Jobs and Skills Summit
16 January 2023
September’s Jobs and Skills Summit – the first such summit since the Hawke ALP government of the 1980s – rightfully recognised TAFE from the outset. The first major commitment made at the summit was a $1.1 billion package on TAFE agreed to by federal and state governments for TAFE in 2023 and accelerated delivery of 465,000 fee-free TAFE places, as well as ensuring that TAFE is restored to its rightful place as the anchor institution of quality vocational education. This is a big win for members and there is no doubt that the AEU’s Rebuild with TAFE campaign objectives are a priority for the Albanese government.
Across the board, participants at the Summit shared the recognition that you can’t discuss jobs without discussing skills and vocational education, and that TAFE was invaluable for Australian education.
Highlights of the event included the strength of the union movement at the summit – the AEU was part of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) delegation that consisted of 34 unions voicing the needs of working Australians and their families. This was an invigorating and welcome change compared to the previous federal government.
The summit’s tripartite approach of bringing unions, government and industry together to form solutions was key to its success. The sense of hope that filtered through the room as issues focussed on opportunities for people in terms of access to lifelong learning, career pathways and workforce participation, as well as for workers to have a voice through unions and collective bargaining.
Coming out of the summit, the prime minister committed to 36 immediate initiatives, including the TAFE announcement; modernising Australia’s workplace relations laws to make bargaining accessible for all workers and businesses; amending the Fair Work Act to strengthen access to flexible working arrangements, make unpaid parental leave more flexible and strengthen protections for workers against discrimination and harassment; and improving access to jobs and training pathways for women, First Nations people, regional Australians and culturally and linguistically diverse people; amongst others.
Overall, the Jobs and Skills Summit provided the opportunity for all of us to come together to find
solutions for the future, for workers, for employers, for students – and for TAFE.
AEU federal president Correna Haythorpe’s speech at the 2022 Jobs and Skills Summit.
It is a privilege to walk and learn together on Ngunnawal Ngambri country and I pay my respects to the elders past and present as well as acknowledge the elders of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who are here with us today.
Prime Minister, your announcement yesterday of a $1.1 billion package for TAFE sent a strong message to Australia about the importance of TAFE with respect to jobs and skills and it was heard by our members, the TAFE teaching workforce and certainly by the students of Australia.
Building and investing in the skills and capacity of our national labour market is critical to creating greater economic and social opportunity in Australia. Yet it’s been nine long years for TAFE. The Coalition government had no coherent plan for skills or migration, largely leaving it to individual employers to set the course with dismal learning outcomes and economic results and a demoralised workforce.
Vocational education and training (VET) is the foundation of our broader skills system and it needs to be a core part of our workforce’s development strategy and be properly integrated into our overall tertiary education and training system.
Investing in skilling and reskilling Australians is a priority we share with employers and all beneficiaries of an efficient and effective national education and training system have a responsibility to contribute, aided by appropriate supports and incentives.
But the VET system has fragmented – it has been underfunded and run down. It does not provide a holistic picture of skill needs and is not integrated with industry policy.
The voice of industry, both unions and employers, is essential to our national skills and training systems success, and needs to be heard at every level of the system.
Jobs and Skills Australia, as a newly established, independent tripartite body, needs the resources to assess skills shortages and carry out workforce planning. It also needs the authority to help coordinate skilled migration – to ensure that this complements rather than undermines our skills system. TAFE has a strong social contract to our communities but it must be backed by governments to fulfil that contract. We need to rebuild TAFE as the centre of the VET system by guaranteeing public funding for TAFE.
We also need to invest in the TAFE teaching workforce, pay teachers more and encourage a range of industry experts to move into the TAFE sector.
Australia’s system for apprenticeships and other on-the-job training can be world leading but needs to be reinvigorated, expanded, adapted and supported to meet workforce needs now and into the future, including in digital skills with increasing digitalisation requiring enhanced and portable skills across industries and between related industries. And we need to support increased uptake and completion of apprentices and traineeships by a Commonwealth-funded 50 per cent wage subsidy directed to both employers and employees, including retention bonuses and apprenticeship support with the creation of a National Apprenticeship Advocate.
Next Tuesday is National TAFE Day, and we will be celebrating and recognising the awesome TAFE teaching workforce right across the country and I ask you all to join with us on the day and celebrate TAFE for the incredible public institution it is.
Critical checklist for our Prime Minister
- Build and invest in the skills and capacity of our national labour market
- The foundation of our broader skills system, Vocational education and training (VET), needs to be a core part of our workforce’s development strategy
- Invest in skilling and reskilling Australians with an efficient and effective national education and training system
- The voice of industry, both unions and employers, is essential to our national skills and training systems success, and needs to be heard
- The independent tripartite body, Jobs and Skills Australia, needs authority as well as the resources to assess skills shortages and carry out workforce planning
- We also need to invest in the TAFE teaching workforce, pay teachers more and encourage a range of industry experts to move into the TAFE sector
- Australia’s system for apprenticeships and other on-the-job training can be world leading but needs to be reinvigorated
This article was originally published in The Australian TAFE Teacher, Summer 2022