The Australian federal government has launched an A$837 million (NZ$953 million) programme to ease the skills crisis.
The main targets of the programme are high school dropouts in need of Year 12 qualifications or vocational training to get a job.
As part of the programme, the government will hand out skills vouchers, worth A$407 million over five years, to fund literacy, numeracy and vocational training for workers over 25 who do not have Year 12 certificates.
The vouchers will provide up to A$3,000, from January 1, 2007, to be used for certificate courses at technical colleges.
Priority for the vouchers will be given to the unemployed.
Courses approved for the programme are those where skills are lacking, such as IT.
Prime Minister John Howard flagged the extension of federal funding to ease the skills shortage last month when he said people now need flexible and continued training throughout their working lives.
Howard says job growth is strong, with the unemployment rate at a 30-year low, particularly in Western Australia, which is experiencing a resources boom.
Job vacancies currently stand at 155,000 and the unemployment rate is 4.9% overall. It is 3.6% in Western Australia.
As businesses have tried to meet labour and skills shortages, particularly in the IT sector, the number of 457 visas granted to foreign workers has rocketed — to 58,140 in the first ten months of this year alone.
Labour opposition leader Kim Beazley has opposed the increased use of 457 visas and has repeatedly called for more training and programmes to support local workers instead.
But Human Services Minister Joe Hockey defended the use of 457 visas when local workers are unavailable.
“When you go to country towns, where the unemployment rate is as high as 8%, and speak to local businesses [the] employers are crying out for skilled and unskilled workers,” Hockey says.
“If employers cannot find someone to do a hard day’s work then they have to go somewhere to get workers.”