Release type: Speech


Address to Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry,  Employment, Education and Training Committee


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

The last time I spoke to this committee it was just after the Jobs and Skills Summit.

On the back of that goodwill and collaboration, we’re continuing to make enormous strides on key reforms to transform vocational education and training.

Our new National Skills Agreement is an example of that transformation and collaboration. 

The landmark 5-year agreement with states and territories will unlock billions of dollars to build Australian skills and prosperity and embed national cooperation and strategic investment in our vocational education and training sector.

The Albanese Government will invest $12.6 billion to expand and transform access to the VET sector, support training providers to deliver quality education and training and implement reforms to address critical skills needs.

A new National Stewardship model will coordinate strategic investment in skills delivery for shared national priorities, including clean energy and Net Zero transformation of the economy, sovereign capability and ensuring Australia’s digital and technological capability. A modern and responsive TAFE network will be at the heart of the VET sector.

This National Skills Agreement will establish nationally networked TAFE Centres of Excellence. 

These Centres will help to provide skills for strategically important industries and meet economic challenges that demand a coordinated national response.   

The Government will work with States and Territories to fast track their establishment so they can rapidly build the partnerships with employers, unions and universities that are required to lay the groundwork for increased take-up of higher apprenticeships. 

Combined with the Commonwealth’s investments in Fee-Free TAFE, the NSA will take total Commonwealth investment in state and territory training systems to approximately $13 billion over 5 years.

$414 million has already been committed for the delivery of a further 300,000 Fee-Free TAFE places from next year, to support job seekers in demand areas.

That follows the 214,000 Fee-Free TAFE places we provided in partnership with states and territories in the first six months of this year, far exceeding expectations.

Just as collaboration is key between governments, so it is between government and industry. 

Jobs and Skills Australia and the ten Jobs and Skills Councils are up and running.

Together, they play a pivotal role in aligning the nation's labour market with evolving industry needs and ensuring VET programs and qualifications give people the skills needed for secure jobs.  

This collaboration brings together industry intelligence from Jobs and Skills Councils with workforce data, forecasting and modelling from Jobs and Skills Australia, to provide a comprehensive and holistic picture of the skills landscape.

As part of its analysis and advice on the national skills system, Jobs and Skills Australia is taking a tripartite approach, actively involving employers like ACCI members, unions and government in its processes. 

I firmly believe this collaborative approach will ensure that workforce analysis and development strategies are well-rounded and address the needs and perspectives of stakeholders such as the ACCI membership.

Jobs and Skills Councils have been established to provide industry groups like ACCI with a more strategic voice in ensuring Australia’s VET sector delivers stronger outcomes for students and employers. 

Like Jobs and Skills Australia, Jobs and Skills Councils are also tripartite. Participation by employer organisations and unions is intended to be fair and equitable.  

We understand that industry leadership and participation is key to success.

A strengthened industry voice in VET will mean qualifications align with the skills that are in demand now and into the future, leading to increased workforce productivity and more people in secure jobs. 

It will ensure VET is seen as an optimal choice for students, alongside higher education and other tertiary options. 

Being industry owned and industry led organisations, Jobs and Skills Councils go beyond an advisory role to lead and deliver skills and workforce solutions that are right for their sector and the wider economy. 

Strengthening the role of industry and empowering them to drive reforms to Australia’s VET system is key to ensuring employers and individuals can access the right skills at the right time.

Qualification reform is another key priority for the government. Qualification reform will strengthen and modernise the VET sector, address duplication and over-specification and support the recognition of transferrable skills.

To progress this vision, Skills Ministers established the tripartite Qualification Reform Design Group to provide advice about the design of a reform process for VET qualifications, which prepares the sector for the future. 

ACCI members have been key supporters of work undertaken on qualifications over the last few years, and your contributions to past consultation processes has informed the path forward. 

We are also working hard to ensure support is available to improve the take-up and completion of apprenticeships and traineeships.  

The Australian Apprenticeship Incentive System includes a support payment of up to $5,000 for apprentices in priority occupations, and up to $10,000 for apprentices undertaking a New Energy Apprenticeship. 

We have expanded access to Trade Support Loans to all apprentices, whether they be trade or non-trade apprentices, to assist with cost-of-living pressures. In recognition of that, the scheme has been renamed Australian Apprentices Support Loans.

And a new Australian Apprenticeships service delivery model will also be rolled out from 1 July 2024, delivering strengthened support for apprentices who are at the highest risk of non-completion. 

Another key area of attention for the Government is Foundation Skills. 3 million adult Australians are estimated to have low literacy and/or numeracy skills, to the extent they could struggle in the modern workplace. That’s one in five adults. Broadening access to foundation skills’ is one of the 10 areas of focus in the recently released Employment White Paper.

I am pleased that since I last spoke to you, the Government has begun to reinvigorate support for foundation skills.

In October 2022, I established a Foundation Skills Advisory Group to ensure stakeholder views are properly understood and considered when developing and redesigning policy and programs, and when building our evidence base.

In this year’s Budget, the Government announced $436 million over four years for a redesigned Skills for Education and Employment (SEE) program that aims to improve access to foundation skills training for around 27,000 Australians.

Jobs and Skills Australia is leading a new national study of adult literacy, numeracy and digital literacy skills, including a survey of Australian adult literacy and numeracy skills.

The outputs of the survey will create an up-to-date national evidence base on foundation skill levels to assist researchers, policymakers and program managers to improve services.

Foundation skills are also a focus of the National Skills Agreement, with a $140 million investment to improve access and delivery.

I am confident we are making good progress towards the Government’s commitment to ensure no one is left behind and no one held back.

In 2023 we’ve been continuing work on reforms that started after our election, to transform vocational education and training.

We’ve achieved a great deal by working together, to make sure the VET sector is working for everyone.

Your continued engagement with us on this vital national priority is essential for its continued success. 

Thank you