The government’s youth internship scheme is failing to attract participants and businesses at a staggering rate, despite a $2.5m advertising blitz.
Having promised 30,000 internships a year for young job seekers, documents provided to the Senate by the Department of Jobs and Small Business reveal only 4,785 internships were completed in the first 18 months of the $250m program.
The department also confirmed it had no employment target for the low-paying scheme – which unions argue equates to roughly $4 an hour for participants.
Businesses receive $1,000 for each intern they host, but the department revealed only 3,645 businesses have so far taken part, well short of the 18,000-20,000 it needs to attract to hit 30,000 interns a year.
The documents reveal 227 people had begun an internship as a fast-food cook and there were 214 internships for people working as housekeepers.
The low take-up from businesses was despite the government spending $2.52m advertising the scheme to prospective employers in the 2017-18 financial year.
It was also outlined that, in one case, a business has hosted 17 interns without offering a job to a participant. That business is one of seven that have been excluded from the program.
Overall, the department said 8,091 internship placements had been commenced between April 2017 and October 2018.
About 60% of those who completed an internship – or 2,918 people – were then employed by their host business, the department said.
Asked by the Labor senator Doug Cameron what employment target the program hoped to meet, the department replied: “There are no employment targets for Youth Jobs PaTH.”
Data provided by the department shows interns were mostly likely to work as cafe workers, followed by sales assistants and kitchenhands.
The department confirmed it is currently conducting a review of the program in response to questions from Cameron. In a response to other questions, it indicated businesses were not required to report on how they spend the funds provided to them by the government for hosting an intern.
Labor’s employment services spokeswoman, Terri Butler, said the PaTH program had been “exposed time and time again for its ineffectiveness”.
Butler hinted that the program would not remain intact, at least in its existing form, under a Labor government, saying the party would “have more to say about PaTH before the election”.
“Not only is the government failing to get young people into work, but it is failing to protect them from exploitation under the program,” she said.
Butler said estimates responses had shown a review into host organisations did not result in a written report, with the department instead instructing “providers to contact participants to verify PaTH arrangements”.
The minister for jobs, Kelly O’Dwyer, would not comment on the internships aspect of the PaTH program, but suggested the entire scheme had seen “fantastic results”.
“The Youth Jobs PaTH program is proving to be an effective program in getting young people off welfare and into work, with more than 59,000 young people having participated in at least one element of Youth Jobs PaTH, and over 38,000 (or 64.5%) getting a job,” she said.
“The Youth Bonus wage subsidy – the ‘hire’ element of PaTH – has supported over 34,500 ongoing jobs placements for young job seekers between 15 and 24 years of age.”
Alongside the internships, the PaTH program also includes up to $10,000 in subsidies to businesses that hire young people, known as the Youth Bonus wage subsidy, and a employability training program that is compulsory for some job seekers.
The government has so far spent $12.7m on the internships, but the figure is projected to hit $288.6m over the forward estimates.