As the federal election race continues, the Labour Party has delivered a key pitch to employers and apprentices in the construction industry, promising to put more cash in apprentice pockets, provide greater support for small business and promote local skills on large infrastructure projects.

Unveiling its campaign launch on Sunday, the government outlined its approach toward supporting training and addressing long term skills needs.

Key to the measures is a $500 increase in completion payments under the Tools for Your Trade initiative, under which apprentices in carpentry, bricklaying, plumbing, tiling, electrical and a range of other trades listed on the National Skills Needs List receive tax-exempt payments for buying tools and equipment relevant to their training.

The new arrangements will take the amount of money apprentices receive under the program upon finishing their apprenticeship from $1,500 to $2,000 and will increase the total amount of payments they receive throughout the program from $5,500 to $6,000.

Under other initiatives concerning business in the construction industry, the government will:

  • Require owners of projects worth more than $300 million (previously $500 million) to have Australian Industry Participation Plans in place to demonstrate how local workers and suppliers get fair opportunity to participate in the project
  • Mandate minimum numbers of apprentices and trainees to be employed on federally funded construction projects
  • Establish Jobs and Training Boards in 42 areas around the country
  • Allow up-front tax deductions for any small business purchasing equipment (e.g. computers, building tools) worth up to $10,000.

Talking specifically about the Tools for Trade increase, the government says current apprenticeship completion rates are too low and the increase will help apprentices manage when they complete their apprenticeship.

“For example, typically an apprentice will use power tools that are provided on site by their boss through the course of their apprenticeship, but will need to buy their own power gear if they want to subcontract once they are qualified” Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Minister for Employment, Skills and Training Brendan O’Connor said in a joint statement.

“Increasing this payment to $2,000 will make a real difference – for example a qualified carpenter could buy a 9 piece power tool kit for around $1,500, including tools like a reciprocating saw, angle grinder, circular saw, metal saw and drill.”

“That would still leave them $500 for blades, bits and other hand tools they might need so they can start out on their own.”

Building industry groups welcomed a number of the initiatives but stressed more needs to be done to support a stronger economy and industry.

“The building industry backs increasing support for young people to commit to apprenticeships, such as Labour’s commitment to increase the Tools for your Trade grants” Master Builders Australia Chief Executive Office Wilhelm Harnisch says.

“However, measures to help employers meet the costs of training and mentoring apprentices must also be an urgent priority for the next Federal Government.”

“[Meanwhile] “While the Government’s commitment to establish jobs and training boards in 42 regions around Australia is positive, they will achieve little if there is not a strong building industry and strong national and local economies generating jobs for these centres to match unemployed people up to.”

The latest moves follow the announcement of Coalition policies to provide loans for apprentices up to a value of $20,000.