Ai Group welcomes focus on VET to drive economy

“Senator Michaelia Cash has today drawn a welcome line in the sand in placing vocational education and training on the same footing as higher education,” Ai Group Chief Executive, Innes Willox, said today.

“Australian industry is acutely aware that our transforming economy needs workers with the skills and capabilities developed through both sectors if we are to compete globally.

“Senator Cash’s speech at the National Vocational Education and Training Research Conference recognises that the VET system is critical to ensuring industry has the skilled workforce it needs to grow and to compete internationally. It provides the technicians, the tradespeople, the supervisors and the para-professionals that are needed in an Australian workforce adapting to new technologies and higher-level skills and capabilities.

“Digitalisation is transforming the economy and disrupting skill needs. Employers are facing significant skills shortages, particularly for technicians and trades with STEM capabilities, reflecting the changing tasks and jobs being created as new technologies enter all industry sectors. As with higher education, VET is under pressure to develop people with higher order STEM skills and broad enterprise skills for the digital economy. At the same time, it must develop the workers for occupations with innate people skills, such as the growing Community and Personal Services sector.

“Equally welcome is Senator Cash’s call for the VET system to better connect with industry and to have clear, consistent funding. Ai Group maintains that industry must have a stronger role at all levels to work through the current challenges dogging the system. We have previously highlighted that the funding of the VET system is inadequate, in terms of both the level and composition and its resourcing relative to both the higher education and school sectors.

“Ai Group has welcomed the recommendations of the Joyce Review, notably the implementation of a National Skills Commission, the National Careers Institute, apprenticeship reform and the pilot Skills Organisations. All these reforms strengthen VET, ensuring that industry is at the heart of the system that will be vital to develop skills for our future workforce.

“While we welcome the Government’s $525 million skills and training package, seeking amongst other measures to create up to 80,000 new apprentices, Ai Group is keen to work with the Government to implement broader reform. More can and must be done to:

  • align skills from education and training outcomes with industry needs through improved skills forecasting;
  • address critical workforce STEM skills shortages through education and skills training and funding for initiatives that enhance the VET sector’s role in filling these gaps, such as Ai Group’s Industry 4.0 Higher Apprenticeships;
  • review apprenticeship incentives, placing greater priority on high-skill occupations that will play key roles in the digital economy. In particular we call on the Government to extend the doubling of Commonwealth Employers Incentives to the engineering trades to ensure adequate trade skill development for the large defence procurement and ship building program and the supply chain;
  • support industry to develop workforce plans around their digital strategies, assess existing workers’ capabilities and train when necessary;
  • improve the foundational language, literacy, numeracy and digital skills of entrants to the workforce;
  • increase work-based and work integrated learning models underpinned by closer partnerships between industry and the education and training sector.

“Many of the challenges facing the VET sector are equally those that higher education faces. Ai Group believes there can be greater coherence between VET and higher education which would benefit the nation. Ai Group’s position paper, Realising Potential: solving Australia’s tertiary education, identifies the challenges and makes recommendations for post-secondary education in Australia.

“If the Australian economy is to continue to prosper and remain internationally competitive, it is vital to have access to a highly skilled and qualified workforce. With the rapid advance of technology and digitalisation, a higher level of skills for the workforce is more important than ever,” Mr Willox said.

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