House debates

Tuesday, 17 October 2023

Questions without Notice

Vocational Education and Training

2:14 pm

Photo of Mary DoyleMary Doyle (Aston, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

How will the landmark five-year National Skills Agreement give Australians the skills they need for the careers and opportunities of the future, after a wasted decade in skills and training?

2:15 pm

Photo of Brendan O'ConnorBrendan O'Connor (Gorton, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Skills and Training) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for Aston for her question and for her strong advocacy for the VET sector. This is the first national skills agreement we've had in this country for more than a decade, and it's going to provide the opportunities to invest in the skills sector in a way that, for too long, hasn't happened.

Upon election, we realised we had the largest skills crisis in this country that we'd seen for five decades. It didn't matter what area of the economy or labour market you looked at, you saw there were shortages. This approach to negotiating effectively—unlike those opposite—with state and territory governments started at the Jobs and Skills Summit. That tone meant that we then could, I believe, collaborate in good faith amongst all nine governments to deliver this agreement. It's really important that we do deliver this agreement, as the shortages are as deep as they are wide in our economy. Whether it's traditional trades or the care economy, we needed to do more.

I think, for too long, we've seen the Commonwealth act more like a funding body than a strategic partner in the investment of skills in the VET sector. For that reason, you need an agreement to bring about the reforms to make sure the VET sector, along with the other tertiary sector that my friend the Minister for Education is working on, is fit for purpose. Without these reforms through this agreement, that would not happen.

First and foremost, we need to have a VET sector which has TAFE at its heart—a public provider working with industry and the universities to provide the skills that are necessary. We also want to see centres of excellence that will bring together the two tertiary sectors, universities and VET, because it's increasingly the case that you need jobs for the future that have technical skills and conceptual knowledge. The idea that you delineate these two areas of expertise, skills and knowledge is a misnomer and outdated. Through these centres of excellence we will see a greater collaboration between universities, TAFEs and other VET providers, and I look forward to that.

We also need to see different courses delivered, and higher apprenticeships, because we do understand that, for example, if you look at the changing nature of the energy sector—the transformation that's happening there—we need to see people that are acquiring a different set of skills along with the traditional skills and knowledge. That is what is needed and that's what we want to deliver under this agreement. We will also, of course, provide more opportunities for women in male dominated areas, opportunities for opening up access to First Nations people and people with disabilities, and investment in foundation skills. It is a frightening statistic to think that one in five adults in this country have foundational skills problems, and this will be a priority area, too—to provide opportunities for them. We've got a lot to do, but this is a very good day for the VET sector.