25/02/2009 - 22:00

Business urged to keep trainees

25/02/2009 - 22:00

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INDUSTRY groups have welcomed increased federal government support for training, as one of Australia's largest training providers was forced for the first time ever to stand down probationary apprentices.

INDUSTRY groups have welcomed increased federal government support for training, as one of Australia's largest training providers was forced for the first time ever to stand down probationary apprentices.

Electrical Group Training, which employs more than 700 apprentices in WA, this week stood down 16 probationary apprentices because of an ongoing lack of demand for labour from the industry.

NECA WA, the industry body representing electrical and communications contractors, has applauded the Rudd government's $145 million plan to subsidise apprentices, announced last week.

"Any assistance to help employers to keep hiring apprentices is a positive step," NECA chief executive Peter Tuck said.

"During hard times, it is usually always the most vulnerable employees who are the first to get retrenched. In our industry, this means apprentices. Employers take decisions to retrench apprentices very seriously, but sadly it's often the only option."

Hospitality Group Training general manager Iain McDougall also welcomed the new package but is concerned that it focused on a short term, 12-week period of support.

"It would greatly assist apprentices if it could be for a longer period of time," Mr McDougall said.

"Another problem is that the plan focuses on apprentices out of the workforce and not the ones already in the market.

"Being employed is the hardest challenge facing apprentices today, especially final year apprentices who cost more in being retained."

Chamber of Commerce and Industry WA chief executive James Pearson has urged companies to think carefully before cutting education and training programs in response to the tough economic times.

"Cutting training and education programs in response to economic uncertainties might make short term sense, but come at a long term cost," Mr Pearson said.

He said the WA economy remained fundamentally strong and encouraged businesses to prepare for the inevitable economic upturn, which will include a need for more skilled workers, by maintaining their investment in WA's future workforce.

"We can not afford to make the same mistakes of the past," Mr Pearson said.

" In the 1990s, when faced with difficult economic circumstances, many companies cut back on training programs and on the number of apprentices to save money. The cutbacks contributed to the state's recent labour shortages."

Under the government's $145 million package, employers and group training organisations may be eligible to receive up to an additional $2,800.

A further $1,800 is available for employers or group training organisations taking on an eligible out-of-trade apprentice or trainee in the form of a wage subsidy of $150 a week paid in arrears at the twelve-week point after recommencement.

NECA urged the federal and state governments to consider additional policies that would make apprentices even more attractive to employers, including exempting apprentices' wages from worker compensation premium calculations and discounts on motor vehicle registration.

In another response to the weakening labour market, Minister of Immigration and Citizenship Chris Evans said the number of skilled migrant workers coming to Australia would decrease next year.

Senator Evans also noted that the number of 457 visa applications had fallen dramatically, especially in the trades, due to the fall in demand for labour in the economy.

"That's what we want from a migration program, one that's meeting the needs of the economy," he told a press briefing.

Senator Evans said migration would play an important role in the labour market.

"For the foreseeable future we'll still need to rely on migration for certain skills and in the longer term we'll need to build the Australian workforce. The ageing of our population means we will continue to need overseas labour in the longer term."

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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