Release type: Speech


Speech - Launch of Per Capita's Centre for New Industry


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

I would like to acknowledge Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung people, Traditional Owners of Country where we meet and respectfully recognise Elders past and present.

I also welcome my Victorian Federal and State Labor Party colleagues.


Good evening.

My thanks also to Emma Dawson, Executive Director of Per Capita and Shirley Jackson, Director of Per Capita’s Centre for New Industry for the opportunity to speak with you tonight.

I have great confidence in the work that Per Capita undertakes in research and policy development and I look forward to the exciting work the Centre for New Industry will explore.

Per Capita will take a mission-oriented approach to industrial policy, and advocate for economic diversification, decarbonisation and democratisation. I have every confidence that you will be hosting Mariana Mazzucato here in no time.

Ensuring Australians have the skills for Industry today and planning for the future is a critical part of the Albanese Government’s priorities.

Per Capita’s Centre for New Industry will be a valuable voice that will assist government understand future skill needs through research into the skills base of Australia’s economy and the needs of new industries.

Per Capita’s commitment to a vision for Australia is based on fairness, shared prosperity, community, and social justice, a vision that is shared by the Albanese Government.

The Albanese Government was elected with a pledge to deliver a future where no one is held back, and no one is left behind.

This Government wants to focus on industry policy, we want to invest in our best and most important resource – our people and make sure that we deliver a high skilled economy, high paid jobs and more secure employment.

To support this vision, we need the right settings to create skilled workers for industry and for Australians to get well-paid jobs with secure futures.

And we have already started that work. We know what to do and what path to tread.

A Future Made in Australia

The Albanese Labor Government is committed to rebuilding our proud manufacturing industry and building a future made right here in Australia.

We understand that a key challenge for the manufacturing industry, like so many others, is attracting and retaining workers with the right skills.

After almost a decade of sending manufacturing offshore and neglecting Australian workers, we’ve seen the consequences: fewer jobs and missed opportunities.

Australia’s capacity to manufacture goods is the lowest in the OECD.

This was brutally exposed during the pandemic, when our sovereign capacity was pushed to its limits as supply chains were disrupted. 

We need to be a country that makes things again. 

At the very heart of that is the belief in the capability of Australian know-how and smarts, something I’ve seen first-hand over many years including when I was Assistant National Secretary of the Australian Services Union.

To secure our nation’s future we must maximise the benefits of new technology, cheaper energy, new job opportunities and cheaper low-emissions vehicles. 

The National Reconstruction Fund will be the first step in rebuilding Australia’s industrial base to drive investment in advanced manufacturing and industries of the future.

This week we celebrated the skills sector with National Skills Week. It highlighted the opportunities that skills offer for good jobs and rewarding careers and to think about what skills and opportunities we need for the future.

We understand the connection between skills investment and high skilled, well-paid jobs.

If you have a skilled and knowledgeable workforce, you have a productive economy.

If you have a productive and efficient economy that puts downward pressure on prices of goods and services.  

It was not a coincidence that on of the first acts of our new parliament was introducing legislation to establish Jobs and Skills Australia. This was deliberate to send a message that we want to make sure we have an independent tripartite advisory body that will work closely with state and territory governments, as well as industry, employers, trade unions and training providers to ensure a shared understanding of the key issues facing Australia’s labour market.

There has been too little planning and a mismatch between investment in skills in areas of demand. Jobs and Skills Australia will help to identify demands in the labour market and more precisely anticipate areas of growing demand so we can plan for future investment in skills.

Jobs and Skills Summit

Next week, the Prime Minister will host the Jobs and Skills Summit. This is an opportunity to bring people together to explore as many ideas as possible on how we can grow wages, boost the economy and move our country forward.

I’m particularly excited to focus on ways to improve the quality of crucial skills training and apprenticeships.

The Summit will be an opportunity to work directly with stakeholders to ensure that our skills and training system remains world-class and able to meet future challenges.

It is not a panacea, It won’t solve all problems and we won’t find agreement on everything, but we want to create a sense of working together. We want to create a sense of common purpose in the national interest.

It will also inform the White Paper on Employment, which I invite all of you to take part in once submissions are open, later this year.

We must build a more collaborative skills system with engagement between employers, unions, and governments to find solutions to skills and workforce challenges.

Apprentice and Workforce support

One particular challenge is the decline in apprenticeship completion rates over the last decade.

A top priority for me is examining what supports are needed to ensure that as many apprentices as possible complete their training.

A completion rate of 55.7 per cent is simply not good enough.

The system we have inherited clearly isn’t working and we must look at innovative pathways to improve these completion rates.

We know that cost of living and low wages is a huge pressure. That is why we have introduced payments direct to the apprentice for apprentices studying in priority occupations.

And we are looking at the non-financial supports available, including the availability of targeted, high-quality, and effective mentoring.

With the large number of Australian Apprentices in training it is critical these numbers translate into higher numbers of completions and trained workers.

Our current apprenticeship completion rates are lower than we should accept from our apprenticeship programs. That’s something I and the Government will be focussed on tackling and improving.

Apprentices need to know that there are jobs available. We will ensure that one in 10 workers engaged on major, federally funded government projects, is an apprentice or trainee through our Australian Skills Guarantee.

We’re also focused on increasing the number of women in trades, to help address the gender pay gap through personalised assistance and career advice, with access to industry mentors and women in trade networks, to help women in trades to succeed — not just during their apprenticeship but to also thrive post training.

Skilling the Clean Energy Workforce

We are also making a long overdue transition to a clean energy economy.

Australia’s efforts to secure a clean energy workforce have been almost non-existent over the past decade. We must act now to begin researching, sourcing, training and skilling the workforce Australia needs to reach net zero emissions by 2050 and realise the opportunities offered by a transformation to clean, affordable and reliable energy.

Our Skilling the Clean Energy Workforce initiative — is a crucial first step.

As part of this, we’ve committed $100 million to support 10,000 New Energy Apprenticeships from 2022–23.

Our support for the new energy sector will encourage more Australians to train in the jobs of the future.

Apprentices who choose to train in new energy industries will receive up to $10,000 over the duration of their apprenticeship.

These industries are the future for our workers and include industries such as solar installation, large scale renewable projects, green hydrogen, and renewable manufacturing.

We must provide support to apprentices training in new energy jobs, encourage them to complete their training and build professional networks that will help ensure successful careers.

This will help to increase apprentice uptake, boost retention, and improve completions.

Taking this action now is critical to secure the talent that will deliver Australia’s clean energy infrastructure and place the Australian economy on a more sustainable footing.

Investing in our future

Our Secure Australian Jobs Plan will invest in the skills and training Australia needs to drive our future economic growth.

To have a strong economy and provide opportunities for Australian workers requires a skills system which can meet current skills needs but also maintain a focus on the future to be able to continue to meet emerging needs of industry and business.

The Albanese Government is committed to setting people up for long and secure careers in occupations in demand across the Australian economy.

This is good for workers, good for business and good for the economy – a more productive workforce places downward pressure on goods and services.

We need to fill the shortages that exist today, and anticipate the skill needs for the future so when we invest taxpayers’ dollars in training it is in areas of current and future demand.

We know COVID-19 has hit us hard and Australia has a persistent shortage of skills. According to the National Skills Commission, it’s occurring in 38 per cent of industries and occupations with a vocational pathway.

I welcome Per Capita’s Centre for New Industry as it will be an important body examining public policy that can enable sustainable skills formation and offer new solutions to structural unemployment caused by skills mismatches and an ever-changing labour market.

I am looking forward to working with the Centre for New Industry, along with all stakeholders, to make sure that we get the best outcomes for workers and employers, so we can fill skill gaps today and into the future. 

There is so much more to talk about and I look forward to the upcoming discussion.