Monday, 19 June 2017
Standing Committee on Employment, Education and Training; Report
On behalf of the Standing Committee on Employment, Education and Training, I present the committee's report entitled Inquiry into innovation and creativity: workforce for the new economy, together with the minutes of proceedings.
Report made a parliamentary paper in accordance with standing order 39(e).
On behalf of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Employment, Education and Training, I presented the report of the committee entitled Inquiry into innovation and creativity: workforce for the new economy, together with the minutes of proceedings. This was an inquiry referred to us by Minister Birmingham to ensure Australia's tertiary education system, including universities and public and private providers of vocational education and training, can meet the needs of our future labour force, with a real focus on innovation and creativity, something which we picked up on in the previous parliament.
This inquiry and the report comes at a time when there is a promising innovation ecosystem in Australia. Innovative companies are now recognised on a global stage. It has been the role of government to support these companies and to maximise their propensity to drive the research behind their products. In so doing, government needs to ensure that the policies and programs that it implements are as effective as possible. To that end, the report makes 38 recommendations.
The Prime Minister's National Innovation and Science Agenda—or NISA, to those that adore it—outlines a framework for Australian innovation policy and provides significant national focus and direction. For this reason, it was timely to examine the precursors of innovation and creativity in the workforce. That starts, as we all understand, at school level and goes right through to the innovation frontline in both industry and start-ups. In building young minds for the world in which they will work, it is critical that their knowledge foundation, from where they begin their education, is absolutely solid, and most of this starts at the primary school level or even before. That foundation is essential so that they can meet the challenges of a changing workforce.
The committee's report confirms that the quantity and the quality of our university STEM graduates is utterly dependent on the quality of STEM education in schools. Too often we found that STEM subjects, particularly maths, are not being taught by qualified teachers who have a specific proficiency in these subjects. This report proposes that we do something about that. We proposed that CSIRO and ANSTO develop a pilot STEM role model program and assess the impact. We proposed that the government, through COAG, develop a systematic approach to career advice which can be externally and independently assessed. And we have proposed, as I mentioned before, that we examine the mismatch where STEM teaching is occurring under non-STEM trained teachers, that we fix it and that we commit to phasing that out within five years, increasing the likelihood that teachers that are in the STEM area have STEM qualifications.
The committee also recommended that the Australian government develop online credentialing so that teachers can independently go out and improve their STEM qualifications, and that they can do that online in their own time and be supported in doing it. We recommended that university education facilities work with their states to produce workforce estimates about the kinds of STEM skills we are going to need and report them publicly, provide STEM enhancement strategies for preservice course work, particularly for teachers, and start to collect more data on how many maths and science teachers are actually being qualified by respective education faculties. We have recommended that COAG work with the jurisdictions to ensure every school has a STEM specialist; that STEM professional development programs are available for teaching staff wherever they are in Australia; that we guide principals in being leaders in STEM; that—as I expect my deputy chair to refer to—we recognise the importance of STEM; and, lastly, that we talk to universities about where maths must remain a prerequisite so that it sends a very clear signal to schools about the importance of these areas.
The committee's view is that vocational education is just as important in both the university sector and the TAFE sector. So we have included important evidence about private sector start-ups and others that are most exposed to these changes in our workforce. We took this imposing task head on and acknowledged the challenges that workforce planners have. We noted that, apart from a handful of collocated institutions, there are still insufficient connections between universities and TAFEs. In higher education, students will benefit from more opportunities in work integrated learning as well.
This work was done thanks to the very detailed contributions made by witnesses and those who presented to our committee. I want to thank my deputy chair and all of the members on our committee. I also want to thank our secretariat: Julie Agostino, Richard Grant, Robert Little, Samantha Leahy, Rebeka Mills, Katrina Gillogly and Kelly Bert. Thank you very much.
I also rise to speak to the tabling of the report from the Standing Committee on Employment, Education and Training, Inquiry into innovation and creativity: workforce for the new economy. Like the chair, I take the opportunity to thank all of the members of the committee—there were many during the inquiry; it was a long inquiry—and I also want to take the opportunity to thank our secretariat. I note that Mr Little is with us here today in the chamber, and I thank him for his work. I also thank all of the other members of the secretariat that the member for Bowman mentioned. I also thank the member for Bowman for his leadership in this inquiry. It was a pleasure to be a part of this inquiry and to be a part of preparing this report.
Education helps equip future workers with the skills that they will need for the jobs and the businesses of the future. It also helps create citizens. People need to be equipped with knowledge and skills to help their future participation in society. For both of these ends decisive action is needed so that formal education can serve individuals' interests and also the national interest.
This was a wide-ranging inquiry that went to a range of the skills matters that are needed for the jobs and businesses of the future. As the chair mentioned, there was a significant focus on the arts and creative industries from amongst the submitters, and the report expressly and explicitly acknowledges the significance and importance of the arts and creative industries in the context of developing science, technology, engineering and maths skills; obviously, we refer to the acronym STEAM, which includes arts amongst those other skills. Other submitters would add other letters to the acronym—most relevantly, entrepreneurialism, the ESTEAM that we hear speak of, and there are others.
That is important to remember, because sometimes when you hear the acronym STEM you can think that it is quite a narrow focus. In fact, we are talking about skills that will be needed across occupations, across jobs, across industries and across sectors. As important as science, technology, engineering and maths will be arts and creative skills. In fact, some of the submitters identified the need for more champions for the arts within government and picked up on their concern about the absence of arts and creative industries from their perception of the absence of those things from the National Innovation and Science Agenda. It is something that will require further thought and I hope that our report will kick off some discussion about those issues.
The committee was also very keen to ensure that training via vocational education and training is at the heart of the National Innovation and Science Agenda. As the chair said, we are interested in the ways that people can move between vocational education and university education, and higher education more broadly. Our focus was on permeability not hierarchy. We do not seek to establish a hierarchy between higher education and vocational education and training, and the language, carefully, is aimed at describing movement between not moving up to or moving in a hierarchical way between those two sectors. We believe there will be an increasing focus on making sure there is that permeability between those two forms of training and education.
Providing relevant skills that respond to employer needs is a large focus of this report, of course, but that should not be read as suggesting that the purpose and mission of education is limited to making people job ready. Economic participation facilitates democratic and social participation as well. So while job readiness is very important—crucial, in the focus of this report—it also serves a much broader aim.
This report makes a range of recommendations for change and, as I said, decisive action is needed. As I also said, a focus is better integration between university and vocational education and, specifically, TAFE. But we also focus on a range of things that will help with better integration with industry: work integrated learning, gender equity, making sure that maths is taught in schools, and entrepreneurialism. These are all things that are canvassed in this report. We have also seen, in the course of this report, opportunities for industry collaboration and creative industries that could be better developed. That would also invite a stronger focus on creative industries—more broadly, by government—and I am very pleased that the report recommends that the Australian government introduce a funding scheme based on the former Australian Interactive Games Fund, which was, unfortunately, cut in the 2014 budget. At the time, I spoke out against those cuts and I am pleased that this report recommends the reinstatement of that scheme.