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Employers urged to avoid last-ditch demand for dispensing wage subsidy

One of Australia’s largest optical dispensing training providers is urging employers to capitalise on a trainee wage subsidy by February – before it lapses – which could double as a key recruitment tool as demand for staff ramps up at the end of the year.

Mr James Gibbins, director and senior trainer at the Australasian College of Optical Dispensing (ACOD), says optical dispensing is experiencing a “renaissance” since the Federal Government introduced the Boosting Apprenticeship Commencements (BAC) scheme as part of its COVID-19 recovery plan in October 2020.

The initiative – which has been extended multiple times and is now uncapped – involves a wage subsidy of up to $28,000 for new or existing employees enrolled into appropriate courses, which include the Certificate IV in Optical Dispensing.

This means optical businesses that enrol eligible employees, such as unqualified optical assistants, before 31 March 2022 can receive a 50% wage subsidy for a full 12-month period from the date of commencement, to a maximum of $7,000 per quarter.

Gibbins said ACOD had experienced a huge increase in enrolments through the program during the past year. Although it’s open to both new and existing staff, he said new employees would receive extra training support: $4,000 for fulltime employees enrolled within the first three months of commencing employment, and $1,500 for part-timers enrolled within the first 12 months of employment.

The scheme is expected to end on 31 March 2022. However, paperwork delays could mean late applications don’t make the cut, so ACOD is urging employers to enrol eligible staff by February.

With NSW and Victoria recently easing lockdown restrictions, Gibbins expects there to be surging demand for optical staff until the end of the year.

“I can feel it, and I am hearing it: there is going to be a mad employment period, and people are probably going to find there are no qualified or experienced staff available,” he said.

Australasian College of Optical Dispensing directors and senior trainers Chedy Kalach (left) and James Gibbins.

“Even though inducting new people to our industry can be slow and difficult, we are encouraging businesses to bite the bullet, and when you interview for staff be sure to tell them that this isn’t just a job, it’s a career with fully funded training for a recognised qualification.

“That means those just looking for a short-term job will drop out of the applications process because they won’t want to do the training, but you will ultimately attract genuine career seekers as well as those who are now seriously considering a job in optical dispensing because it comes with training.”

Gibbins said various employers from corporates to single store independents had enrolled staff through the BAC scheme, but he was keen to stress there was neither a cap on the number of trainees per employer, nor was there an upper age limit.

“Many employers misunderstand the parameters which are extremely broad, and they are: you must be an Australian citizen or permanent resident or New Zealand citizen, you must be an employee and not a director, and finally, you must be part or full time employed and not casual – but importantly casuals can be scaled up to part time, and this isn’t gaming the system because it is exactly what the government is trying to incentivise.”

Gibbins said with some employers opting to enrol multiple staff, it meant trainees were progressing their studies together.

“It’s great to see them helping each other out, keeping each other accountable and attending various workshops – they don’t all have to attend the same workshop to try spread the load for the store – that is a lovely thing that we have never seen before,” he said.

“Ultimately, this is a renaissance for dispensing that will supercharge our industry – there will be a huge increase in the number of qualified dispensers which will improve the quality of dispensing and ordering from the lab.”

Optical Superstore national training manager Ms Lesley Stephenson said the firm had only recently enrolled staff for the first time.

“The biggest impact I have noticed is how excited and motivated the staff are when they return to work after completing the block release. I hear time and again about the new skills they have acquired and are eager to share with their work colleagues,” she said.

“As an employer, one of the benefits has been the wonderful support from all the team at ACOD, the response to any emails and phone calls has been immediate. The communication regarding our staff’s progress has been very useful, we feel valued and supported, and so do our staff enrolled on the course. We look forward to having even more skilled and qualified optical dispensers in our stores.”

Key points

  • 50% wage subsidy for a 12-month period from the date of commencement, to a maximum of $7,000 per quarter.
  • Open to both new and existing staff in optical practices.
  • Must be employed in a part time or full time capacity – not casual.
  • Must be an Australian citizen or permanent resident, or New Zealand citizen.
  • No limit on the number of employees enrolled per business.
  • Boosting Apprenticeship Commencements scheme set to end on 31 March 2022.

Source: Australasian College of Optical Dispensing.

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