The shortage of skills across some of the nation?s pivotal industries was at the heart of the 2011-12 Federal Budget, announced last week. However, many industry figures have expressed concern that the Treasurer Wayne Swan is not only leaning too heavily on the resources boom in his efforts to balance the nation?s books, but has also given scant consideration to the effect that a price on carbon and a mining tax will have on the very industries that he?s looking to to get Australia back in black.
The Government announced that $3 billion over the next six years will be invested in initiatives to support apprentices, increase skilled immigration and provide support for the long-term unemployed, with the new Building Australia’s Future Workforce programme being aimed at addressing Australia?s chronic skills shortage. Supporting his announcement, Swan warned “skills shortages could constrain our economic growth and mean missed opportunities for Australians”.
The resources sector was identified as an immediate priority for the funding, which is earmarked for ?high need industries and critical occupations?. One of the major pillars of the Government?s new programme is a new $558 million National Workforce Development Fund, which will be used to create over 130,000 training places in various industries, while more than $200 million will be used to support apprenticeships through mentoring and modernisation.
Paul Sutton, General Manager of the IQA, praised the ?substantial commitment? made by the Government to a partnership with industry , particularly in addressing skills. Paul Sutton says the Government has given a ?clear direction for industry to pursue? that is aligned with the ?intent to drive national reform and boost skills and productivity.?.
Ray Barker OAM, the chairman of SkillsDMC, the national industry skills council for the resources and infrastructure sectors, said the Budget set ?a clear direction for industry, Governments and training providers to work in partnership to ensure Australia?s long-term economic prosperity?.
Industry praise was forthcoming, too, for the proposed migration programme, also aimed at dealing with skills shortages. The overall migration programme will bring in 185,000 people in 2011-12, up from 168,700 in 2010-11. Approximately 125,850 of those places will be reserved for skilled migrants, up from 113,850 in 2010-11. A boost of nearly 10 per cent, this takes immigration levels very close to their pre-Global Financial Crisis levels.
The Minerals Council of Australia issued its response to the Federal Budget, in which they acknowledged that the plan to create enterprise or regional-focused migration agreements ? as well as the streamlining of processing of temporary skilled migration ? would help with the immediate constraints of the skills shortage.
The Council?s response went on to assert that the Federal Budget ?correctly recognises the importance of a strong and growing minerals sector to Australia?s economy? but expressed concerns that in spite of Australia?s terms of trade being at an historical high, the nation?s balance books remain in the red.
?With an estimated $140 billion worth of projects underway or planned in the minerals sector alone, the challenge for this Budget was to lock-in the potential gains in national income, jobs and exports,? the response said.
The Council echoed the views of many in the extractive industry by restating criticism of the Government over the decision to return to a CPRS-style carbon pricing scheme, arguing that the move threatens to contradict the objectives outlined in the Budget by saddling Australian exports entering the global market with costs not faced by most of the country?s international competitors.
Summing up the mixed response that the Budget received from industry, Heather Ridout, chief executive of the Australian Industry Group, agreed in her official response that the Budget is solid on the fundamentals of skills, infrastructure and fiscal responsibility, all of which will help alleviate capacity constraints, (she specifically called the skills and infrastructure measures ?commendable?), but balanced her praise by arguing that ?more could have been done to reduce the risks associated with the lopsided economy by investing in innovation, business capabilities and exporting”.
Sources: Australian Industry Group, Institute of Quarrying Australia, Minerals Council of Australia, SkillsDMC