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Minister comments on the continuing problem of unemployment

PRU GOWARD: Can Skillshare work without changes and what does it do for the estimated half a million long-term unemployed by the year 2000, a figure likely to be confirmed today with the release of this month's unemployment figures. Well, earlier I spoke to the Federal Employment Minister, Kim Beazley, and asked him how the problem of the revolving door syndrome, where people come back for training and are then retrained again could be fixed.

KIM BEAZLEY: Well, I think firstly you've got say, optimistically, that a success rate of one in two isn't too bad in the labour market program, so what it indicates is that people who have had enormous difficulty getting employment, about half of them who are going through that program are actually getting into employment. Of course, that means half aren't, but that's at least a very substantial number of people who probably wouldn't have had a show otherwise.

But one of the reasons why we support Skillshare is its flexibility. I mean, you've got TAFEs, universities, high schools and all the rest of it, all of whom train people and often in more considerable depth than they are trained in Skillshare. But Skillshare is close to the local business community, close to the local market. Now, that's not to say they don't have to keep adjusting - they do - and sometimes they may fall a bit behind in what they're adjusting to because they hire trainers and develop obligations to people who are working for them and that sort of thing, in the same way as a school does. But they still have more flexibility than most and they tend to respond a bit more effectively to changes in the labour market.

PRU GOWARD: But what do you say to the woman who's done two word processing courses and a spreadsheet course and still finds that employers say: Oh, we don't use that any more, or: Could you have this package as well?

KIM BEAZLEY: She's been 17 years out of work, and that's a pretty tough task for Skillshare to get her back into work. And the marvellous thing about Skillshare is that they do succeed in some of those cases.

PRU GOWARD: But is Bill Guy right when he said that there are significant numbers going through two or three or even more jobs skills programs and the problem is: What are you training them for when there are no jobs?

KIM BEAZLEY: Well, that's not quite true. The labour market is churning over all the time. It is quite true to say that we require growth in order to be able to increase the effectiveness of people's capacity to get in. But the phenomena that is now current in Australia and is prevalent elsewhere in the Western world is the plateauing at higher and higher levels of long-term unemployed who never get back into the work force, and, actually, don't ultimately ... you can get an odd experience of inflationary wages growth with very high levels of unemployment. They're experiencing that in Britain now. And we're not experiencing that here, basically because of the discipline of the trade unions but also because we are getting more and more successful in keeping long-term unemployed people competitive in the labour market. That's not 100 per cent successful, but enough of them successful to start to make a dent on the figures. And Skillshare helps with that.

PRU GOWARD: Are you still of the view, though - and in anticipation of the unemployment figures out later today - that we will have to live with high long-term unemployment for quite some time?

KIM BEAZLEY: I've warned about the developing phenomena of high levels of long-term unemployment. I don't believe that we can ever live with them because the consequences of living with them is to create both enormous social programs and ultimately enormous economic programs, economic problems. And so we acknowledge the existence but the struggle must be on to reduce them.

I've been a little bit surprised because whereas last year, through the period in which numbers of long-term unemployed actually normally fall, which is about this time of the year, they kept on rising during the course of last year and I therefore, on the basis of that, predicted a peak of between about 400 and 500,000. Actually, they've started to fall the last few months - that's long-term unemployment - has started to fall, and while it's a normal phenomena this time of the year, it's a phenomena that hasn't appeared for a year or two and that perhaps indicates that some of these labour market programs like Skillshare are working, but it's too early to say that with confidence.

PRU GOWARD: Now, I guess is it a question when you come to training programs like Skillshare of changing the program, making it more flexible, catering to niche job markets, or some other novel form of catering to the unemployed?

KIM BEAZLEY: Well, we don't have a huge amount of money to spend on these things and some of that training does, of course, put people into jobs; some of it doesn't. One of your interviewees, B..... I think his name was, referred to the need to get a better package, one that we wouldn't actually provide resources for, though increasingly these days CES's are prepared to permit people who can demonstrate that that particular training program will get them into that particular job, permit them to keep receiving unemployment benefits even though strictly they no longer meet the work test and would normally not be allowed unemployment benefits. So we're trying to develop flexibility where people identify that sort of activity, that sort of opportunity for themselves and try to adopt a more generous attitude.

I think one of the lessons that we're learning is that we've got to be more flexible. We're trying to induce that note of flexibility into our programs. And, of course, the Prime Minister's task force on employment opportunity, I think, will probably take us further down that road.

PRU GOWARD: Federal Employment Minister, Kim Beazley, and unemployment figures out today.