Release type: Speech


Speech - NECA electrotech industry lunch


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

(Check against delivery)

Thank you to the National Electrical and Communications Association for inviting me to speak. 

I want to acknowledge the traditional owners of the lands we are on today, the Wurundjeri people and pay my respects to elders past and present.

As you all well know, Australia is undergoing a significant transformation towards a clean energy future, and with that comes many opportunities. 

An army of skilled workers is going to be required to build and install the infrastructure needed to achieve a 43 per cent emissions reduction target by 2030 and net zero by 2050.

And as we continue towards net-zero, the front-line workers whose job it will be to help us reduce Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions will be in your sector.

It will be those installing solar panels and wind turbines.

It will be the people building or upgrading transmission lines across the nation.

You’ll be playing a central role in helping power the Australia of the future.

I want to applaud your advocacy, and the hard work that comes with overcoming significant challenges as we work towards this future. 

And I welcome the way that you continue to engage with stakeholders such as the ETU, and with governments at all levels.

It is precisely the type of tripartism that will be needed to achieve a smooth transition. 

A central pillar of this success lies in vocational education and training providing people with the skills the sector needs. 

Without skilled and knowledgeable workers, industries cannot be as innovative, economies are not as resilient, and the global challenges of our time, like climate change, go unmet.

With more than a quarter of a million people employed in the Electro-technology and Telecommunication Trades industry – a figure that increased by 18 per cent over the last year – we want to provide as much assistance as possible in training your workforce. 

Skills shortages

There are major challenges facing our skills system. 

You’re all acutely aware of the situation on the ground, and it’s backed up by the latest data from Jobs and Skills Australia.

The Labour Market Update last month showed that for the March quarter, just 35 per cent of the vacant positions in Electrotechnology and Telecommunication Trades sectors were filled.  

While there are early signs that recruitment difficulty is easing slightly, I acknowledge the struggles you’re experiencing right now.

It’s a long list of occupations – with shortages of Electrotechnology and Telecommunications Trades Workers both here in Victoria and across the country, including Electricians, Airconditioning and Refrigeration Mechanics, Electrical Linesworkers, Electronic Equipment Trades Workers, and 
Telecommunications Technicians.

But the skills shortage is more than a simple shortage of qualified workers.

There is a mismatch with employer requirements for experienced staff.

According to JSA, on average employers received 4.3 qualified applicants per vacancy – unfortunately less than half of these applicants were deemed suitable. (2.1 applicants per vacancy)

This means employers are also seeking additional skills and experience in candidates, beyond the technical skills provided by qualifications. 

We’re not blaming employers for wanting the best out of their staff – far from it. And in your sector in particular, safety training is paramount.

But we need to better match the qualifications taught by our TAFEs and RTOs, with the requirements of industry sectors like yours.

We need to ensure the students and trainees are getting qualifications that will increase their chances of getting work. 

And we need to make sure these students have the qualifications that match the needs of businesses, so that workers can hit the ground running. 

And that’s a challenge we’re taking up. 

Jobs and Skills Councils

We’ve passed legislation to create Jobs and Skills Australia, the first piece of legislation introduced into the 47th Parliament – which boldly underlines how seriously we view this. 

Our recent budget invested $3.7 billion for a 5-year national skills agreement to be negotiated with state and territory governments, to make skills and training more accessible, and more equitable.  

We have three JSCs already operational, and aim to have all ten up and running in the next two months.

That will include the Powering Skills Organisation, the Energy, Gas and Renewables JSC which I know you’re all intimately involved in.

I want to thank you for your hard work in getting this JSC off the ground. The quicker they can start the work, the sooner we will have a more complete picture of the sector’s skills needs. 

Your collaboration with Master Electricians Australia and the ETU will help develop the skills needed for the workforce of tomorrow.

And paramount to getting this right, is making sure all voices have a seat at the table.

Employees, businesses and all levels of government need to work together. They must collaborate to make sure we have the most informed view of how we combat both current and future skills shortages. 

The Powering Skills Organisation will have the privilege - and the responsibility - to help shape and direct the skills sector, providing real leadership and advice.

Rewiring the nation

It’s been encouraging to see the uptake of our Government’s New Energy Apprenticeships. 

We’re spending $105.1 million over nine years to support 10,000 New Energy Apprentices through support payments and mentoring – making sure apprentices are given the help they need, not just to complete, but to flourish. 

And while it’s very positive to be able to report to you that more than 1000 people have already applied so early in this program - we can do more.

As I cited earlier, we need an army of skilled workers to build and install the infrastructure needed to achieve our emissions reductions targets.

So, we’re pushing ahead with Fee-Free TAFE … and I’m pleased to say that more than 3,000 students have already enrolled in Cert IIIs in electro-technology across Australia.

And Victorians make up a significant number of those students, with nearly 600 enrolments in pre-vocational and career-start courses in electro-technology. 

That means 600 Victorians have taken up the opportunity to study electro-technology Fee-Free TAFE courses in the first 4 months … students who otherwise may not have had the chance. 

And if we’re going to be serious about overcoming workforce shortages, we must do more to encourage women into the sector. 

For more than half of occupations in national shortage, women make up less than 20 per cent of the total workforce.

This includes Electrotechnology and Telecommunications Trades Workers, where just three percent of the workforce are female. 

Out of everyone who applied for New Energy Apprenticeships so far, around six per cent are women.

While I’m realistic that this won’t change overnight, if we don’t do more to encourage women into these jobs, we’re essentially overlooking more than 50 per cent of potential skilled workers. 

That’s why we’ve introduced targets for women as part of the Australian Skills Guarantee. 

From July next year we are intending to double the proportion of women in apprenticeships and traineeships working on Commonwealth funded major projects valued at over $10 million. 

I’d anticipate that would include projects funded by our government that are helping re-wire our nation.

Support for apprenticeships

But it’s not just targets that are required – support is needed on the ground for apprentices, and their employers.

That came through loud and clear in your pre-budget submission, and your submission to the Future Directions Paper for Australian Apprenticeship Support Services. 

We’re overhauling the services and non-financial supports provided to apprentices.

We want to ensure there is enough support, where it’s needed most, for apprentices to finish their training and qualify in trades.

This improved service model will place apprentices at the centre and better support them from commencement to completion, with more on the ground support and increased access to foundation skills training – if that’s something they want to do.   

I note NECA has provided good feedback for the consultation paper, which my department is taking a close look at now.

Let me say that we want to ensure as many people as possible, mature-aged workers included, get the opportunities they need to succeed.

The completion rate – in particular – is what I’m focused on.

In 2012, more than 57,000 Australians completed a trade apprenticeship, and by 2021, that number had dropped by more than 20,000.

That’s why this government wants to offer more proactive support services over the life of the apprenticeship, with an increased focus on supporting completions.

This includes the first two years, when wages are typically at their lowest and apprentices are at the highest risk of dropping out.

Mentoring and in-training support is an important focus – particularly for apprentices who experience additional barriers to finishing their training. 

All this is being considered as part of the Future Directions Paper, and we’ll continue discussions with organisations like yours to make sure you have the support you need.

Centres of Excellence

I‘m glad to see how proactive this sector is in helping train the next generation of workers.

For instance, your new state of the art training centre is up and running in Pinkenba in Queensland, which is precisely what this sector needs.

I also applaud the Queensland Government for backing this Centre.

As part of the National Skills Agreement negotiations, we’re keen on pursuing a number of reforms, including TAFE Centres of Excellence. 

As you can appreciate, these are still subject to negotiations and collaboration with my state and territory ministerial colleagues. 

But what I envisage them to be is centres that partner with industries like yours, as well as universities and governments, to address critical future challenges. 


We must build greater skills capacity in the clean energy sector, so our economic growth is supported as we transform to net zero.

We cannot accelerate our clean energy transformation without industries like yours.

Our ambitious plans to rewire the nation are only possible with your help.

Thank you.