Release type: Speech


Speech - BuildSkills Australia Jobs and Skills Council National Launch


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

Check Against Delivery

I want to begin by acknowledging that we’re meeting on the lands of the Ngambri and Ngunnawal people.

We pay our respects … I extend that respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples here today.   

I want to acknowledge the ACT Government Ministers in attendance today: 

  • Rebecca Vassarotti, Minister for Sustainable Building and Construction, Housing and Homelessness, the Environment, Parks and Land Management, and Heritage. 

Also, I recognise the team behind BuildSkills Australia:

  • the BuildSkills Australia Board and executive, including joint chairs Gabrielle Trainor AO and Paula Masters, and chief executive officer Brett Shimming.
  • and tripartite partners from industry, unions and government, including the 10 founding member organisations of BuildSkills Australia.

I want to congratulate BuildSkills for hitting the ground running. 

This launch is the culmination of a series of roadshows, with events held in capital cities across Australia last year. 

BuildSkills is not only critical in its own right, it’s also foundational in supporting other industries and occupations – construction can be seen as the framework to the Australian economy.

Large scale and civil construction, and infrastructure supports safe, effective transport of goods via roads, rail and ports. 

Sectors under BuildSkills’ remit are also important for creating and maintaining environments that connect communities. 

They allow us to enjoy our favourite sporting endeavours through venues, facilities and spaces that make positive contributions to social cohesion and improve the wellbeing of Australians.

This extends to some of the less obvious aspects of our lives and things we take for granted; like clean, running water and sanitation, being able to safely travel from home to work or study, being confident in the real estate we are renting, buying or selling; all made possible by these industries and the hard-working Australians employed by them.

Addressing the critical skills shortages we inherited when we came to government requires more than me and my colleagues working in isolation, or with a few select and favoured partners. 

If voices are missing, solutions will be incomplete.

Our government understands that listening to a diversity of perspectives results in better answers and better outcomes. 

This is why it is vital that the arrangements for Jobs and Skills Councils are underpinned by an inclusive governance structure. 

And right at the heart of this is tripartism - employers, unions and governments working together.

BuildSkills is truly a tripartite entity, in structure and spirit. This is in a large part due to founding members, the Master Builders Association (MBA) and the CFMEU, coming together to support the establishment of this JSC. 

  • And I acknowledge Zac Smith (National Secretary CFMEU) and Alex (Alexandria) Waldren (National Director of Industry Policy MBA) who are speaking today.

Thanks to the work underway at BuildSkills, and the work of Jobs and Skills Australia, we are forming a clearer picture of workforce demands across building, construction and associated industry sectors.

Trades and technician roles account for 16 of the 38 critical occupations required to support Australia’s net-zero transition.

The work of BuildSkills will provide on-the-ground industry perspectives of the real economy – leading workforce planning for their industries to identify immediate skills needs, and those in the future. 

This future focus requires a fundamental shift in the training sector, to be ready and responsive in shaping skills as jobs transform.

BuildSkills will work across the VET sector with educators and training providers to develop world-leading qualifications and solutions to address skills gaps for workers and employers. 

By drawing on the best of industry knowledge and the expertise of educators, BuildSkills will help deliver the capabilities that Australians need to get good, secure jobs, and that economy needs now and into the future. 

Of course, BuildSkills and other JSCs will work hand in glove with Jobs and Skills Australia, providing on-the-ground industry perspective of the real economy.

Data and analysis from Jobs and Skills Australia will be integrated with the experiences of those running businesses and operations in BuildSkills industries, who are often the first to identify emerging trends.

The two are strategically linked to provide effective, structured, national and sector-based planning to develop the skills needed for a modern economy.  

I see this as a partnership that can bring together the best on-the-ground experience, with economy-wide data and analysis, to provide powerful insights into our skills needs.

This will ensure workers have the right skills for secure work and for career advancement.

And that our country has the skilled workforce needed for current and emerging jobs.

Safe and affordable housing is central to the security and dignity of all Australians. However, as a nation, we all recognise we are facing challenges in housing affordability and supply.

That is why the National Housing Accord, agreed by National Cabinet, set an aspirational target of 1.2 million new, well located homes over 5 years from the middle of this year.

As part of the Accord, the government has committed to delivering 40,000 new social and affordable homes through the landmark National Housing Accord and the $10 billion Housing Australia Future Fund.[1]   

The Housing Australia Future Fund is the single biggest investment to support social and affordable housing in more than a decade.

It will help deliver 30,000 new social and affordable rental homes in the fund’s first 5 years, providing a secure funding source for new homes.

And the work of BuildSkills will be critical to ensuring we have the workforce necessary to deliver on this historic commitment. 

To meet this and many other challenges we need to foster and retain workforce talent from groups like women, First Nations people, and minority communities. 

Analysis from Jobs and Skills Australia shows that occupations with skills shortages are likely to have significant gender imbalance in their workforce – essentially, more men than women. 

For more than half of occupations in national shortage, women make up less than 20% of their total workforce. 

14% of construction workers, 10% of construction managers and just 1% of plumbers, concreters, roof tilers, bricklayers and carpenters are women. 

We’re working to address this imbalance.

We are introducing national targets to increase the proportion of women working on major Australian Government funded construction and ICT projects. 

In addition, women who take up an Australian apprenticeship in a trade with low levels of women’s participation can access support through the $38.6 million Women in Male-Dominated Trades initiatives. 

The Australian Apprenticeship Support Network Providers deliver these supports, which include:

  • guaranteed gateway services providing women with personalised information and advice on career options and apprenticeship pathways
  • guaranteed in-training support to address barriers to retention and completion, including pastoral care, career and industry mentoring and counselling
  • access to mentoring services delivered by specialist mentors, including peer support, networking and communities of practice.

By working with industry partners to achieve a genuine culture of inclusion, to empower women to build lifelong careers we can open up new possibilities and opportunities for women and we can address skills shortages.

BuildSkills and the other nine JSCs don’t exist in isolation.

And the Commonwealth doesn’t address skills challenges on its own.  

Skills is an issue for the Federation.

This is why I am so pleased to have developed a great partnership with my State and Territory Ministerial colleagues to address our shared challenges.

Despite this blindingly obvious fact, when we were elected there hadn’t been a national agreement in place for a decade.

Last November National Cabinet changed that.

I pleased to say that the five-year National Skills Agreement commenced on 1 January this year between the Commonwealth and state and territory governments.

It will deliver significant investment in a national VET system. The agreement will provide high-quality, responsive and accessible education and training to boost productivity and build our workforce. 

The agreement represents an investment of $12.6 billion by the Commonwealth over 5 years, which will in turn see up to $30 billion in investment unlocked in partnership with States and Territories. 

The NSA will: 

  • expand and transform access to the VET sector
  • help training providers to deliver quality education and training, and 
  • address critical skills needs.

A key focus of the National Skills Agreement is to ensure that governments engage with the VET sector through tripartite Jobs and Skills Councils, such as BuildSkills. 

Working together under the agreement means we can meet the outcomes sought for the skills sector, and deliver on agreed national priorities and targets. 

One of the early tasks that Skills Ministers will seek guidance from JSCs is the development of the National Skills Plan. 

The plan will require insights from JSCs to ensure we have comprehensive, high-quality evidence and data to inform decisions to tackle skills and workforce challenges head on. 

This government is investing $325m to be matched by States and Territories in a network of TAFE Centres of Excellence. They will strengthen capability and capacity of the VET system to provide high-quality and responsive skills training for critical and emerging industries. For example, VET will play an important role in the transformation to a net zero economy. 

Fee-Free TAFE continues to change lives, address skill shortages and help students by removing financial barriers. 

More than 300,000 Australians enrolled in a Fee-Free TAFE course last year, including more than 21,000 enrolments in construction related courses.  

An additional 300,000 Fee-Free TAFE and VET places have been made available from this year, providing crucial cost of living support for Australians choosing to study in priority areas such as construction. 

And we need to fix the problem of apprentices not completing their training. 

Earlier this month, I announced a Strategic Review of the Australian Apprenticeships Incentive System to be led by the Honourable Justice Iain Ross AO and Ms Lisa Paul AO.

Apprentices and trainees are vital to Australia’s economic growth and prosperity, particularly in our transition to a net-zero economy.

The review will help ensure the incentive system plays its part in building our labour force, while highlighting the joint role industry plays.  

We want the system to support apprentices and trainees to receive quality training and opportunities for secure, well-paid work, and to encourage businesses to take on apprentices and trainees.

The building, construction and property sector is at the forefront of some of the greatest challenges we face. 

Our population is set to reach 40 million within 25 years.

I firmly believe tripartism is the secret ingredient to bringing all parties to the table.

To find solutions and unlock workforce capacity that will deliver opportunities for people to gain the skills required. 

I look forward to the contribution that BuildSkills will make to the future of the industries that it represents, and that are its members.

Thank you.