Release type: Speech


Address – CEDA


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




I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation, and pay my respects to their elders, past and present.

In this spirit of respect and reconciliation, I am proud of the Albanese Government’s commitment to implementing the Uluru Statement From the Heart in full.

Thank you CEDA for the opportunity to speak with you towards the end of an action-packed year, to outline the Albanese Government’s approach to skills and training. I am pleased to have the opportunity to highlight skills and training initiatives of the past seven months, to announce the creation of new Jobs and Skills Councils, and to discuss our plans for future reform.

It’s fair to say that Australian industries are today paying the price of a decade of incoherent policies, a failure to plan, disunity with states and territories, and an ideological refusal to engage with experts, educators, and Unions who – like it or not – are knowledgeable trade-based representatives of workers.

For the workers who seek well paid secure jobs, having skills needed by employers today, having pathways to update those skills, and having pathways to learn transferrable skills, is a path to opportunities until their retirement.

Transferrable skills are also key to our national prosperity, as industries change and our population ages.

A few years ago, I visited the GM Holden Elizabeth facility in South Australia.

The company and the workers knew the plant was going to close in 2017, so in partnership with the vocational education sector, they undertook training programs for skills in demand elsewhere in the economy, so that the workers had a greater chance to get new jobs.

It was a practical, conscientious, and empathetic way to look after workers who had given most of their lives to the company. They were given the opportunity to put their skills to a new use.

One story stood out for me.

It was the man who went from working on the assembly line, to working in aged care.

The precision, care, quality control, scheduling, structure and order he learnt in the production of vehicles, with appropriate training, were transferable to the aged care sector.

Transferability of skills is critical, particularly in a globalised world of rapid change, and in the case of this worker, in an ageing society with a great need for skilled aged care workers.

The challenge we face - Skills Shortages

Widespread skill shortages in almost every industry sector pose one of our greatest economic challenges in decades.

Wherever you look, there are skills gaps. In fact, the latest Skills Priority List released in October saw the number of occupations facing skills shortages almost double in just over a year.

To address this challenge, we need both immediate and long-term plans, and we need cooperation between governments, employer bodies, unions, and training providers.

Skilled migration will always be of part of the labour force equation, and is essential for a successful economy in a globalised world.

My Ministerial colleagues, Clare O’Neil and Andrew Giles are working tirelessly to fix a broken system. The Government knew we needed to get skilled migration moving again quickly.  This was sensibly recommended by CEDA ahead of the Jobs and Skills Summit and we are pleased to be acting on it.

When we came to government there were close to a million visa applications waiting to be processed.  As a former Immigration Minister, I struggle to understand how this could be allowed to happen at any time – but in the middle of a skills crisis it is almost inconceivable that the backlog was allowed to get this bad.

Investment by the Government in 300 extra Home Affairs personnel will reduce the number of applications in the system to 600,000 by the end of the year.

The Government is not just looking to get application processing back on an even keel, but also to build a national skills migration strategy fit for the future of this country.

The Government recently initiated a wholistic Migration System review, overseen by a highly qualified panel comprising Dr Martin Parkinson, Dr Joanna Howe, and Mr John Azarius.

The Review will ensure the migration system serves Australia’s national interests and complements the skills and capabilities of Australian workers.

National Agreements

Skilled migration is an important part of the answer to meeting skills needs, but it is only part of the answer, and not the biggest part. It is vital that we support people locally to obtain the skills they need to fill job vacancies.

Recognising the urgency of these challenges, the Albanese government has acted to achieve a 12-month one billion-dollar training blitz, through Agreements with the States and Territories to deliver 180,000 Fee Free TAFE and Vocational Education and Training places in areas of priority skills shortages.

Significantly, this is a genuine partnership with the States and Territories, with the cost sharing ratified at the National Cabinet meeting that preceded the Jobs and Skills Summit.

Inter-jurisdictional cooperation on skills and training is in the national interest and the benefits are already evident.

In September we set out to deliver 180,000 extra free TAFE and vocational education places in 2023. In fact, the final number of extra fee free courses in 2023 will exceed 200,000.

This will provide critical skills quickly– more skilled aged care, childcare, and disability workers. More mine workers, more tech workers, more workers in agriculture, hospitality, construction and other key areas of the economy.

In just seven months the Government has achieved seven Fee-Free TAFE and Vocational Education and Training agreements with the states and territories. This is seven more agreements than our predecessors achieved.

And this week I hope to make it eight from eight. We are close to agreement with the Northern Territory which would mean we have the whole country on board.

We will continue to co-operate with States and Territories, and to consult with industry stakeholders, on the design of a longer-term five-year National Skills Agreement to begin in January 2024.

Jobs and Skills Australia

The Government well understands the urgency of the skills crisis and the need for immediate action.

It is for this reason that the first piece of legislation introduced into Parliament by the Albanese Government was to create Jobs and Skills Australia.

Jobs and Skills Australia will focus on evidence-based planning, it will identify trends and mega trends and identify growth and change opportunities, in order to reshape the delivery of education and training for the future workforce.

Jobs and Skills Australia will be required by its legislation to take a tripartite approach - to work with state and territory governments, employers, unions, universities and the VET sector - to provide high quality independent advice to government on skills, labour market and workforce needs.

Just last week I announced that Professor Peter Dawkins AO will take up the role of inaugural Director of the Jobs and Skills Australia on an interim basis.

Professor Dawkins was until recently Vice-Chancellor and President of the large dual sector Victoria University, he is a Professor of economics and a labour market specialist.

Eminently qualified, Peter will play a vital role in establishing the functions and laying the foundations of this crucial national skills body.

Clean economy and renewable energy a priority

The first task of JSA will be to conduct a $1.9 million capacity study into our clean energy workforce needs.  It is a deliberate decision to prioritise the transformation of our energy sector.

Clean, reliable, and affordable energy is essential to our economic and environmental future and building and evolving the skills of our workforce is essential to secure it.

Jobs and Skills Councils

Great analysis and forecasting from JSA is a prerequisite to ensure we are prioritising and planning for the skills needed now and in the future.

But great analysis needs to be turned into effective action, based on the experience of industry and those on the ground.

This is how we make sure our training sector delivers for workers, industry, businesses and, most fundamentally, our learners.

Which means deepening our relationship with industry to create more opportunities for more Australians to upskill and reskill.

It means stronger industry leadership and better coordination between the vocational education and training sector and industry.

That’s why I’m pleased to announce today that we are investing $402 million over the next four years to establish 10 Jobs and Skills Councils.

A policy name familiar to some of you was Industry Clusters. The name shift to Jobs and Skills Councils embodies this Government’s policy shift to a tripartite, more inclusive approach, that will also see the new Jobs and Skills Councils, aligned to and under the umbrella of Jobs and Skills Australia.

Operating as a national network of industry governed and industry led organisations, they will have a far broader remit than we have seen previously.

Jobs and Skills Councils and JSA will work hand in glove to combine the best of the data and analytical capability established in JSA and use the contemporaneous intelligence and insights from the real economy.

The Councils will act as a source of advice on issues affecting their industries, providing strategic and practical leadership in addressing skills and workforce challenges.

They will map career pathways across education sectors and develop high quality vocational education training products.

They will work collaboratively to improve the speed of developing and updating training products and implement innovative solutions to meet evolving learner and industry needs.

This is a fundamental shift in the way industry engagement is undertaken in the VET sector.

A quick scan of the attendees here today shows a close connection between the new Jobs and Skills Councils and the organisations you represent.

I am pleased to announce the 10 Industry Groupings that will be established as Jobs and Skills Councils. These are:

  • Agribusiness
  • Arts, Personal Services, Retail, Tourism and Hospitality
  • Energy, Gas and Renewables
  • Finance, Technology and Business
  • Manufacturing
  • Mining and Automotive
  • Transport and Logistics
  • Public Safety and Government
  • Early Educators, Health, and Human Services
  • Building, Construction and Property

Most of the people here today are associated with an organisation that is on the board, is a member, or have provided their support to at least one of the new bodies.  You have contributed to a new era of genuine tripartite engagement.

From providing industry support to your involvement at the governance and operational levels of these organisations, I thank you for your commitment and engagement so far and for the work that lays ahead of us.

To those of you who haven’t been involved to date, I encourage you to take up the invitation to walk through an open door and to play your part in solving our skills crisis.

A lot done, more to do

As you know it’s been a busy seven months.  But given how big the challenge is there is still much to do.

To improve job outcomes for all Australians, we need a renewed focus on the quality of training and on building trust in the vocational education and training sector.

This means focusing on the content of training packages, the teachers who teach them, and the institutions they work in, so that the VET sector is fit for purpose – relevant, effective, and easy to navigate.

As a nation we need to better value and recognise the importance of occupations supported by vocational education and training.

These are good, rewarding jobs.  But too often they are not viewed this way. We need to support people to do what they are good at and what they enjoy no matter what the pathway – whether it is VET or university. As a nation we need both sectors to be strong; we cannot afford to rely on one or the other.

At my request the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Employment, Education and Training will commence and inquiry into the perceptions and status of vocational education and training. Chaired by my colleague Lisa Chesters, the Inquiry will hear from students, educators and stakeholders and play a vital role in examining where VET is doing well and where more attention is needed.

The government wants to explore how the two large pillars of tertiary education can work better together to support our economy.

The Universities Accord process led by my Ministerial colleague, Jason Clare, will include examination of how tertiary education can work better together to advance opportunities for students.

Collaboration between Universities and the vocational education sector could create many opportunities, for example;

  • better and easier articulation in areas like early childhood education and care, nursing, or technology;
  • exploration of higher apprenticeships to support our national goals for sovereign capability; and
  • a bigger role for VET has advantages for applied research in many areas.

The design of our VET sector and whether it remains fully fit for purpose is a vital question given the way in which the occupational landscape and labour force needs of Australia have changed and will continue to change at a rapid pace.

The Albanese Government wants a VET sector that provides high quality skills that not only gets people into jobs, but also supports their lifelong learning, enabling workers to upskill and reskill throughout their career.

I have heard time and again that the current system of creating and updating VET qualifications is cumbersome, inefficient, and too slow.  That is why we are consulting on reforms to make the system more efficient and gets the balance right between industry specific skills, the need for skills to evolve as industries evolve, and transferable skills.

Another big theme of the Jobs and Skills Summit was the need to better support women’s labour market participation. This is a social and an economic issue.

I am proud that the Government prioritised legislation for Cheaper Child Care, which will improve the affordability of early learning and care, making it easier for parents to work.  Parents, especially mothers, will be able to work more hours and improve their economic security.

We also need to make sure training is accessible and break down gendered norms to widen opportunities for women and men.

We must strive for a labour market where women can freely choose construction or mining sites, and men choose to work in places that provide care.

A labour market where the only thing that matters is your skill.

In the interest of time, I’m going to run through a few other priorities of the Labor Government in the skills and training area – but this brief overview does not do these important issues justice, and you will hear more about them in 2023.

We are absolutely committed to improving the way foundation skills are supported. We are working with stakeholders to review foundation skills service provision, including in remote areas, with the aim that no one is held back.

We are also consulting at present on how to improve the Australian Apprenticeship Support Network and the support provided for apprentices to complete their qualifications.

We are also working on the design and implementation the Australian Skills Guarantee, which will ensure that major government contracts require successful proponents to provide agreed numbers of apprenticeships and traineeships, with sub-targets for inclusion of women.

We have set a clear priority to support our VET workforce and its capability.  If we don’t have enough teachers, we will struggle to address skill shortages.

We are consulting widely and on a range of topics.  We know that this is an investment of your time, and we appreciate it. We understand that this may be a shift of pace, but it is one we are committed to continuing, to include you in the development of the best ideas and to make sure they happen.

We need to build a system that helps workers like those I met at the GM Holden facility to build the skills that gives them choice and control over their lives by being able to move jobs and careers. This needs to be systematic, and not just by random chance during a crisis like the one that faced the workers in Elizabeth.

To do this we need to be able work hard and fast on multiple fronts.

We need to be focused on skills that are needed now and the emerging skills needs of the future.

We need engagement by industry for a strong and responsive VET sector, with TAFE at its heart.

We need immediate actions like investment in 200,000 Fee Free TAFE and vocational educational places in 2023, and Jobs and Skills Australia and successful Jobs and Skills Councils to drive future skills delivery.

Ours is a consultative government that listens to evidence and acts.

I look forward to working with you to build a skills and training sector that is high quality, trusted, and responsive to the needs of workers, industry, and the nation.