The Australian  Higher Education reporter

Industry wants a free hand to experiment with apprenticeship incentive schemes, arguing that government reforms are too blunt.

A new report recommends more nuanced incentive arrangements that take account of occupation, qualification, size of em­ploy­er and characteristics of apprentices. The report, written last year by the Apprenticeships Reform Advisory Group, urges the government to fund an industry-led pilot incentives program.

“This would allow industry groups or employers to come forward with a business case for securing funding to support apprenticeships in a particular industry, occupation or region,” says the report, released on Monday by Assistant Skills Minister Karen Andrews.

Group member Jenny Lambert, of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said governments had made extensive changes to incentive schemes without foreseeing the impacts on individual industries. “The government hasn’t tweaked incentives, they’ve put a sledgehammer to them,” she said.

She cited 2013 changes by the former Labor government, which saved about $1.1 billion by slashing incentive payments. Officials said the incentives, regarded by some as corporate welfare, were financially unsustainable and needed to be retargeted to skill shortage areas. Commencements immediately crashed.

Ms Lambert said the changes had ignored employment realities in certain industries, such as hospitality’s reliance on part-timers. The government also had overlooked the role of the incentives in encouraging employers to sign up apprentices.

The report says incentives must be viewed as “part of the broader business case” for employers to hire apprentices. The group was established almost a year ago to advise on incentives, pre-apprenticeships and alternative apprenticeship models.