Without warning, the Federal Government has made a crucial change to the Boosting Apprenticeship Commencements (BAC) scheme that is providing up to $28,000 in wage subsidies for a range of traineeships, including optical dispensing.
Australasian College of Optical Dispensing director and senior trainer Mr James Gibbins said the amendment now means ‘existing employees’ – such as optical assistants wanting to obtain a Certificate IV in Optical Dispensing – are no longer eligible for the program.
The government imposed the new measure effective immediately on 28 October. Importantly, it does not affect any enrolment prior to this date that has already been deemed eligible.
Gibbins said now-ineligible ‘existing workers’ are classified as a full time employee of more than three months and a part time employee of more than 12 months.
However, they could become eligible if a casual employee is moved to part or full time status after October 28; or if a part time employee shifts to full time status after October 28.
“If this is the case, then the employer may enrol any number of existing workers and gain the 50% wages subsidy, up to a maximum of 30 employees,” he said.
“Of course, any new or current full time employee of less than three months is still eligible, and any new or current part time employee of less than 12 months will qualify.”
Announced in the Federal Budget on 6 October, the $1.2 billion boost for employers to take on new apprentices and trainees was labelled one of the largest schemes to benefit the optical sector in recent memory.
Gibbins said the government recently amended the criteria due to the program being oversubscribed.
“Certain other large industries moved quickly on this opportunity and enrolled thousands at a time. Unfortunately, the optical industry tends to be a little slow to respond and this was the case,” he said.
“But in saying that, we have had a significant increase in enrolments and there was a very encouraging response from the independents in particular – and there are still some notable exceptions to qualify for the subsidy.”
He said ACOD is upscaling its capacity to meet the demand, particularly for workshops next year. “We already have 14 teachers in place – causal part time and full time around Australia and New Zealand – and we have four teachers ready to be added.”
Gibbins has previously pointed out that employers considering enrolling optical assistants should move urgently so the payments can be backdated.