New training to plug skills gaps

A new package of measures has been introduced in Austria for workers who want to develop their skills through extra training. The qualified employees’ package will give workers with low and medium skill levels the chance to gain new qualifications. The aim is to improve skills in areas where there are labour shortages. The unemployed and those already in the process of working toward a higher qualification in occupations with a lack of skilled labour will also be eligible for grants.

Background

The Austrian Government has brought in new legislation to introduce two new further education and training measures. The qualified employees’ grant (Fachkräftestipendium) and educational part-time work measure (Bildungsteilzeit) come into force on 1 July 2013. The idea is to reduce the numbers of unskilled employees, especially in areas where there is a labour shortage.

The qualified employees’ grant

The qualified employees’ grant is aimed at low skilled and medium skilled employees or unemployed people who have no tertiary education qualifications. It will make it easier for them to access further training and gain specialised qualifications.

Because the aim is to plug skill gaps, the Public Employment Service (AMS) has published a list of the qualifications which will be eligible for the grant. The list was drawn up after consultation with the social partners to identify specific areas where training was needed. Among the sectors on the list are:

  • the timber and construction industry;
  • electrical engineering;
  • health and nursing care;
  • information technology;
  • kindergarten/nursery schools;
  • the metal industry;
  • social work.

Separate grants are already available in Austria for people who have been in work for several years and want to go into some form of tertiary education.

To be eligible for a qualified employees’ grant, a person must have worked and made social security contributions for at least four of the previous 15 years. Courses must offer at least 20 hours’ training a week, with a minimum duration of three months and a maximum duration of three years.

The grant will be paid for the entire training period. However, the costs of the course are not covered and have to be paid by the participant. Those taking advantage of the scheme may be classed among Austria’s minimally employed workers who are exempt from compulsory social insurance payments if they earn no more than a maximum amount fixed each year (€386.80 a month in 2013).

The qualified employees’ grant is currently set at €837.63, and is adjusted annually.

Educational part-time work

The educational part-time work scheme is aimed at employees who want to reduce their working time and gain additional qualifications. People who have been with the same employer for at least six months are eligible, though the employer’s consent is needed.

Normal working hours of those on the scheme will be reduced by at least a quarter and by as much as a half. They must work a minimum of ten hours a week and must qualify as minimally employed workers.

There will be compensation for hours not worked. Educational part-time benefit has been set at €0.76 for every hour not worked per calendar day. For instance, where normal working hours are reduced from 40 to 20 hours, the benefit will amount to €456 per month if based on an average 30 calendar days in a month. The benefit will remain in place for a minimum of four months and a maximum of two years.

Educational part-time work does not have to continuous. It can be split into modules taken over four years. The minimum duration of any single module is four months.

Training time must be at least ten hours a week. If it is less, evidence of additional study and practice periods have to be provided.

In companies with up to 50 employees, up to four people can be involved in educational part-time work at the same time. In companies with more than 50 employees, up to 8% of the workforce can take part in the scheme. If employers want to exceed this threshold, the AMS has to give its consent.

Social partner reaction

Both employer and employee groups have largely welcomed the new measures. The Chamber of Labour (AK) and Federal Economic Chamber (WKO) agreed that the opportunity to gain further qualifications while remaining in employment was a major advantage of educational part-time work.

Erich Foglar, President of the Austrian Trade Union Federation (ÖGB) said the measure provided a new opportunity for those not previously able to afford to take educational leave.

There was a certain amount of criticism of the scheme. Some employee organisations complained that there was no legal right to educational part-time work.

Christoph Neumayer, Director General of the Federation of Austrian Industries (IV), said he would have liked to have seen a reduction in the minimum length of the courses eligible for the educational part-time work scheme from four to two months.

The qualified employees’ grant has met with general approval from the social partners.

Anna Maria Hochhauser, General Secretary of WKO, said she was happy that the subsidies were only available in sectors where there were labour shortages.

AK President Rudi Kaske said a long-standing request from the unions had at last been fulfilled. He emphasised that the grant now enabled adults to take on additional qualification while being able to support themselves.

Bernadette Allinger, FORBA (Working Life Research Centre)

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