Release type: Speech


Speech - World Skills Australia National Championship Launch, Melbourne


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

Acknowledgment of country

I want to acknowledge that this year’s WorldSkills is being held on the lands of the Wurundjeri and Bunurong People and I wish to pay my respects to their Elders, past, and present, and any Aboriginal Elders of other communities who may be here today.

I am proud to be part of a Government that will give every Australian the opportunity to vote for constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people later this year.


Let me begin by acknowledging the team behind WorldSkills Australia: Trevor Schwenke, the Executive Director/CEO

Kevin Harris, the Chair of WorldSkills Australia

Megan Lily, Deputy Chair

Jane Stokie, Director of Skills Competitions, WorldSkills International
and Brigitte Collins, General Manager WorldSkills Australia.

Thank you for your inviting me to open this exciting event for another year.

I also want to acknowledge my state counterpart – the Minister for Training and Skills Gayle Tierney – who shares my passion for the VET sector and who will be here later this afternoon.

And lastly, but most importantly I want to welcome all the competitors and the 2022 Skillaroos.


It’s no secret that Australians love a competition – and, like our Matildas in the FIFA World Cup – win, lose or draw, our competitors are known for giving it their best.

Over the next few days, 470 young Australians will compete to be named our best tradespeople, apprentices, and trainees.

Competitors will compete across 55 skills – from carpentry, and plumbing to cloud computing, and cyber security.

To the competitors – you all have the opportunity to showcase your talents, and champion your skills pathways.

I believe that skills drive the future of young people, and the future of Australia.

That is a belief that the Albanese Government and Worldskills share.

Created in 1981 by the labour movement as Work Skill Australia Foundation, it plays an important role endorsing, promoting and providing recognition for skills and trades.

For a long time, we have placed university study as superior to VET education.

And we’re paying the price for that.

That price is the most significant skills shortage in recent memory.

We need to support both if we are to keep up with skills needs that are changing faster than ever.

Both university and VET education are vital pillars to having the skills pool to best face the global challenges of our time.

TAFEs, registered training organisations, universities, colleges, and secondary schools have hosted competitions to select competitors here today.

As well as competing to be named the best in Australia at their respective skill, competitors will also have the chance to become part of the Skillaroos and represent Australia on the world stage in France next year. 

National Skills Week

This event, of course, falls within August, the most important month of the annual skills calendar.

Next week is National Skills Week, where events around Australia will celebrate and showcase VET.

If you are here today, in whatever capacity, you don’t have to be convinced about its importance.

But I want to tell you how important it is for our country. 

Skill shortages

When we came into Government last year, the OECD said that Australia had the second highest labour shortage per capita among the OECD.

The 2022 Skills Priority list revealed the number of occupations suffering skills shortages had almost doubled, jumping from 153 occupations in 2021 to 286.

These struggles span across our economy.

We need close to 5,000 motor mechanics, more than 3,000 electricians and nearly 4,000 Metal Fitter and Machinists.

And in the vital care sector there are around 9,000 vacancies. 

Looking at the top 20 occupations in demand nationally, almost half have direct VET pathways - including six occupations within the top 10.

But all too often these shortages are spoken about as just numbers.

And we can sometimes get lost in those. 

What these job vacancies mean is that communities can’t access the services they need.

A family might not be able to access the level of home care they need for one of their loved one who needs it.

A young couple trying to build their first home might be shut out because of a lack of builders.

These figures mean that we don’t have the domestic skills to meet the challenges of the day, like transitioning to net-zero by 2040, or competing in vital emerging markets.

Knowledge acquisition, education and training is a big part of the answer to the skills shortage question.

Another part is making sure everyone can access to top-quality education. 

Fee-Fee TAFE

In September last year, at the Jobs and Skills Summit, the Albanese Government committed to providing 180,000 Fee-Free TAFE and VET places in 2023 in areas of high demand and skills needs in collaboration with states and territories.

Next year, we’re building on that. Pending negotiations with states and territories, the Commonwealth will invest more than $400 million to provide another ¬ 300,000 Fee-Free TAFE places from 2024. 

Between January and March 2023, Fee-Free TAFE has supported over 146,000 enrolments and over 109,000 commencements in training places nationally. 

And not only is Fee-Free TAFE helping to ease skill shortages, but it provides opportunities for people who otherwise may not have access. 

  • around 60 per cent of those enrolled are women.
  • more than 25,000 students are from households that speak a language other than English at home.
  • more than 12,000 people who have enrolled are living with a disability
  • about 30 per cent of all enrolments have been in courses related to the care sector – an area of high priority
  • and finally, almost a third of those enrolled – 30 per cent – are from regional areas


As with all contests, only a few people will be named the best.

But the contributions of all the competitors here at WorldSkills will endure.

Your contribution to building the Australia of the future and encouraging the next generation of skilled Australians is so important.

These championships will inspire other young people to take up a trade or traineeship, provide a milestone along the road towards solving our skills shortages, demonstrate the importance of the

VET sector and create the foundations of rewarding and fulfilling careers for each and every participant.

To everyone involved, thank you.

And good luck.