Release type: Op-Ed


The National Skills Agreement a sign of unity in our VET sector


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

Late last year, every state and territory government came together in collaboration with the Commonwealth and signed a landmark agreement, signalling a new era for our nation’s Vocational Education and Training sector.

And at the start of this year, just over two months on, that agreement comes into effect.

What I’m talking about is the National Skills Agreement – a sign of unity in our VET sector that hasn’t existed for over a decade.

Whether you speak to TAFEs, private VET providers or community colleges, the past decade has been marred by uncertainty and funding cuts, and defined by a federal government whose mantra was “it’s our way or the highway”.

But in the first few days of 2024 I want to point to a brighter future that exists for our VET sector – one that is not held-back by top-down rule, but instead flourishes through genuine collaboration between governments, industry, unions and our education and training providers.

At the core of the NSA is the idea that while the economies and industries of different parts of Australia have unique needs that require bespoke solutions, our country has a combined responsibility to give everyone the opportunity to find secure and well-paid work, while at the same strengthening our national economy, by providing a skilled workforce that meets areas of demand.

The Agreement will see the Commonwealth invest up to $12.6 billion over five years to expand and transform access to the VET sector and support training providers to deliver quality education and training.

It includes an extra $2.4 billion in flexible funding to priorities such as the Net Zero transformation of the economy.

Workforce shortages continue to plague most countries across the world, and those challenges are still very present right here.

But it’s how we think through and respond to those challenges that will shape the future of industries.

Take for example the AUKUS agreement and our other major defence projects which will call for tens-of-thousands of skilled workers in the coming decades.

Or our growing IT and cyber security sectors that represent an enormous opportunity for the next generation of workers, and the next step in our economic growth.

All of these industries can be entered through VET – but in order for us to reach our potential, we need the education and training sector to be strong, accessible and unified.

A high-performing VET sector is crucial for achieving a fairer society and a stronger economy, and importantly we are focused on making sure funding can be used more effectively, especially for those historically locked out of the labour market.

The NSA includes up to $1.3 billion of Commonwealth funding that, among other things, will improve foundation skills training, and VET completion rates, especially for women.

Along with states and territories, the deal signals a new dawn that seeks to provide opportunities to work in any sector – regardless of who you are or where you come from.

This is a rising tide that lifts all boats, by restoring confidence in the whole VET sector.

The National Skills Agreement is bold and ambitious. It has the potential to transform our VET sector into a world-class system.

It is a step towards a better future for all Australians.