Release type: Speech


Speech - Address to Catholic Social Services Australia


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

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 all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples here this evening.

I want to start by thanking each of you, and the organisations you lead.  

Caring for our sick and elderly, supporting people with a disability, and providing high quality community services, care and education is vital to our society. 

Your work is critical, the pressures are real, and your contribution to our society is invaluable.

The role you play in our communities has the power to make a life changing impact for those who need it most.

And in doing so, you make a major contribution to national productivity and workforce participation.

We are proud as a government to consistently have unemployment starting with a 3.  

But it is good news that creates its own challenges.

Australia faces one of its biggest challenges in decades due to the shortage of skilled workers across many areas of the economy, with the care and social services sector particularly affected.

Whether it’s aged care or NDIS services, youth work or counselling, services for the homeless or emergency relief, or any other services that you provide to people who need it, the extent and urgency of workforce challenges are significant. 

Jobs and Skills Australia has identified the growth of the health and care sector as one of three megatrends shaping the labour market.

This growth is driven by an ageing population, a transition from informal to formal care, and increased expectations of government. 

This means we must urgently increase the supply of skilled workers to our social services sectors.

In fact the Employment White Paper, released in September, identified delivering quality improvements in service delivery, particularly the care and support sector, as one of the main opportunities to drive future productivity growth. 

Many of you here tonight will be aware of, or involved in, the considerable work already underway by the Government to make the vital systemic changes required for a strong social services sector. 

Growing the size, skills and knowledge of the health, community and human services workforce is one of our key priorities. 

The Government is developing a National Strategy for the Care and Support Economy which will set out the vision for a sustainable and productive care and support economy. 

Focussed work is also progressing to address workforce issues in areas such as mental health, nursing, and importantly to respond to the findings of the aged care and disability royal commissions.

One of the defining features of the VET sector is the key role which industry plays and we’re strengthening that through the launch of industry specific Jobs and Skills Councils.

HumanAbility is an example of our tripartite approach - bringing together employers, unions and governments to find solutions. 

It represents a fundamental shift in how we are addressing skills and workforce challenges impacting the social services sectors.

HumanAbility has hit the ground running, already holding successful stakeholder forums in Alice Springs at the start of the month, and here in Canberra last week.

For those of you who haven’t yet made contact, I encourage you to get involved.  

Emma King, the CEO, and Rob Bonner, the Chair, would welcome hearing from you and value your input.

A high-performing Australian VET sector is essential for achieving a fairer society and a stronger economy. 

Our social agenda cannot be achieved without major changes to the way we educate and train our people. 

This is why we are undertaking vital systemic and policy work to address social inclusion in VET. 

To start with, we are strengthening VET integrity by getting rid of substandard providers, lifting the standards for Registered Training Organisations and implementing stricter rules of entry to the sector.

Revisions to these standards, as part of our commitment to support quality and integrity in the VET sector, are underway.

They will strengthen requirements and expectations around learner wellbeing to ensure that supports offered by RTOs are appropriate for the training being delivered. 

For students, this means strengthened support and wellbeing and clear expectations for the provision of reasonable adjustments to support students with disabilities. 

We are also drastically reforming foundation skills delivery to respond to the alarming statistic that one in five adults have skills gaps in literacy, numeracy, and digital literacy. 

These initiatives will ensure we produce qualified students with the skills to succeed now and in the new economy.  

In a little over a month, in January 2024, the new five-year National Skills Agreement between the Commonwealth and state and territory government will take effect. 

This deal is a massive investment of more than $30 billion by the Commonwealth, State and Territory governments over five years to expand and transform access to the VET sector 

Sustaining essential care and social support services has been given primacy in the Agreement as an inaugural national priority. It means all governments have agreed to work collaboratively to meet the skills needs of your sector. 

We are investing more than $355 million to establish TAFE Centres of Excellence, and fast tracking 6 of them, including in the care sector. 

The idea of TAFE Centres of Excellence is to strengthen capability and capacity of the VET sector to provide high-quality and responsive skills training for critical and emerging industries, including sustaining essential care and support services.  

Likewise, stakeholder consultations across the skills and training sector are currently underway to develop a VET Workforce Blueprint.

This is being developed in collaboration with the states and territories and will identify effective strategies for workforce issues such as attraction, retention, career development and succession planning. 

Our Fee-Free TAFE program has been incredibly popular in its first year. 

More than 214,000 places have been filled across the country under the first tranche.   

By far, the largest number of people taking up study  has been in the care sector – accounting for almost one-quarter of all enrolments.

On the back of that, we’re committing a further $414 million to deliver an additional 300,000 places nationally, from next year. 

The general trend in filling jobs across some of your industries is positive.

Among aged and disabled carers, child carers, and welfare support workers– there are almost 30,000 more people working now than a year ago. 

That’s an almost 6 percent jump. 

But addressing your staff shortages remains critical.

Without improving attraction, retention and the sustainability of the your workforces, your sector cannot deliver the services our society so desperately needs.

Social services are jobs people should want, because they feel respected and valued.

That’s why we’ve funded a 15 per cent real wage increase for the aged care sector – as part of our broader push to get wages moving again.

We believe that workers across the social services sectors should get fairly rewarded for the crucial work they do.

There’s a lot of work to do towards our shared vision of a vibrant, inclusive, fair and equitable care and social services sector.

But together, we are making a difference for the people who need it most, and those who work to support them. 

On behalf of the government, I want to acknowledge the tremendous work you all do.

We all have a stake in advancing social justice, fairness and inclusion. 

Thank you.