Inside troubled job training courses

A sophisticated scheme where job agencies funnel Queenslanders desperate for work into state-funded training is raking in tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars despite a promised "clamp down."

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk last Sunday vowed to "clamp down really hard" on any wasting of the millions set aside for training, saying it was "absolutely unacceptable" to take advantage of jobseekers trying to find work.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk.

It came after a Sunday Mail investigation revealed a network of registered training organisations, middlemen and recruitment agencies were working together to lure cash-poor job applicants across southeast Queensland into government-subsidised training paying about $4000 a person.

Industry sources allege the funds are sometimes then divided up, with job agencies in some cases demanding a 25 per cent fee for each student referred, at times paid via a middleman.

Registered trainers are forbidden from paying job agencies for referrals to state-subsidised training under the Government's Skills Assure program rules.

But a week after the allegations were aired, it was business as usual for some of the recruitment companies and training organisations using job ads to lure people into lucrative training.

That includes Staffco Labour Hire, which last week placed a series of job advertisements for factory workers at an unidentified Brisbane warehouse looking to "grow their business".

Applicants must be "willing to learn" with no prior qualification necessary, the advertisement states.

But when a Sunday Mail reporter tested the system by applying for dozens of jobs, an unidentified Staffco worker called to say the client wanted "qualifications to back up work".

He offered to "help out." A Certificate 3 in Food Processing was starting in four days time, he said.

"The whole training is Government funded," the Staffco caller said of the Chermside training.

"I'm not guaranteeing that when you do the training you get the job straight away.

"But I'm helping you get the qualification and also the forklift ticket. Along the way there are going to be some people that are helping me out. Like The Job Coach. And our recruitment company."

Jobhunters attend a training course at the Chermside Guide Hut in Bradbury Park on Brisbane’s northside. Picture: Josh Woning
Jobhunters attend a training course at the Chermside Guide Hut in Bradbury Park on Brisbane’s northside. Picture: Josh Woning

The training kicked off the morning after the Palaszczuk Government fronted a press conference to say it was taking allegations companies were cashing in on the coronavirus jobs crisis seriously.

Eleven jobseekers arrived for the training at Chermside Guide Hut, one by push bike, last Monday.

Perched in the middle of a park, the hut sits metres from a playground, where mums were busy pushing their children on swings and joggers exercising in the park.

Inside, the students were learning about factory work by a trainer engaged by Buderim-based Compact Services Queensland.

Across the park, a solitary figure in a white polo and shorts sat watching the hut from a picnic table.

He would then spend an hour pacing around the park, mostly with his mobile phone to his ear.

The man later confirmed he was Compact Services director Grant Hitchen, 46.

Compact Services director Grant Hitchen watched the training course from a distance. Picture: Josh Woning
Compact Services director Grant Hitchen watched the training course from a distance. Picture: Josh Woning

Asked how many students had been referred by job agencies, he said he would "need to check".

He refused to answer whether any payment had been made for referrals from job agencies, or answer further questions from the newspaper.

His company would be able to claim $3325-$4038 per person in taxpayer funding for the Certificate 3 Food Processing course - up to $44,418 for the course, Government figures show.

Three of the students, Jacob Lilley, 19, Jacob Williamson, 20, and Sean Gray, 19, said they had been referred by job agencies after applying for factory jobs.

Eating a cup of noodles and sipping from a mug on their break, they said they were told there were plenty of jobs by the job agency, but the trainer later cautioned there were no guarantees.

Mr Williamson said he was "pretty desperate for work … I need the money."

"(The training) is like 4k. And it usually goes for 10 weeks but it's two weeks now. It's two weeks and for free. I think it's been pretty great so far, pretty easy," he said.

Jacob Lilley, 19, Jacob Williamson, 20, and Sean Gray, 19. Picture: Josh Woning
Jacob Lilley, 19, Jacob Williamson, 20, and Sean Gray, 19. Picture: Josh Woning

Another student, who asked not to be named, told the newspaper he had applied for a job advertised by Job Link Queensland, which referred him to the training.

"What the guy said was if you do this course you'll be more employable and we have a customer or client that's going to need people in the future," he said.

"They said they will be looking for people soon but they need to have your Cert 3 in Food Processing.

"He said as it happens we have a place left. So I thought, as long as I don't pay anything."

He grew hopeful late last week when Job Link texted to say a client would phone.

"Good luck," the text signed off.

But when the call came, it was another recruitment company - Practical Labour Solutions.

"They've handed my details to another job recruitment place. What's the point of that?" he said.

Practical Labour Solutions has a single page website with no contact details.

The business is part of a group of recruitment companies owned by Cannon Hill-based Mathew and Karla Micallef, who did not respond to requests for comment yesterday.

Mrs Micallef is a director of labour hire firm Change Success and shareholder in Job Link, of which Mr Micallef is the sole director.

Director of the State Government-licensed labour hire Staffco, Joanne Forsdike, has denied her company had received any funds in return for referring job applicants to subsidised training.

Ms Palaszczuk has stopped short of calling an independent investigation, but said all complaints received by the Department were taken seriously and trainers accessing funding proactively audited.

The State Opposition has called for a full investigation.

"At a time when we have the longest unemployment queue in our state's history, Queenslanders want jobs not training referrals," State Opposition leader Deb Frecklington said.

Compact Services director Grant Hitchen with a trainer delivering the Cert 3 course at Bradbury Park. Picture: Josh Woning)
Compact Services director Grant Hitchen with a trainer delivering the Cert 3 course at Bradbury Park. Picture: Josh Woning)

 

ELABORATE OPERATION SENDS CVS OVERSEAS

JOB hunters' resumes are being sent to workers in the Philippines to vet for applicants eligible for lucrative State Government-funded training, according to industry sources.

The Sunday Mail can reveal a slick behind-the-scenes operation is propping up the system luring applicants into training via job agency advertisements seeking unskilled workers.

Sources with knowledge of the operation say it has involved special computer software that acts as an interface between recruitment agencies and training organisations to keep track of how many job applicants are sent to state-funded training by which job agencies.

It is a way of keeping tabs on the cut of government funding - paid for the Certificate 3 Guarantee training - each job agency is due.

Octopus Training director Darrell Ballard.
Octopus Training director Darrell Ballard.

Industry sources allege the model of funnelling job applicants into training was pioneered by Octopus Training director Darrell Ballard, who also runs The JobCoach which multiple job agencies engage as a go-between for registered training organisations.

Mr Ballard is also the director of state-licenced labour hire firm Recruitment Careers.

Job applicants' resumes are also sent offshore to be sifted through by workers in the Philippines, who pick out those eligible for state-funded training.

The workers also phone applicants to check they have not already completed a Certificate 3 or higher qualification, are not working and are Australian or New Zealand citizens - the eligibility criteria for a Certificate 3 funded by taxpayers at a cost up to about $4000.

Job applicants are then told they would need to enrol in a course if they were to be considered for the job.

The Sunday Mail spoke to Mr Ballard, 46, but he refused to comment.


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