Release type: Speech


Address to American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham), Canberra.


The Hon Brendan O'Connor MP
Minister for Skills and Training

It’s a pleasure to join you today.
The work you do is important to supporting Australian businesses to promote trade, commerce, and investment, to and from Australia with the United States.
The government values the real-world advice of AmCham and its members, and conversations like these.
The bond between the United States and Australia, our governments, and our businesses, cannot be overstated and it should not be underestimated.
Australia’s relationship with the US is fundamental to our security, sovereignty, and our economy.
It is a relationship steeped in history and reinforced by shared democratic values, aspiration, and beliefs.
Both countries are experiencing serious economic challenges. One of those challenges is severe skills shortages in areas of global demand. In some areas, this brings the industries of our countries into competition for the same skilled labour.
In the context of a highly competitive global market, the Australian Government is focused on how we and industries can maximise support for growing our domestic talent, and how we can attract a skilled workforce.
My vision is for a flexible and adaptable skills system that supports businesses, including those in new and emerging industries, and provides a path for workers to seize those opportunities with transferable skills.
And I believe we can achieve this.
As well as a global skills shortage, we see the world bracing for another global downturn.
The key strategy to build buffers against this global turbulence is a fiscally responsible Federal Budget.
The Budget, which the Treasurer will hand down next week, will focus on building our defences against this volatility. This means investing in programs essential to our nation and reducing expenditure in areas that have been closely examined and are not delivering sufficient value.
As the Treasurer said, this Budget won’t be flashy, it will be responsible. It will put a premium on what's affordable and sustainable and will be the building blocks of a more resilient economy.
According to the OECD, Australia is experiencing the second most severe labour shortages in the developed world.
The unemployment rate has declined to its lowest level since 1974, as at August this year according to the National Skills Commission.
Our current skills crisis has of course been exacerbated by COVID, but we saw signs of the looming shortage before the pandemic hit.
Whether it’s in nursing, aged care, hospitality, construction, teaching, or tech, there are skills shortages wherever we look across the economy.
To underline this point, the number of occupations suffering skills shortages has nearly doubled in the last year.
The Skills Priority List released two weeks ago by the National Skills Commission includes 286 occupations in national shortage – up from 153 in 2021.
We must act. Governments, employers, education and training providers and Unions, must cooperate and act.
Some of you may share my view that action should have been taken earlier on shortages and emerging shortages – much earlier.
The Albanese government has acted and done so as a matter of the highest priority. 
As Minister for Skills and Training, I see the transformative power of education and training.
It helps power the economy, but best of all, it has the power to change individual lives.
High quality, relevant skills and training are a high order economic and social issue. Employers are supplied with the skills their businesses need to thrive and Australians are given opportunities for to secure their futures with meaningful and well-paid jobs.
We have serious challenges facing us, but with proper planning, we can build on the skills workers have and support them to update and adapt their skills for the future.
Over the next five years more than nine in 10 new jobs are projected to require post-school qualifications. This reflects the immediate importance of tertiary education and skills development beyond secondary school.
To ensure we can adapt and fill current and future shortages we require transferable skills that can be used in a wide range of fields.
We must have a flexible and adaptive training sector that provides industry-specific skills and recognises the need for transferable skills for all Australians.
At a time of low unemployment, and labour shortage, we have a once in a lifetime opportunity to ensure that the people in our society who face inter-generational barriers to entering the workforce can get a job, particularly in areas of skill demand where there is ongoing work.
The tight labour market can open the minds of employers and provide these people with opportunities. 
We know that many of the businesses represented here today are embracing this opportunity and others are at an earlier stage of contemplation. I encourage the latter to think seriously about this issue, as labour shortages that have developed over many years, will not be solved overnight.
We have a window of opportunity to support people who face significant challenges to employment.
Workers in the most precarious employments may be the first to lose out again when the shortages ease. We must use this opportunity to work together give them high quality and relevant skills to gain and remain in secure work.
The government is exploring ways to ensure that women, First Nations Australians, young job and mature job seekers, and people with disability have access to education, training, work experience opportunities and the support needed to obtain well-paid, secure jobs.
We are working for example with the Business Council of Australia to develop a pilot to increase employment and improve career pathways for people with disability. I acknowledge the BCA’s leadership on these issues.
As many employers here are acutely aware, it is not only the long-term workforce needs that we must consider. Given the acute workforce shortages we face, skilled migration is critical to Australian businesses now.
It is not a binary choice. We want Australians in secure jobs as a priority, but the reality is businesses need workers right now.
That is why we have acted swiftly to increase the number of available permanent migration visas for the year to June 2023 to 195,000.  That is an extra 35,000 people to ease the immediate pressures in areas of critical shortage.
We have invested $36million to employ a surge workforce of 500 staff over the next nine months to address the visa processing backlog we inherited from the Liberal National government.
We are putting in place measures to fill this immediate need, including looking at industry sponsorship of skilled migrants.
We will also assess the effectiveness of the current skilled migration occupation lists and look to expand pathways to permanent residency for temporary skilled sponsored workers where we can.
The recent Jobs and Skills Summit was important for many reasons.
To begin, it enabled a consensus on immediate actions to build a more extensive, better trained, and more productive workforce.
It provided insights informing the immediate and long-term changes need to reform Australia’s training system and laid out the priorities for further work and future action.
The Summit outcomes are the first step in responding to the needs of individuals, industry, and demand for jobs over the next decade.
The Summit set the agenda for the historic announcement by the Prime Minister over the weekend to increase paid parental leave to a full six months.  This is the biggest boost to the system since it was introduced more than a decade ago.
The Government also committed to working with the states and territories to restart discussions for a 5-year National Skills Agreement to commence in 2024.
At the Summit the Prime Minister announced a $1 billion 12-month National Skills Agreement to provide funding for 180,000 fee-free VET places in 2023, focused on TAFE, with costs shared by the states and territories on a 50:50 basis.
I am pleased to be able to report constructive and productive discussions with my state and territory ministerial colleagues when we met in Melbourne recently.
The Summit also highlighted the importance of ensuring people have the foundation skills required to access and fully participate in the labour market.
According to the OECD, a staggering 3 million adults in Australia lack the fundamental skills required to participate in training and secure work. 
These are skills such as basic literacy, digital literacy and numeracy required to participate in our economy and quite frankly, in our society.
I have asked my department to explore options to address this critical issue to make sure that no-one is held back, and no-one is left behind.
Another theme of the Summit was the need to make the VET sector fit for purpose – efficient, effective, and easy to navigate so that students don’t have to study the same thing repeatedly which is wasteful and costly.
Currently the VET sector has a high number of qualifications and micro-credentials with significant duplication. There are 56 nationally endorsed training packages, over 1,200 qualifications, 1,500 skill sets, and 15,400 Units of Competency. 5,000 units have more than 70 per cent overlap with at least one other unit.
I am working with my state and territory ministerial colleagues to modernise this system and make it work for students and industry. We need to we give people the right combination of transferable and industry specific skills
All of this means our government will ensure the VET sector can more effectively provide the skills workers and employers need now and into the future.
This will help deliver secure jobs with growing wages, boost incomes and living standards and create more opportunities for Australians.
As the Prime Minister has said, we don’t intend to waste a minute in delivering for the Australian people. The establishment of Jobs and Skills Australia was the first Bill of the Albanese Government introduced into Parliament, such is its priority.
We have passed the Bill in the lower house to create a new agency, Jobs and Skills Australia.

Jobs and Skills Australia will play a proactive role in workforce planning, for regional and rural areas also. It will provide independent labour force advice on the current, emerging, and future workforce needs.
Following the passage of the legislation through the Senate, Jobs and Skills Australia will be ready to get on with its essential work in partnership with state and territory governments, unions, employers, industry groups and education providers.
JSA will undertake studies for new and emerging industries. This work will give us the intelligence we need to plan for an appropriately skilled workforce in areas of skills need.
One of Jobs and Skills Australia’s first tasks will be to prepare a capacity study into Australia’s clean energy workforce, to be delivered in 2023. 
Priorities for more targeted analysis may include, for example, the National Disability Insurance Scheme, aged care, and health or where demand is forecast to grow.
I know a strong TAFE sector is crucial to a strong economy and achieving a fair society. One where people have access to high-quality training that can offer rewarding and secure work.
Young people and others who face challenges to entering the labour market need tailored support to enter and retain meaningful employment.
We will restore TAFE to its rightful place of pride in the training landscape because it can open doors for so many people.
Our $1 billion one-year National Skills Agreement will provide additional funding for fee-free TAFE in 2023.
We are accelerating the delivery of 465,000 fee-free vocational education places, with 180,000 to be provided in 2023, including 15,000 aged care places.
It is crucial that we reinvigorate Australia’s apprenticeship system and provide support for secure careers in trades and occupations that are in demand.
We are engaging the sector to shift the focus to improving retention and completion rates and ensuring apprentices and trainees get the support they need.
The Australian Skills Guarantee will ensure one in ten workers on major, federally funded government projects are an apprentice, trainee, or paid cadet, with a particular focus on supporting women, through specific targets.
The new energy sector is an area of focus, and in support of this, we are providing for 10,000 new energy apprenticeships.
We must secure a more productive economy and help Australians get well-paid and secure jobs, providing them with greater opportunities.
This requires leadership, planning, collaboration and working towards a shared goal if we are to be successful.
Because providing opportunities for education and training to improve the lives of Australians is our government’s core business, and that will never change.
Thank you.