Tuesday, 1 December 2020
Questions without Notice
COVID-19: Vocational Education and Training
My question is to the Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business, Senator Cash. Can the minister please update the Senate on how the Morrison government is supporting small and medium businesses to keep apprentices in training through the economic impacts of COVID-19 and how the government is delivering on these commitments to ensure Australia has the skilled workforce it needs to build a stronger and more secure post-pandemic Australia?
I thank Senator Antic for his question, and, as Senator Antic knows, the Prime Minister has made it very clear: Australia's economic recovery from COVID-19 will be a skills led recovery. That is why, as a government, we have put vocational education and training at the forefront of our economic agenda. In fact, this year alone, we will invest almost $7 billion in vocational education and training. That's right—almost $7 billion.
When COVID-19 first impacted us earlier this year, the government understood that trainees and apprentices are the first to go in an economic downturn and that we needed to put in place the policies to ensure that employers, and in particular our small businesses, were able to keep their apprentices and trainees on the job, where we needed them. We did this through our Supporting Apprentices and Trainees wage subsidy. It commenced in April this year and it runs through until March next year.
Senator Antic, as at 27 November 2020, the wage subsidy has now assisted 56,000 businesses—98 per cent of which are small businesses in Australia—to keep, now, over 103,000 apprentices and trainees on the job, and we do this by covering 50 per cent of their wages. This now includes over 20,000 bricklayers who've been kept on the job because of the wage subsidy; 15,000 electricians, kept on the job because of the wage subsidy; 10,000 plumbers, kept on the job because of the wage subsidy; 5,000 hairdressers, again, kept on the job because of the wage subsidy; and 8,000 automotive mechanics and electricians. For those from rural and regional Australia, over 35,000 of the apprentices and trainees and over 20,500 small and medium businesses have utilised the wage subsidy. (Time expired)
Access to free or low-cost training in areas of skills demand is so important as Australians and our economy recover from the impacts of COVID-19, and that's why, as you know, the government has partnered with the states and territories—all of the states and territories. The Commonwealth has put half a billion dollars on the table and the states and territories have matched this funding with another half a billion dollars, and we have the $1 billion JobTrainer fund. As you know, all states and territories—in fact, now including your home state of Victoria—have signed on to the JobTrainer fund. The fund itself, once up and running, will provide over 300,000 additional training places—
Senator Keneally interjecting—
and, in fact, in six jurisdictions, Senator Keneally, it is now live. In six jurisdictions it is now live, with over 263,000 additional training places. They are already available and on the market—free or low-cost training in areas of actual demand.
As I noted in my first answer, we've put in place the Supporting Apprentices and Trainees wage subsidy because we recognise that small businesses in particular impacted by COVID-19 needed assistance to keep the apprentices and trainees they had, in training, on the job. But we as a government also recognise that we need to assist businesses to bring on new apprentices and trainees, to ensure that employers have the pipeline of skilled workers that they need. That's why we've announced a $1.2 billion Boosting Apprenticeship Commencements subsidy. That will create 100,000 new apprentices and trainees. It really highlights the importance of skills and training to Australia's economic recovery. The subsidies are available to employers of any size and in any location to sign up a new apprentice or trainee and claim up to 50 per cent of their wages through to 30 September next year.