Release type: Transcript


Media Conference - Canberra Institute of Technology campus, Fyshwick


The Hon Brendan O'Connor MP
Minister for Skills and Training
Alicia Payne MP
Member for Canberra

ALICIA PAYNE, MEMBER FOR CANBERRA: Good afternoon, everyone. I’m Alicia Payne, the Member for Canberra, and I’m very excited to be here today again at CIT Fyshwick at the Electric Vehicle Training Hub with Federal Minister for Skills Brendan O’Connor and ACT Minister Chris Steel for this very exciting announcement about building a Centre of Excellence right here at CIT. This centre has been nation leading, and it is wonderful to see our Federal Government getting behind what CIT is doing here in Canberra. And this will be matched by funding from the ACT Government as well.

This is about building the jobs of the future and enabling people here in Canberra and around the region and around the country to take on those training opportunities here through this Centre of Excellence, and also building on the collaboration with the ANU also here in Canberra. So, it’s my great pleasure now to hand over to ACT Minister Chris Steel.

CHRIS STEEL, ACT MINISTER FOR SKILLS AND TRAINING: Thank you Alicia. Well, from a commitment that was made four years ago to upskill all of our existing workers at Transport Canberra that work on our buses to make sure that no worker was left behind, to today’s announcement of the upscaling of our EV training centre at the Canberra Institute of Technology, I am incredibly proud today to be welcoming the funding from the Commonwealth to establish Australia’s first Centre of Excellence at the Canberra Institute of Technology, which will be focused on electric vehicles including hybrid vehicles and fuel cell hydrogen vehicles as well.

This is going to be an incredibly important opportunity for the ACT not only to upskill existing workers, train new workers in the skills of the new economy but also to share that knowledge and best practice with the rest of the country, so that we’re training up educators that can go out in TAFEs in states around Australia and support the transition of our vehicle fleet nationally.

This $27.4 million worth of funding is going to enable us to triple the capacity of training delivered here at Canberra Institute of Technology in electric vehicle technology. It will enable us to purchase more electric vehicles for students to work on, buy more simulators. We’ll be working with the Australian National University on how we can create a dual sector qualification which involves both a vocational education and training qualification but also a degree apprenticeship which will enable us to focus on some of the other skills required in this industry in automotive engineering. And we’ll be working very closely with the Mining and Automotive Jobs and Skills Council to look at what other skill sets need to be developed and then disseminated nationally to support this transition.

So, this funding is incredibly important to allow us to expand. We really welcome the funding from the Commonwealth, and I’ll hand over to the Federal Minister to say some words.

BRENDAN O'CONNOR, MINISTER FOR SKILLS AND TRAINING: Thanks very much, Chris, and it’s great to be at CIT. And can I also thank Alicia for being here as the very active local member who wants to advocate strongly for students at CIT. We were here not that long ago announcing the first National Skills Agreement, the Prime Minister and I, and the Chief Minister and the Minister were here, really making that important statement that for the first time in more than a decade there was a national agreement between all state and territory governments and the Commonwealth in the VET sector – a $30 billion five-year agreement to make sure that we invest strategically in the skills needed by workers, by businesses and by our economy. And that can only happen if we have excellent education and training providers. That can only happen if we have a collaboration between the two tertiary sectors, technical and TAFE with universities. And it can only happen with the collaboration of industry.

And this announcement today is the first Centre of Excellence arising out of the National Skills Agreement, a significant investment of Commonwealth money matched by the ACT. In the case of the additional funding, there’s over $9 million invested by both governments, and then the Commonwealth is adding an additional $8 million. $3.2 million for investing in the tech funding announcement, delivering the right capital investment needed for students to use when they’re acquiring skills before they go into the marketplace, before they go into the very fast-changing economy. And the further addition is over $4 million to ensure we turbo charge, we accelerate the pace by which we bring changes to the education and training sectors of this country.

We have no time to waste. We inherited a skills shortage as deep as it is wide across the economy, not just in the energy sector or automotive sector, which we are, of course, focusing on today, but whether it’s the professions or the traditional trades, occupations in so many sectors of the economy, we find we have skill shortages. Upon election the Albanese Government was confronted with the unfortunate statistic that we had the second highest labour shortage amongst OECD countries per capita. The occupations on the shortage list had doubled just before we came to office in 12 months. And so, we have no time to waste.

That’s why we were so happy to see the forging of a national agreement, and now today this is one of the many examples to come that arise out of a national agreement focusing on skills in demand today and growing exponentially in the future. Of course, in the energy sector we’re going through a transformation of our energy sector. We’re seeing the decarbonisation of our economy. We’re seeing the increased consumer interest in electric vehicles. But that cannot happen without the skilled workforce, whether that’s involving in the manufacturing of batteries or the installation of batteries or the installation of charging infrastructure required across the country, whatever it is. Whether it’s dealing in rare minerals that will help us manufacture batteries in the mining sector. All of these skill needs have to be supplied predominantly by our education and training sectors, supplemented by skilled migration pathways. But fundamentally, most of them have to be delivered by places like CIT – TAFEs and universities across the country having to reform and be fit for purpose to respond to the fastest changing labour market we have witnessed.

And so, I’m very happy to be here today. CIT should be very, very proud of the efforts to get this one up. My job is obviously to make sure we continue to see these wonderful centres coming together, providing the skills needed for the emerging areas of demand in our labour market. It’s something that if people acquire skills in demand, their employment prospects are good. They’ve got a very good chance of having a very successful career in a trade or a profession. So, too, it’s important for businesses who are crying out for certain skills and yet have not been able to find them in many instances. Well, again, the better we are strategically investing in education and training, the more likelihood that we will deliver the skills to businesses, to workers and to our economy.

So, today is a great day, not just for CIT I might add, but for the ACT Government and the Commonwealth, for the beginning of very fundamental reform under the National Skills Agreement. And I’m very happy to have been speaking with the trainees that are here today undertaking a Cert III course and other courses. Again, in the end it’s all about investing in our most important resource in this country – our people. And if we can get that right, then of course we’re going to see a more productive, a more efficient economy and of course, a country where people can enjoy a good quality of life because they have the capability to earn decent money and to be needed in their communities, in their economy.

I’m happy to take any questions.

JOURNALIST: Just in terms of locations, where are we expecting these to be rolled out next? Is there a particular pipeline?

MINISTER O'CONNOR: So, there’s an engagement between the Commonwealth and all state and territory governments. We understand that states and territories have a particular view as to what they think they can do best, and whilst we have our own views, we’re very much open to the propositions being put to us by other governments. In the end we have to reach agreement because it’s funding that we’re trying to match and work together on. But I’m very confident that we’ll see Centres of Excellence created across Australia, not just in the cities, in the regions where enormous transformation is occurring. And it’s vital – without a way to institutionalise collaboration between tertiary sectors, to make sure that industry is working very closely with our universities and our technical colleges, we will not deliver the skills that are needed.

Even at a time when the changing nature of the labour market was not as fast, people would complain that we were not always as sensitive to the changing nature of what was happening in workplaces. And it’s not easy to keep up with change, particularly when it’s moving so rapidly. But it’s through these decisions, these reforms, we’re going to see a much greater likelihood of anticipating the nature of change in the labour market and make sure we get ahead of it.

We know that if you invest in education and training there’s a lag time between the education and training and actually, the skilled workforce. So that’s why the quicker we can anticipate where the changes are occurring, where the demands are, it’s going to be much more likely that we match the investment in education and training with the skills needed for our economy. And that’s what today is about, and we think we’re off to a wonderful start.

JOURNALIST: In terms of the locations, can you name perhaps any off the top of your head, Minister? And how many will be in regional areas, how many will be in the metro areas?

MINISTER O’CONNOR: No, look, I’m not in a position to be making announcements until we reach agreement. I can say this though: some of the regions where there’s going to be changes because of the nature of sectors of the economy, we need to make sure that we look after those communities that might be going through significant change. Now, we are behind as a country. We fell behind, which wasn’t any wonder when we had a situation where we had a government who didn’t even believe that climate change was real. This is not just about decarbonising the economy, of course; this is about providing affordable and reliable energy sources to households and to businesses.

But along the way we’re also obliged to fulfil our obligations under the treaties we’ve struck internationally. And what we do know is if you look at the transition of the energy sector, most of the new jobs actually reside in the regions. So, there’s a great opportunity. So, in my preliminary conversations I’ve had to date I’m aware that the states are looking at the regions.

JOURNALIST: And just in terms of existing mechanics and people in the fields, we heard from the Motor Trades Association last week that there are existing shortfalls in skill sets, especially as we move towards electric vehicles, for example. How do we address those sort of upskilling, and do we have capacity to have those, as well as bring in new employees?

MINISTER O’CONNOR: We need a combination of both – upskilling, reskilling. We need to have a flexible training and education sector. And that’s what we’re looking to do today.

JOURNALIST: Will the Centre of Excellence here work with other TAFEs and universities? And how will those sort of partnerships and working collaborations look?

MINISTER O’CONNOR: Okay, so we talk about collaboration between the sectors and with industry, but also, we see networking occur, where a centre can share best practice with other centres across the country. So, we do see them not working in sort of silos, working in a collaborative way, but also imparting that experience and best practice to other training and education providers, whether they’re Centres of Excellence or not. It’s about lifting the entire sectors and working with industry. And yes, they will be exemplars, but they can inform and impart knowledge on other education and training providers.

JOURNALIST: How important will it be to ensure that regional areas in particular aren’t left behind as we look to transition, I guess, the economy, our energy sources as well?

MINISTER O’CONNOR: Well, it’s vital. We have to focus on the needs of regional Australia as much as the cities because that’s where much of the change will happen. We have to look after those communities. If there are going to be job changes, if there are going to be some job losses, we need to have job opportunities so people can find meaningful work and find decent wages and conditions and secure work. And that can only happen if we match the skills required in the areas of demand. And we know from our own modelling that, say, just take the energy sector, much of the jobs, at least half a million jobs, new jobs, will be in the regions. But we need to make sure that our investment in education and training is there. And so, we see great benefits over the medium to longer term in the regions. And that’s why state and territory governments will be definitely working with us to do that.

JOURNALIST: Minister Steel, I guess in what ways will – is Canberra being positioned to be able to sort of be a leader, I suppose, so to speak, in working with electric vehicles?

MINISTER STEEL: Well, as an early adopter of particularly electric vehicles, the ACT is very well positioned to take a leadership role around the nation in developing new courses, working collaboratively with universities like the ANU to apply research and that knowledge base to practical vocational education and training and sharing best practice. So, the ACT, through our energy transition, has the highest sector of emissions coming from the transport sector. So, it makes sense for us to focus on this to make sure that skills are at the forefront of our transition pathway.

You know, referring to some of the regions that are facing massive transitions, particularly as we see what’s happening in the energy market, our transition here in the ACT was for automotive workers. When we were presented with concerns from Transport Canberra’s mechanics, who were working on our buses that could see the change that was about to occur with electric and hydrogen buses coming into the fleet, they were concerned about being left behind. And what came from that through the development of the EV Training Centre and now the Centre of Excellence here at CIT, is the ability not just to upskill those existing workers and those in private industry but to actually create a brand new apprenticeship and now a higher degree, dual sector degree, and apprenticeship as well. So, this going to have flow-on effects that benefit the whole economy, not just here locally but right around the country.

JOURNALIST: How confident are you that the ACT can make this work, particularly given when we’ve got things like high living costs, rent prices are also very expensive in the ACT too, along with property prices? Can we make this work here?

MINISTER STEEL: Well, we’ve seen already that people are coming to CIT’s EV Training Centre from around the country, fly in, fly out, to undertake the nation-leading training here. So, we expect that to continue. I think one of the key things that will be important to the success of this new Centre of Excellence is the partnerships that we’ve formed. I want to particularly acknowledge Tesla, who are putting their apprentices through the program, the work that we’re doing with Komatsu through the Centre of Excellence as well. And then the tight relationship that we have with the newly formed Mining and Automotive Skills Alliance to make sure that we can develop new programs in areas where there’s a skills need, new training packages and qualifications where they’re required, to make sure that we’re covering off on the full range of skills that will be needed by the economy.

So, we have a demand in the ACT for these skills, and that’s why we’re very well placed to be able to help train up the rest of the nation’s automotive technicians. And by teaching the educators and providing them with the best practice materials to support teaching in other jurisdictions as well.

JOURNALIST: The co-funding is, of course, going towards things like the programs, the courses, as well as equipment and a new workshop as well. When is all that supposed to come online? Will we start to see that come into fruition?

MINISTER STEEL: The Centre of Excellence will start next year, and that will begin through the development of some of the training packages. We’ll start the design on the physical upgrades that will be required at Canberra Institute of Technology’s Fyshwick campus. That will include much more space for the capacity to have heavy vehicles, electric vehicles and hydrogen vehicles, to be able to be worked on by the students, as well as the extra simulators and training spaces for the students to use. And we expect that work to be sort of completed by 2028 under the life of the agreement and we gradually expand up the number of places that we have on offer. Currently there’s around 56 students, both existing workers and new apprentices, going through training here. We expect we can triple the number of training spaces through the new Centre of Excellence and the funding that’s been provided by the Commonwealth.

JOURNALIST: How much [indistinct] funding will be needed as, I guess, you look to sort of expand this program and expand the site here?

MINISTER STEEL: Well, $27.4 million is a pretty good start. The Centre of Excellence focused on electric vehicles will form part of a broader skills and energy hub here at CIT Fyshwick that will look at the broader electrification of the economy as well. So, we’ve got some scoping money to start planning that broader piece of work that was funded in the budget.