Release type: Media Release


Speech - address to the Ai Group: Industry Meets Canberra


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

Check against delivery

I begin by acknowledging the Ngunnawal and Ngambri peoples, the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we meet today and pay my respects to their Elders past and present.  

I extend that respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples here today. 
Thank you for the invitation to update you on our VET agenda. A lot has happened since we met here a year ago.

Over the course of this last year, Ai Group’s support for VET reform measures has been an exemplar of tripartism. 

I appreciated the positive response to the National Skills Agreement announcement four weeks ago, recognising that this is indeed a potential game changer in combating the skills crisis and delivering a high performing training sector.

The landmark 5-year agreement with states and territories will unlock billions of dollars to build Australian skills and prosperity and embed national cooperation and strategic investment in our VET sector.

This National Skills Agreement will establish nationally networked TAFE Centres of Excellence – a reform which Ai Group has strongly advocated for.

Centres of Excellence will enable TAFEs to rapidly build the partnerships with employers, unions and universities that are required for increased take-up of higher apprenticeships – a reform which Ai Group has a strong interest in.

These investments come on top of $414 million which has already been committed for the delivery of a further 300,000 Fee-Free TAFE places from next year, to support job seekers in demand areas.

That follows the 214,000 Fee-Free TAFE places we provided in partnership with states and territories in the first six months of this year, far exceeding expectations.

Just as collaboration is key between governments, so it is between government and industry. 

Jobs and Skills Australia and the ten Jobs and Skills Councils are up and running.

Together, they play a pivotal role in aligning the nation's labour market with evolving industry needs and ensuring VET programs and qualifications give people the skills needed for secure jobs.  

As part of its analysis and advice on the national skills system, Jobs and Skills Australia is taking a tripartite approach, actively involving employers like Ai Group members, unions and government in its processes. 

I firmly believe this collaborative approach will ensure that workforce analysis and development strategies are well-rounded and address the needs and perspectives of stakeholders such as the Ai Group membership. 

Recently, Jobs and Skills Australia delivered both its Clean Energy Capacity Study and the inaugural Jobs and Skills Report.   

The clean energy study will help shape our policy work, and our shared stewardship with states and territories, on responses to the workforce challenges and opportunities posed by the net zero transformation.

The Jobs and Skills Report is an overview of Australia’s workforce and skill development landscape and this is a valuable resource for Ai Group members, guiding them to make informed decisions. 

Jobs and Skills Councils provide industry with a more strategic voice in ensuring Australia’s VET sector delivers stronger outcomes for students and employers. 

Being industry owned and industry led organisations, Jobs and Skills Councils go beyond an advisory role to lead and deliver skills and workforce solutions that are right for their sector and the wider economy. 

Strengthening the role of industry and empowering them to drive reforms to Australia’s VET system is key to ensuring employers and individuals can access the right skills at the right time.

Qualification reform is another key priority for the government. 

Qualification reform will strengthen and modernise the VET sector, address duplication and over-specification and support the recognition of transferrable skills.

To progress this vision, Skills Ministers established the tripartite Qualification Reform Design Group to provide advice about the design of a reform process for VET qualifications.

We are also working hard to ensure support is available to improve the take-up and completion of apprenticeships and traineeships, including New Energy Apprenticeships.  

We have expanded access to Trade Support Loans to all apprentices in priority occupations, whether they be trade or non-trade apprentices, to assist with cost-of-living pressures. 

And a new model for Australian Apprenticeship Support Services will also be rolled out from July next year, delivering strengthened support for apprentices who are at the highest risk of non-completion. 

Another key area of attention for the Government is Foundation Skills.

3 million adult Australians are estimated to have low literacy and/or numeracy skills, to the extent they could struggle in the modern workplace. That’s one in five adults. 

I am pleased that since I last spoke to you, the Government has begun to reinvigorate support for foundation skills.

In October 2022, I established a Foundation Skills Advisory Group to ensure stakeholder views are properly understood and considered when developing and redesigning policy and programs.

In this year’s Budget, the Government announced $436 million over four years for a redesigned Skills for Education and Employment (SEE) program that aims to improve access to foundation skills training.

In doing so we removed the requirement to be a registered job seeker to access these critical supports from next July.  If people need this critical support, they will be eligible for it.

Foundation skills are also a focus of the National Skills Agreement, with a $140 million investment to improve access and delivery.  

A year ago, I told you our core business is to create opportunities for Australians to prosper.

We have delivered on a commitment to bring together business, governments, unions and the community sector to work out new ways of tapping the considerable talents of Australian workers.

We still have a lot to do together to make the most of these opportunities, but if we can keep progressing as we have done over the last 12 months I have every confidence we can make a big difference.

Thank you for your support in make sure the VET sector is working for everyone.