“Many apprentices lost work because of Scott Morrison’s slow response to COVID-19,” she said. “And the number of people starting apprenticeships and traineeships this year is down by 22 per cent.”
The new wage subsidy is open to employers of any size in any industry, as long as they take on the new apprentices or trainees by September 30 next year.
The government will pay half the workers’ salaries up to a cap of $7000 a quarter, but employers cannot claim the help as well as JobKeeper or other federal subsidies for the same person.
“During this pandemic the federal government has been focused on supporting and creating jobs, as well as identifying the skills we need in the economic rebuild,” Mr Morrison said.
Mitchell Institute education policy fellow Peter Hurley said the program was excellent because it funded new apprenticeship commencements, a missing element in other support this year.
The government announced a wage subsidy for existing apprentices in March and extended it in July, but employers urged ministers in recent weeks to offer help to new apprentices too.
The number of apprentices and trainees fell to 272,505 at the end of March from 443,300 in the same quarter of 2013, when Labor was in government.
The goal of 100,000 new commencements – which Mr Hurley said the government was likely to reach – would not return numbers to the level seen when the Coalition took power in September 2013.
The National Australian Apprenticeship Association feared the total stock of apprentices and trainees would collapse by another 78,000 places to as low as 196,930 by the end of this year, as the JobKeeper subsidy was scaled down.
The new scheme gained support on Sunday from the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Master Builders Association, the Independent Tertiary Education Council Australia and the Australian Industry Group.
Australian Industry Group chief Innes Willox said the wage subsidy would give school-leavers and other young people the “best possible chance” at getting into work, and he noted the $1.2 billion was on top of $2.8 billion already committed to other subsidies for apprentices and trainees.
In a new warning about disappearing prospects, Mr Hurley and others released a report on Saturday that forecast 100,000 fewer jobs for people aged 15 to 24.
The Victoria University report recommended a National Job Cadet Program to help young people into work and prevent long-term unemployment and disengagement.
“What the government is doing with the apprenticeship program, they should also apply to the cadet proposal,” Mr Hurley said.
While apprentices often work and study for four years and trainees often do courses for one or two years, there is no similar employment incentive for those leaving university as “white-collar apprentices”.
Federal employer incentives have fallen from about $1.2 billion a year to about $500 million a year in vocational training since the Coalition came to power in 2013, according to the Mitchell Institute, but much of this is owing to a crackdown on the old VET Fee-Help scheme.
“We used to spend a lot more on incentives than we currently do. That was taken out for good reason and now is the right time to put it back in,” Mr Hurley said.
David Crowe is chief political correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.