Australia’s Jobs and Skills Summit – How Could Australia’s Employment and VET (TVET) System Evolve?

Leading into the Jobs and Skills Summit on 1-2 September 2022 at Parliament House, Canberra, the fact that it is being led by the Prime Minister and Treasurer is significant.

Supported by other key ministers such as the Finance Minister and Minister for Women Katy Gallagher, who will have a particular focus on the labour market experiences of women, along with Ministers Burke, Rishworth, O’Connor, O’Neil and Husic, shows the importance of labour and skills shortages across the whole Australian economy.

Read on for context as well as future predictions…

Announced in July 2022,

“The Summit will bring together Australians, including unions, employers, civil society and governments to address our shared economic challenges.

The Summit will cover a range of topics with a focus on:

  • Keeping unemployment low, boosting productivity and raising incomes
  • Delivering secure, well‑paid jobs and strong, sustainable wages growth
  • Expanding employment opportunities for all Australians including the most disadvantaged
  • Addressing skills shortages and getting our skills mix right over the long‑term
  • Improving migration settings to support higher productivity and wages
  • Maximising jobs and opportunities from renewable energy, tackling climate change, the digital economy, the care economy and a Future Made in Australia
  • Ensuring women have equal opportunities and equal pay.”

The Release of Jobs and Skills Summit issues paper on 17 August 2022, covers five broad themes:

  1. maintaining full employment and growing productivity
  2. boosting job security and wages
  3. lifting participation and reducing barriers to employment
  4. delivering a high‑quality labour force through skills, training and migration
  5. maximising opportunities in the industries of the future.

There is an overarching focus on women’s experiences of the labour market and the challenge of ensuring women have equal opportunities and equal pay.

Roundtable discussions are being held in communities across Australia, hearing local perspectives on the challenges in the labour market.

“The goal of the Summit is to find common ground on how Australia can build a bigger, better trained and more productive workforce; boost real wages and living standards; and create more opportunities for more Australians.

The Summit is the first stage in the process.  Ideas raised at the Summit may also be explored further through the White Paper on Employment (the White Paper), which will map a comprehensive blueprint for Australia’s future labour market.”

Seems that Treasury is involved to aid investment and provide an evidence-based approach, for example:

  • Businesses are experiencing difficulties finding employees, with only one unemployed person per job vacancy, compared to three unemployed people per vacancy pre-COVID-19.
  • Real wages have grown by only 0.1 per cent per year over the past decade and have declined substantially over the past year.
  • The proportion of employees covered by enterprise agreements has decreased from a peak of 43.4 per cent in 2010 to 35.1 per cent in 2021.
  • Only 2 per cent of workers covered by agreements are employed by small business and bargained outcomes are higher for men than women on average.
  • The unemployment rate of working-age people with disability remains twice as high as that for people without disability and survey evidence indicates around half of Australian managers and HR professionals have never hired or worked with a person with disability.
  • First Nations people are approximately 25 percentage points less likely to attain a year 12 or equivalent qualification than other Australians, and those living in outer-regional areas are 17 per cent less likely than those in major cities.
  • 28 per cent of the population are digitally excluded and less than half of professional workers feel competent with handling digital information and problem-solving using data.
  • 42 per cent of technician and trade occupations are currently facing a skills shortage compared to 19 per cent for all assessed occupations. Completion rates for trade apprentices declined to 54 per cent for those who commenced in 2017, 5 percentage points lower than completion rates for those commencing in 2013. Skills shortages are projected to continue in technician and trade occupations, as well as other occupations.

The areas of wage growth is interesting as many employers are currently paying above award rates and have increased salaries and hourly rates to be more attractive to the current and potential workforce.  This needs some further detailed investigation as perhaps it relates to certain industry sectors, locations or demographic factors such as gender.

It is likely that the Australian Government will prioritise programs and solutions addressing barriers for,

“…women, First Nations people, people with disability, older Australians, migrants and refugees, and those living in certain regional and remote areas face specific barriers to entering the workforce.”

Priorities will probably also relate to specific industries such as the care and education sectors.

When this Australian Government says “full employment” it would be a key question to know the answer to in terms of definition – what ideal workforce participation rate, what target unemployment rate and/or is this measured in another way such as workforce productivity?

Read> What will Unemployment Rates With a 3 in Front of it do for Labour and Skills Shortages in Australia?

An issue for discussion includes a shared vision and coordinated actions to increase productivity growth are key to increasing real wages.  What actions can be taken to boost productivity growth across the economy?  And how can we best take advantage of structural changes like digitalisation, climate change, the shift to renewable energy, the ageing population, and growth in the services sector and care economy to boost productivity and sustain full employment?

On boosting job security and wages, there is likely to be reforms related to enterprise agreements, gender pay equity, casual and gig economy work arrangements, working multiple jobs, wage theft and compliance with workplace minimum standards, workplace discrimination and harassment.

Lifting participation and reducing barriers to employment, will address childcare, support for older workers, reviewing the newly implemented Workforce Australia Employment Services framework, and representation of women.

Delivering a high-quality labour force through skills, training and migration, requires targeted migration that is streamlined, and multiple skilled occupation lists.

“To realise the productive capacity of our economy over the longer-term, we need to establish an effective skills and education system that better reflects the needs of the economy and is supported by industry investment in training and a responsive migration system.”

Maximising opportunities in the industries of the future (renewable energy and the digital and care economies, net-zero economy, green products and services, agriculture and food, manufacturing, STEM occupations) is perhaps the most exciting component of the discussion, rather than only looking at the current state and instead growth sectors like tech and the application of new discovery technologies.

But what are the top 13 (Perry’s dozen) predictions or actions, amongst a sea of suggestions and recommendations?

In alpha order:

  1. Care Sector
  2. Circular Economy and Climate Change; Social Enterprise and Capital
  3. Cyber Security and Tech
  4. Energy including Hydrogen
  5. Entrepreneurship and Innovation – integrated and embedded as self-employment alongside job-employment
  6. Human Services and Homelessness
  7. Indigenous Businesses and Education
  8. International Benchmarking of the Vocational Education and Training (VET) System to be relevant with rapid product development (i.e., not the long drawn out and inefficient process that there is in place for the development and review of competencies, qualifications and Training Packages now) and validation; future focussed curriculum and Training Packages that draw upon global skills databases and systems such as EMSI; Microcredentials yes but please read this blog; and Industry Clusters – Time for Alternate Arrangements
  9. Regional Development
  10. Trade and Export
  11. Workforce Capacity – carers and parents supported through childcare, before/after school care, working from home and flexible work arrangements; additional leave (for wellness days, being proactive on physical and mental health); migration numbers to be lifted; and tapping into latent workforce potential; plus Pensioners and seniors should be rewarded for their contribution and commitment not penalised
  12. Women and Female Founders – from startup to scaleup; menstrual and menopause leave; support through processes such as IVF; leave for loss and compassionate leave; return to work programs after a career or leave break
  13. Veterans, Serving Members and Families

Now there is much to be across including:

What recommendations would you make regarding the Jobs and Skills Summit here in Canberra where the city is quite abuzz!  And consultation with What and Who Are “Big Deals” in VET will be important.

And it is suggested that you watch the # feed for - #jobsandskillssummit #TeamDEWR @Australian Government Department of Employment and Workplace Relations plus all the pollies, Ministers, unions and peak bodies #jobsandskillsnerds

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