Australian Bureau of Statistics

A majority of the workforce is employed as full-time permanent employees, but it is clear that casual employment is the dominant form in Australia of what can be called ‘non-standard’ employment. According to Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) figures, almost 2 million employees were classified as ‘casual’ employees in their main job in August 1999. ( Campbell, 2001, p.62) The age groups with the highest proportions of employees employed as casuals in August 1998 are the 15 to 24 age group (45 per cent) and the 55 and over age group (28 per cent). (ABS,1999b). (Curtain, 2001, p. 108).

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Studies also show that casual workers tend to work in lower skilled occupations. Generally, the proportion of casual decreased as the skill level of the occupation group increased. The other aspect of the change in the nature of employment is the increase in part-time work, particularly for men. In the last 10 years, the growth in the number of men working part-time has outstripped the growth in the number of women working part-time. Casual employees in Australia enjoy remarkably few rights, benefits and forms of protection. Casual employees suffer significant disadvantages in comparison with permanent employees. Starting with a lack of entitlement to paid holiday leave and paid sick leave, casual employment is characterised by a general shortfall in protection.Campbell said, ” It is certainly true that casual employment appears as a highly ‘flexible’ form of employment .

The lack of rights, benefits and forms of protection associated with casual status allows it to be used in a diverse variety of ways; it gives it a high level of plasticity” (2001, p.78). Casual employees are also much less likely than permanent employees to participate in formal training activities. There is also evidence of casual workers undertaking training in their own time in place of the low levels of employer provided training. Connell and Burgess (2001) suggested that access to skills and training is not equal across the community. Where private investment in skills is required, the uneven distribution of income and wealth will limit individual access. Where product market conditions differ between firms and industries, the ability to access employer funded training will also be uneven.

Training is an ongoing process, as such continued access to training is often associated with job and skill characteristics. Those with the higher jobs and with high skills have better access to further skill aquisition. Statistics show that average training hours per employee are declining and that: employees in small enterprises (less than 20 employees) receive around one third the training hours of employees in large enterprises ( over 100 employees); part-time employees receive less training than full time employees; and casual employees receive less training than permanent employees (Curtain, 2001).

This training deficit carries worrying implications, for enterprises and the economy as a whole. Campbell (2001) argues that this training deficit represents one of the major features of casual employment since it may facilitate skill shortages, poor planning, inadequate innovation and a slow down in productivity growth. As a result, the training deficit points first of all to a disadvantage for many casual employees, who may be trapped in a degraded job unless they have the resources to pursue their own training.

It rises questions and dilemmas for public policy. It is suggessted that public policy to remedy the training deficit may need to intervene at the broad level of casual employment itself. There are of course formidable barriers to such a redirection of public policy. The current arrangements in the form of apprenticeships and traineeships are quite restrictive. The apprenticeship system as it operates in Australia is first and foremost a system of employment and only secondarily a system of training. Traineeships in many cases are a means of providing a means of probationary low cost employment rather than as a means of foundation training for further skills aquisition or retraining in new job areas.

Two specific policy proposals that can provide better access to training opportunities are: individual traineeships that are independent of a training contract relationship with a particular employer; and the creation of individual learning accounts as a mechanism for all stakeholders to contribute to the funding of opportunities to undertake training leading to recognised outcomes such as formal qualifications. The most important shift from a policy perspective has been the shift in the allocation of public resources from the supply tothe demand side in VET. The VET system in Austaralia is an amalgam of arrangements between government, TAFE, private trainers, industry and employers.

The system is based on providing modular training requirements to meet the training needs of employers. The regulatory framework that has developed over the last decade and in which the emerging training market is expected to operate more efficiently and effectively can be summarised as having a number of key points: A system of National Qualifications (AQF) and recognised competency standards; a Quality Control System which regulates providers; Competitive tendering arrangements for Commonwealth funding; User Choice for contracts of training whereby funds follow students; an increased emphasis on Structured Entry Level Training under New Apprenticeships; and the availability to public and private providers of standardised training packages for contracts of training ncluding assessment criteria.