Scott Morrison has asked Australians to be positive and put on a brave face, announcing a $2 billion skills package including free short courses in high-demand industries under the shadow of unemployment hitting a 22-year high.
The training component, which Morrison dubbed JobTrainer, will offer free or heavily subsidised VET training courses, while apprentices and trainees will continue to have their wages paid by the taxpayer to the tune of more than a billion dollars over the next six months.
The federal government says 341,000 new trainees and 180,000 apprentices will be supported through the multibillion-dollar program. It is intended to quickly retrain Australians who have lost jobs during the pandemic, and to put people into “areas of identified need”.
“It is sad and it is upsetting for many Australians that the industries and places where they’d been working, they will find it very difficult to find new employment in those sectors with those skills, potentially for some time,” Mr Morrison said on Thursday, at a press conference announcing the package.
Morrison officially made the announcement on Thursday morning, just minutes after the Australian Bureau of Statistics revealed the June job figures. Unemployment hit 7.8 percent, its highest rate in two decades, but the figure would likely be above 13 percent if not for various government support packages like JobKeeper.
“We are very determined to look ahead and I would say to Australians, as difficult as these times are, let’s not look down, let’s look up, let’s lift our heads. Today’s employment figures shows there is hope,” the PM said on Thursday.
“Australians are incredibly resilient and even as we go through these difficult times, let’s lift our heads and keep looking forward.”
“Let’s keep our heads up and keep going forward.”
Thursday’s announcement sees the federal government tip in $2 billion, with another $500 million invested by state governments, in a two-pronged scheme.
The first part of the initiative, to offer thousands of new training places, will keep with the recent theme – joining JobSeeker, JobKeeper and JobMaker – and be called JobTrainer.
“COVID-19 is unprecedented but I want Australians to be ready for the sorts of jobs that will come as we build back and recover,” Mr Morrison said.
A total of $1 billion – with an equal $500 million in contributions from Canberra and the states – will create a series of free or cheap short courses in industries looking to expand in the post-COVID economy.
The National Skills Commission will identify the industries in question but would likely include sectors such as health care, social work, transport, warehousing, manufacturing and retail.
“The jobs and skills we’ll need as we come out of the crisis are not likely to be the same as those that were lost,” the PM said.
Employment and Skills Minister Michaelia Cash said the plan looked to “provide job seekers with the skills that are in demand by employers and are critical to the economic recovery”.
About 340,700 trainees will be supported through the program, with 108,000 in NSW and 89,000 in Victoria.
The courses will be provided by public and private providers, including TAFE, with places available from September – just as the JobKeeper program in its current form is scheduled to cease.
Mr Morrison had previously hinted at a shake-up of the vocational education and training system in his May address to the National Press Club, talking of “simplifying the system, reducing distortions and achieving greater consistency between jurisdictions”.
The second part of the skills package will see the federal government stump up another $1.5 billion to extend a wage incentive to keep apprentices on the job for another six months.
The plan is intended to cover up to $7000 a quarter in apprentice wages – up to half their pay.
It is the next stage of the program, announced in March, that committed $1.3 billion to supporting apprenticeships.
The funding will be extended to medium-sized businesses – those with up to 200 employees – with Mr Morrison estimating this would cover 180,000 apprentices and 90,000 businesses.
The latest injection of cash effectively doubles the number supported.
However, the funding is only available to businesses that already had an apprentice employed on July 1.