oversee reform and recommends an army of "mentors" be used to ensure apprentices are getting proper training - and not being used as mere factory fodder.

In a controversial plan to cut a drop-out rate of 52 per cent, the Government has been told to slash tens of millions of dollars in traineeship subsidies paid to retailers, restaurants and fast-food outlets such as KFC and McDonalds.

In its final report "A Shared Responsibility - Apprenticeships for the 21st Century" the expert group - chaired by BAE Systems CEO, Jim McDowell - has slammed these subsidies as being little more than a "labour market program".

These amount to an "implicit wage subsidy to the employer of up to 20 per cent" but do little to boost overall skill levels, the panel has found. "We question whether the significant government funds currently being spent on employer incentives for these qualifications are providing any tangible benefit to the broader economy," the report - a copy of which has been obtained by The Daily Telegraph - says.

Senator Evans conceded the $1.2 billion paid by Canberra in annual subsidies for apprentice and traineeships had to change. "Clearly, we could target it better," the Minister told The Daily Telegraph.

But the Government will be picking a brawl with powerful employer groups and some of Australia's biggest companies - including Woolworths and Coles - if it cuts out millions of dollars paid in subsidies to these workers.

In a key finding, the taskforce said completion rates for apprenticeships "are unacceptably low" at about 48 per cent. "This represents a significant economic cost, given the time and resources provided for both on-the-job and off-the-job training," the panel said, in its report.

"There are a range of issues that commonly emerge from the research about reasons for non-completion, including: workplace or employer issues, lack of support, low wages and not liking the work."

It has called for the appointment of an apprentice "tsar" - a National Custodian - to drive these key reforms and take responsbilitiy for a system that is disjointed. Critically, the taskforce wants the Government's industrial umpire to consider linking apprentice wages with "going rates of pay" in particular industries.

This would mean that first-year apprentice - who is now paid $250-$300 a week - would receive higher wages on average, boosting their incentive to remain in the trade.

Senator Evans threw his weight behind the wages push. "We are going to have to make wages more attractive to encourage the best applicants for apprenticeships - because the alternatives (in work) are more attractive," he said.

The Government is also backing calls for a "competency-based" system that would allow apprentices to finish their training quicker. The Minister said he wanted to "drive quite a radical reform agenda" in apprenticeships, starting with the report's release today. And while he doesn't have a completion rate target in mind, the current completion rate "is a disgrace", he said.


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