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Ministerial Statement – Revitalising National Planning in Vocational Education and Training

September 14, 2023

The Hon Brendan O’Connor MP

Minister for Skills and Training

Today I wish to outline two fundamental reforms implemented by our government in the Skills and Training portfolio.  

These reforms will ensure that national planning for the skills our economy needs is timely, high quality, evidence-based and tested against the first-hand knowledge of industry.

The creation of Jobs and Skills Australia (JSA), and the creation of ten Jobs and Skills Councils (JSCs) are significant milestones in the skills and training portfolio. 

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

The design and scope of JSA and the JSCs are based on extensive national consultations and have strong support from a wide range of stakeholders. 

This includes employers, trade unions, peak bodies, State and Territory governments, vocational education providers and universities.  

Jobs and Skills Australia and the new Jobs and Skills Councils will work together and will play a critical role, in planning and guiding training and education priorities.

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.

Current challenges  

Australia is facing one of its biggest economic challenges in decades due to the shortage of skilled workers across many areas of the economy.

We understand the extent and urgency of these challenges for Australian industries.

OECD data identified Australia as having the second-highest labour shortage amongst OECD countries. 

And the Skills Priority List shows that occupations in shortage nearly doubled from 2021 to 2022, jumping from 153 to 286.

In March 2022 the former National Skills Commission predicted that over the next five years, 9 out of 10 new jobs would require post-school qualifications, half of which will require vocational training. 

Jobs and Skills Australia’s quarterly report released yesterday found that over the year to May 2023, 91 per cent of total employment growth was in occupations that require post-school qualifications. 

Over half of this growth is in occupations that require vocational education and training pathways.

Skills planning framework for the future

We are embarking on building a new era of industry engagement in the skills and training portfolio.

Australian industries require meaningful engagement and the best possible skills planning framework to deal with skills challenges. 

JSA and the JSCs have industries and experts at the core of their governance and work programs.

They will work directly with industry sectors on the planning and training required to address immediate, medium, and long-term skills needs. 

And right at the heart of this is tripartism – employers, unions, and governments working in cooperation.

Speaker, creating improvements to address national skills needs requires more than the Commonwealth Government working in isolation, or with a few select and favoured partners. 

We know that who you ask has a big influence on what answer you come up with. If voices are missing, solutions will be incomplete, at best.

The government’s commitment to consultation and inclusion comes from an understanding that listening to a diversity of perspectives arrives at better answers. 

Whether it is employers, unions, educators, or States and Territories, we are building relationships and have put in place the architecture for inclusive, tripartite governance. 
 
Jobs and Skills Australia

Jobs and Skills Australia has replaced the National Skills Commission. 

The Commission provided an important body of work, but it was limited to a narrower mandate and was not structured or resourced for deeper engagement with industries or State and Territory Governments.

A critical change, one that is central to the design of JSA, is ensuring that relevant industries and knowledgeable stakeholders have a seat at the table. 

JSA is required, under the legislation, to have a governance structure that is tripartite and expert. 

In the coming months, I will appoint a Ministerial Advisory Board to inform JSA’s work priorities, strategies and governance. 

The Board will include two representatives of States and Territories, four unions and four employer representatives, and up to four additional experts, at least one of which may be a person with lived experience of facing barriers to the labour market.

JSA has already emerged as a significant vehicle for informing policy and providing independent advice to the government on current and emerging workforce needs. 

This advice can be relied upon by a wider group of stakeholders including industries, training and education providers and State and Territory governments, all of whom need quality evidence and analysis when planning and investing in skills.

Informed by this tripartite and inclusive approach, next month JSA will deliver a national Clean Energy Capacity Study. 

This will outline the employment, upskilling and re-skilling opportunities that the transformation to a net zero economy will create.

And there are plenty of opportunities. 

The government has made it a legislative requirement that JSA consult and publish an annual workplan. 

JSA has consulted widely and will soon release its 2023-24 Workplan which will focus on the biggest challenges. 

Core challenges for our economy such as the transformation to a net zero economy, the rapidly growing care and support sector, digitisation and the national need for digital skills are high priorities for JSA.

And if we’re going to realise our sovereign capability ambitions, including under the AUKUS arrangement, we do need to have a higher education sector and a VET sector that works closely together and can provide the skills that are needed for our defence industry.

JSA is expanding its significant data-based capabilities to use deep industry engagement and qualitative analysis.

This will strengthen its independent, evidence-based analysis needed for national skills planning and to better support the skilled migration program.

JSA will provide insights into the development of higher apprenticeships and broader qualifications reform. It will inform the implementation of the 5-year National Skills Agreement.

The forthcoming Employment White Paper is also being informed by JSA’s analysis.

JSA will undertake a body of work, including on opportunities to improve education and employment outcomes for people who have historically experienced labour market disadvantage and exclusion.

This may include people marginalised by age, health, gender, disability, culture, language, or socio-economic background. 
Another key priority will be improving opportunities for First Nations’ Australians.

JSA is taking an economy-wide perspective in identifying where skills shortages exist and projecting where they are likely to be in the future. 

And they won’t just focus on the where, but also the why and how shortages exist.

It’s vital that government gets quality advice and analysis of our skills and workforce needs, informed by the best available data and the best on-the-ground intelligence. 

This is the fundamental role of Jobs and Skills Australia. 

Good analysis and forecasting are prerequisites to ensure we are prioritising and planning for the skills we need. 

But data on its own doesn’t tell the whole story. 

That data needs to be tested and complemented with real-life industry experience.

I’m pleased to report that JSA is embracing this role and developing its strength in drawing on industry and education expertise, to build on its considerable technical proficiency.

Jobs and Skills Councils

Ten tripartite, industry-led Jobs and Skills Councils are now established. 

JSCs will work hand in glove with JSA, providing on-the-ground industry perspective of the real economy. 

JSA data and analysis will be integrated with the experiences of those running businesses who are often the first to identify emerging trends.

JSCs will lead workforce planning for their industries to identify immediate skills needs, as well as those needed in the future. 

Jobs and Skills Councils have a new strategic role for industry. 

They will shift the training pipeline from being slow to react to changes in the economy, to being ready and responsive in shaping skills as jobs transform and supporting the prosperity of the industries they represent.

The first major task of each Jobs and Skills Council is to consult across their industry sectors to develop workforce plans that address both existing and emerging skills needs.

They will use industry-based knowledge, understanding of trends and real-world experience. 

JSCs will work with educators and training providers to develop world-leading qualifications for workers and employers. 

By drawing on the best of industry knowledge and the expertise of educators, JSCs will be critical in delivering the skills our workforce and economy needs. 

And JSCs are already making positive strides in meeting the high expectations of them.

The ten Jobs and Skills Councils include:
·      Energy, Gas and Renewables.
·      Agribusiness.
·      Early Educators, Health, and Human Services.
·      Arts, Personal Services, Retail, Tourism and Hospitality.
·      Public Safety and Government.
·      Manufacturing.
·      Finance, Technology and Business.
·      Mining and Automotive.
·      Building Construction and Property, and;
·      Transport and Logistics

The roles of JSCs and JSA are complementary and symbiotic.

JSA has a macro economy role, while JSCs have a deeper knowledge and connection to specific industry or industries.

JSA has deep data and analytical capabilities, while JSCs have deep connections to the real economy. 

JSA can produce the data and JSCs can provide the context and the explanation as to what it may be telling us. 

Each will inform and build on the other. 

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 coordination is an essential first step in determining job roles, skills needs and training pathways. 

And the success of Jobs and Skills Councils relies on their relationship with stakeholders. 

This engagement will be critical to ensuring that our education and training sectors are responsive to the evolving needs and expectations of industry, the economy and society. 

Communication across JSCs will be vital to ensure a coherent training landscape. 
For too long industry training bodies have operated in silos, leading to duplication and inefficiency. 

Collaborating and sharing ideas across sectors will see benefits economy-wide that are greater than the sum of its parts.

And JSCs are off to a good start having already built a cohesive network, led by their new CEOs and Boards.

I had the pleasure of meeting with all the CEOs last month, and the sense of optimism and dedication to working together was very encouraging. 

We want to achieve a training sector that anticipates the skills needs of industry and one which focuses on the needs of the learner. 

To support this, together with my State and Territory colleagues, I established a tripartite, expert Qualifications Reform Design Group, Chaired by Craig Robertson, the CEO of the Victorian Skills Authority.
I have asked the group to make it easier for workers to gain transferable skills, so they have more mobility and more choice. 

I would like to make it easier for students to gain recognition for what they have learned – be it on the job or as part of previous study. 

I want to speed things up so we can respond more quickly as the economy shifts. 

Currently, the average time to develop or update a qualification is 18 months – this is unacceptably long. 

Future qualifications and updating of qualifications will be led and developed by JSCs.

It is my intention that they be supported by macro-reforms to processes that will emerge from the work of the Qualifications Reform Design Group.

World-leading qualifications are key to supporting workforce development and a stronger, more resilient, and productive economy. 

At the recent Skills and Workforce Ministerial Council meeting, Ministers recommitted to the importance of this reform and expectations of a high-quality VET qualifications system. 

We agreed that the system needs to be high-performing and easy to navigate, meeting the needs of employers and learners, now and in the future.  

Tripartism and Governance

It is vital that the arrangements for JSCs are underpinned by an inclusive governance structure.

Employer organisations, unions and independent directors are represented in JSC governance arrangements through board composition and membership structures.  

There is also an expectation that JSCs recognise and incorporate gender equality and diversity into all levels of their organisation, including their boards. 

The government is committed to the inclusion and increased representation of First Nations peoples, women in non-traditional trades, people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, and people with disability. 

In this regard, the JSCs will reflect their industries and wider society, giving inclusion, a voice and a space for all to be actively involved. 
 
Conclusion

The government has an ambitious plan for Jobs and Skills Australia and the Jobs and Skills Councils. 

We must grasp this opportunity to enshrine this once-in-a-generation transition to collaborative, high-quality skills and training policy design. 

I thank the house.

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