Industry Skills Fund - 25 March 2015

Senator McGRATH: My question is to the Assistant Minister for Education and Training, Senator Birmingham, representing the Minister for Education and Training. Can the minister update the Senate on the benefits that are flowing to small and medium-sized businesses from the coalition's Industry Skills Fund?

Senator BIRMINGHAM: I thank Senator McGrath for the question. The Industry Skills Fund is a shining example of this government's commitment to support real training that connects with real jobs. It provides $476 million in funding over the next four years that will support some 200,000 training opportunities for people right around Australia. But importantly, they are training opportunities that relate to job-specific training, rather than what we saw those opposite engage in too much of, which was training for training's sake. Employers who contribute to the costs of the training through this program get to decide and model training for what is needed to grow their business, to grow employment opportunity in their business and, therefore, to create more jobs right around Australia. I am pleased to advise that the first grants under this program have started to flow. One of those first ones was to the iconic South Australian ice cream manufacturer, Golden North. And I know that ice cream is very dear to Senator McGrath's heart, as I am sure it is to many in this chamber, and I would implore all—

Senator Wong interjecting—

Senator BIRMINGHAM: Even you Senator Wong, I am sure, enjoy Golden North from time to time!

Senator Wong: I do.

Senator McGRATH: Golden North will benefit from $40,000 through the fund which will assist in the cost of training 30 of its staff. This demonstrates that, through modest contribution we can make a major difference, because the funding will help new opportunities for the company in China and South-East Asia by providing their employees with skills in competitive systems to improve factory efficiency. Barker Trailers, a regional business in Victoria will benefit, as will a business in outback Queensland. All up, a number of businesses are already in the early days of benefiting from this program.

Senator McGRATH: Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Can the minister advise the Senate how the Industry Skills Fund will assist businesses to grow the Australian economy?

Senator BIRMINGHAM: Of the training places approved to date, 72 per cent have gone to micro and small businesses, demonstrating the creation of opportunity for those small businesses to grow themselves and to grow export markets for Australia into the future. Already just in the first couple of months of this program 115 businesses are benefiting from the training opportunities. In contrast, as I said before, Labor wasted billions of dollars on programs that failed to deliver training that actually connected with real job outcomes. A review into Labor's failed $4.1 billion Productivity Places Program found it was impossible to tell who had even been trained, it was impossible to estimate how many people had been trained and it was difficult to determine who had even been awarded contracts to deliver the training. By contrast, this program under the coalition connects training with jobs and real employers. (Time expired)

Senator McGRATH: Mr President, I ask a final supplementary question. Can the minister advise the Senate how the Industry Skills Fund is helping to address youth unemployment?

Senator BIRMINGHAM: Importantly, as part of this overall program the government is investing $44 million in trialling two innovative youth pilot programs under the Industry Skills Fund which will target and provide the opportunity for individual training programs to be tailored to the needs of those individual young people. Under the Training for Employment Scholarship Program, up to 7,500 job-specific training places will be created across 11 regions, targeting young people aged 18 to 24 who are not in full-time employment or study. Employers must hire the employees for more than 25 hours per week for a minimum of 12 months. In return, the employer is supported with reimbursement up to $7,500 for the costs of up to 26 weeks of personally tailored training to help give this young person often their first job and an opportunity to step into the workforce.

Senator ABETZ: Mr President, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.