Stimulus angles to keep apprentices in work

Winter is often a quiet time for air-conditioning contractors.

But with the spectre of a global downturn from coronavirus now hanging over all businesses, Air Dynamics owner Michael Giles had good reason to think this winter might be the toughest ever for his Karratha-based company.

It came as a huge relief, then, when the Federal Government last week announced a sweeping stimulus package that would include wage assistance for small businesses that continued to employ apprentices.

Mr Giles said Air Dynamics, which he started with a business partner in 1998, still had to complete a backlog of work that was created when Cyclone Damien hit the Pilbara in February.

That backlog wouldn’t last forever, though, and it was difficult to predict what effect the virus would have on the business in the coming weeks and months.

“We are very quiet in the winter time and very busy in the summer time and the support package for the apprentices, given we are heading into winter, is really timed beautifully for businesses like ours,” he said.

Under the Federal Government’s wage assistance plan, small businesses that employ fewer than 20 people will receive up to $21,000 per apprentice in wage assistance over nine months.

The package is aimed at ensuring apprentices are not retrenched and total payments to employers are expected to reach about $1.3 billion.

Mr Giles said the payments would help him continue employing his two first-year apprentices through what may be a tough period for the company.

At last week’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry WA breakfast, Small and Family Business, Skills and Vocational Education Minister Michaelia Cash said it was vital that apprentices remained employed to ensure Australia had the skills it required when the effects of the coronavirus pandemic had passed.

The apprentice wage assistance package was the best way to do that, she said.

“It is to support around 70,000 small businesses … to ensure that they have the capacity to continue to employ them,” she said.

Ms Cash said the scheme, along with the other measures announced as part of the stimulus package, was also “scalable” should industry require more assistance.

“In relation to the business support, in the first instance it is all about ensuring that small businesses, 20FTE or less, are able to keep their employees on and, if they have apprentices, ensure that they are able to keep them on as well,” she said.

“… The money hasn’t gone out yes, as you know. We need to see the impact of this money as it goes out to see where it actually does wash through.”

Businesses seeking further information about the wage assistance package for apprentices can contact Apprenticeship Support Australia on 1300 363 831.

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