Release type: Op-Ed


Closing the Gap when it comes to skills and training


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

As Minister for Skills and Training, I am determined to work in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians to create real change through Vocational Education and Training. 

VET not only has the power to change the lives of the people who engage in training, but its knock-on effects are significant. 

The skills provided bring positive change to communities locally, on a state basis and Australia wide. 

Since coming to Government, we have been working hard to expand opportunities to all Australians.

Closing the Gap in VET is a national priority of all Skills Ministers - Commonwealth, State and Territory - and a key focus of the National Skills Agreement, the first signed in nearly 10 years. 

The Agreement includes a change in governments’ approach to delivering on Closing the Gap commitments for skills, with dedicated investment and concrete action to ensure the design and delivery of VET to First Nations Australians is in full and genuine partnership.

We’ve committed $214 million over 5 years for Closing the Gap initiatives, to be designed in partnership with First Nations people and led by them.

This includes $36 million to establish a VET policy partnership with First Nations organisations. 

The reforms are based on listening to what First Nations people want to see improved in Skills and Training, and will increase self-determination and shared decision-making, leading to better policies and programs, and improved outcomes.

We have also committed to supporting states and territories to enable better access to culturally safe and appropriate training, including training that is delivered through Aboriginal Community-Controlled organisations, and designed by First Nations peoples.

We’re developing a VET Workforce Blueprint in collaboration with states and territories to attract and retain high-quality teachers and trainers. 

This includes identifying effective strategies to build a First Nations VET workforce and develop the capability of the current VET workforce in the delivery of culturally safe training to First Nations people. 

It is estimated that 40 per cent of First Nations adults lack the basic foundations skills - literacy, numeracy and digital skills - to gain better jobs and participate fully in society. 

This figure can be as high as 70 per cent in some remote communities, such as those in the Northern Territory.

We recognise a one-size fits all approach is simply not effective when it comes to addressing this issue, which is why we have consulted with First Nations people and redesigned the delivery of foundation skills training to reflect what works best for Indigenous communities.

We’re investing $436 million over four years to fundamentally reform the way the Commonwealth delivers foundation skills programs, including targeted First Nations initiatives.

We know that the delivery of education and training is more effective when it is community led, community designed and community driven.  

By listening to and working with First Nations people and Aboriginal Community-Controlled Organisations, we hope to achieve better outcomes and Close the Gap when it comes to skills.

This opinion piece was published in The Daily Telegraph on Tuesday 16 January 2024.