Release type: Speech


Address to the Jobs and Skills Councils Onboarding Forum


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

Welcome, and thank you for being here today.

I want to begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we gather, and to pay my respects to their elders past and present.  For those here in the room in Canberra, that is the Ngunnawal people.  I also want to extend that respect to the elders of the lands and waterways that our virtual attendees are on.

In the Woiwurrung language of the Wurundgeri people where I live, Wominjeka, or welcome, more accurately translates as “to come with purpose”.

For everyone here today, skills and training is that purpose with which you come.

It is a life changing purpose, and one that we can all be thankful that we have the privilege to contribute to every day.

And it is why the Albanese Government has hit the ground running to build the best skills sector we can, to provide opportunity for students, for workers, and for industry.

So, I say to you in the true meaning of the word – Wominjeka.  Not just today, but every day you have the opportunity to be a part of building the skills that provide opportunity for Australians.

Getting to the start line
I am pleased to be with you today as we embark on building a new era of industry engagement.

It hasn’t been without the odd bump along the road.

When I had the privilege of becoming the Minister for Skills and Training at the start of June last year, this process was already well underway.

And as the saying goes: I wouldn’t have started from here.

We heard many unfavourable reflections on what were then known – possibly, quite appropriately – as Clusters.

But that was where we started.

And I am really pleased that through a process of clarification and genuine engagement we have made it to this point today, with each of you here playing a vital role in establishing the 10 Jobs and Skills Councils.

At the heart of the success of getting to this point, is tripartism.

I have a deeply held belief in the importance of tripartism.  Not because of history, or tradition, or ideology - but because it works.

Our government’s deep commitment to consultation and inclusion comes from an understanding that listening gets better answers.

We have lots of good ideas and policies to get on with.  But we don’t have a monopoly on them, and we are always happy to adopt good ones when we see them. 

This is the expectation we have of ourselves, and this is the expectation that we have of JSCs – tripartism in structure, and in spirit.
JSCs contribution to reform
We have an exciting agenda to build a collaborative and responsive skills sector.

I could talk at length about this agenda - across Fee-Free TAFE, a new National Skills Agreement, the establishment of Jobs and Skills Australia (JSA), our reforms to apprenticeship support, and to foundation skills, and much, much more.  But given you are here today, you are well across this agenda, so instead I want to focus on your role in supporting it.

The nature and pace of change in the economy has profound implications for the skills sector.

We are building a dynamic, engaged system. 

We need to iterate and evolve as the economy and society does.  VET cannot be “set and forget”.

We are building an inclusive, responsive architecture, that includes States and Territories, unions, business, educators, TAFE and other VET providers.

And my number one stakeholder is our students and learners.  Everything each of us does is in service of giving opportunity to them to get a decent, secure job, and to live a fulfilling, engaged life.

JSC vision

JSCs are central to this architecture.

We have high hopes and high expectations for your work.  Today I want to share with you our vision for the success of JSCs.

As I said to your Chairs and CEOs over breakfast at Parliament House this morning, yours is a privileged position.  You have agency and authority to shape and direct the skills sector.

This privilege is also a responsibility.

We want to hear your views, of course. But just as important, we need you to be a conduit of the full range of views in your industries.

Your role is to synthesise the full diversity of opinions. 

We want you to provide leadership to your industries about what is possible, and what can be possible.

What JSCs do is obviously critical.  And how you go about doing it is just as important.
JSCs will model inclusion and trust.

Inclusion because we want to hear all voices, and trust because it is the currency of VET.

The value of a qualification comes from the community having faith and confidence that students have the skills and knowledge they need.

We cannot overstate the importance of maintaining and building trust in VET, and everyone in this room is a role model in maintaining it through our individual and collective integrity.

We will know that JSCs are fulfilling their potential when we have high levels of engagement across all industries, feeding in real, actionable intelligence about the economy and to develop options and solutions to translate this into action in the training sector.
JSC Role – the “what”

I understand it has been a long journey for many in the room to get to this point.  And I want to congratulate you for your leadership in stepping forward to put your JSC together.

There is great potential in this room to bring about the systems, structures, and impact that we all desire.

We are at the start of turning that potential into reality.  And we will learn and evolve it together – much as the VET system isn’t set and forget, neither is the role of JSCs.

But there are some things that we do know about your role.

The first thing to say is what it is not.  JSCs are not just bigger versions of Industry Reference Committees.  They are different and more ambitious.

I want to thank IRCs and the work that they have done representing their industries.  They were not given the resources, broader remit, or authority that you now have.

From the ITABs of the 1980s and 1990s, to the ISCs of the 2000s, and the IRCs of the 2010s, there is a long tradition of structured industry engagement with the training sector.

Whether it was Training Advisory Boards, Skills Councils, or Reference Committees, industry has always rightly had a seat at the table.

Many of you have been involved in most, if not all, of these iterations and will be familiar with the various configurations and roles.

In another century, I was involved an earlier iteration of industry engagement.

I was Chair of the Australian Local Government Industry Training Board, so I have a long association with these processes and have seen them from your vantage point.

And to prevent being doomed by repeating history, we must learn from this past.

So, some may be wondering, what has been learned?  I would answer that in three parts:

First, the need for strategic scale – the goldilocks zone of big enough to see the context and yet manageable enough to get the specific detail of each sector right;

Secondly, sufficient resources – both financial resources, and the mandate to lead;

And finally cohesion and collaboration – the “how” of what you do in bringing views together within and among JSCs.

The first and second are built into the structure.  The third is how the work is done from this point on.

The responsibility for training products clearly transfers to you.  But JSCs are responsible for much more.

The aggregation from 67 IRCs to 10 JSCs is important to give you scale and critical mass.  It is easier to be strategic when taking a wider perspective.

The extra resources are necessary, but the wider perspective is most important.  Each JSC is responsible for large and significant segments of the economy.

This is what gives JSCs the mandate to think broadly, and to lead.

Training products are an important output.  But they are the last part of the process, and only one of the tools in your larger toolkit.

The start of the process is understanding the economy and industry – as it is now, as it is changing, and most importantly as we want to shape it.

The future can be something that happens to us, or it can be something that we shape through our foresight and actions. 

Workforce planning needs to have an eye to multiple scenarios.  At its most basic, we need accurate forecasts of a steady labour market – how many people we need to train in existing skills and occupations to meet demand in the short to medium term.

But we also need to understand how the economy and industry is changing and evolving.

What are the skills and roles that your industry will need not just now, but in the future?

It may be entirely new jobs, or it may be new skills within existing jobs.

As is the case for JSA, your workforce planning role is about the skills needs of the economy and industry,
and is therefore agnostic about educational sector. 

There is no better current example of this than the transformation of our economy to net zero.  The opportunity for new jobs is enormous if we give our people the right skills.

And the impacts will be felt broadly across the economy – not just in energy generation.

That is why we have commissioned a Clean Energy workforce Capacity Study by JSA.

All of this workforce forecasting involves a hand-in-glove partnership with JSA, who are on the agenda next, and about which I will say more later.

Beyond your role in workforce planning and training products I want to touch on some equally important, but less tangible roles - your role as industry stewards, and your role in continually monitoring how this complex system is working to achieve its goals. 

It is harder to quantify and measure these, or to describe the outputs – but that doesn’t make them any less important.

Fulfilling this stewardship role would be clear evidence of a system that is learning from its history.

JSC Approach – the “how”

History is a good place to start when thinking about how JSCs go about their role.

It is important to acknowledge that each JSC has a different history and, with it, a different starting point and context. 

Some are established entities that are scaling up.  Others are just starting out and have some important foundations to lay.

Irrespective, all of you are expanding into your new roles and we understand that the first six to twelve months will be heavily focused on bedding down your operations and developing your strategies.

As I said at the outset, your views are important. There is an enormous amount of knowledge and experience represented in the founding members of the JSCs.  For that we are really grateful.

By definition, you are the ones who are actively engaged and know how to navigate what can be a complex system.

Your extra contribution will come by drawing in the voices and perspectives of those who are not already involved.  Processes and relationships to get the right people involved is the key foundation stone to start laying straight away.

Foremost amongst those with value to add are educators and providers.  The process did not permit TAFEs and RTOs to be on JSC Boards, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be actively involved in your work.

The uniqueness of VET is that it sits at the intersection of the best of industry experience, and expertise in quality adult education.  This is the partnership that is at the heart of what defines VET at its best, and it will be key to making JSCs successful.

Without attempting to be exhaustive, the diversity of views that will strengthen the work of JSCs includes:

  • peak industry bodies and experts businesses in the real economy, both large and small
  • different states, and regions, including rural Australia
  • users of the education and training sector, both the students and in turn the users of their services, such as in the care industry
  • people from cohorts that have not always been well served by the training system- such as First Nations people, people with a disability, migrants, and women in non-traditional trades.

JSCs should reflect their industries and the wider society, in the voices they amplify and who is actively involved in them.

This will involve a range of structures, including sub-committees, working groups, and good old-fashioned meetings, talking and engaging. 

This is not just in who you talk to, but who is on your boards and on your staff.  Australian society should be able to see itself represented and reflected in your structures.

How you work together across your ten organisations will also be important.

You need clear roles and responsibilities.  But there will be many examples of skills and jobs that are within the remit of more than one JSC.

Communication across JSCs, something that has been lacking in previous iterations, will be vital to ensure a coherent training landscape.

Again, our net zero transformation will offer many examples: talking to stakeholders about opportunities for the manufacture of electric vehicles will have implications for many of you.

Skills development in sales already exists across multiple training packages and in turn multiple JSCs.

Therefore, it will be necessary to collaborate between JSCs on the content of your work.

There will also be opportunities to learn from each other about how you do your work.

Each of you will have different experience and strengths and there is no need for each of you to reinvent the wheel.

That is why we are so pleased to bring you all together today and tomorrow to form and deepen connections and relationships that you can draw on.

We plan to convene a regular cross Council CEO network, and I know you have a session on your agenda tomorrow to explore further opportunities for collaboration. 

I want to return now to the collaboration with JSA.

As I told CEDA in December in announcing JSCs, you will work hand-in-glove to combine the best of the data and analytical capability established in JSA, with contemporaneous intelligence and insights from the real economy.

It is no coincidence that we chose Jobs and Skills Councils when renaming clusters.

Your roles are complementary and symbiotic.

JSA has a whole of economy role, while you have a deeper knowledge and connection to your specific industry or industries.

JSA has deep data and analytic capability, while you have deep connections to the real economy.

Our vision for how this will work is that each informs and builds on the other in iterative and constructive ways.

JSA can produce the data and you can provide context and explanation as to what it may be telling us.
You can provide leading intelligence to JSA about what it might explore.

I see this as a partnership that can bring together the best of on the ground experience, with economy wide data and analysis, to provide powerful insights into our current and emerging skills needs.

In summary, the “how” of your work is deeply collaborative - whether it is with the full breadth of voices and perspectives across your industry, with the other JSCs represented here, or with JSA.

Partners in reform

Before I conclude, I want to touch on one specific opportunity.

I haven’t come across many people who think our qualifications system is as good as it can be.

Indeed, I hear time and again that it is confusing, duplicative, and hard for students to get recognition for what they have done.

That it is overly prescriptive, stifles innovation, and is slow to respond to new needs.

That’s why the Jobs and Skills Summit in September, and the Skills Ministers Meeting in November agreed to look at how we can improve the current system.

We all recognise that Australia’s labour market is vastly different than when the VET qualification system was envisaged in the 1980s and 1990s.

We are clear about what we want to achieve, but we are entirely open about how we do it.

I don’t have a pre-determined answer.  And neither do my state and territory Ministerial colleagues.  And nor does my department.

We want to achieve a system which focuses on the needs of the learner.

I would like to make it easier for workers to gain transferable skills so that they have more mobility, and more choice and control over their lives.

I would like to make it easier for students to more easily gain recognition for what they have learned – be it on the job or as part of previous study.  Currently it is cumbersome, in part because of the level of prescription in training packages, and therefore the take up of RPL is low.

And I want to speed up the system so that we can respond more quickly as the economy shifts.  The average time to develop or update a qualification is 18 months.

Qualifications will be led and developed by JSCs.  Whatever is done will be done in partnership with you, and will be sensitive to particular needs of each industry.

I understand the importance of specialist skills, of safety and licencing requirements, and of any workplace relations implications.

This is a large and complex system and it will take time.

And as we have done in getting from Industry Clusters to JSCs here today, we will be consultative and collaborative.

I look forward to this and many other opportunities to work with you on important reform.


I have set out an ambitious plan and high expectations of what we can achieve in partnership.

I am under no illusion that there isn’t a lot of work ahead of us.

But it is work with deep and meaningful purpose for people and for the economy.