Jennifer Westacott remarks – Jobs and Skills Summit panel - Skills and training for the future labour market

02 September 2022

Event: Jennifer Westacott remarks – Jobs and Skills Summit panel - Skills and training for the future labour market
Speakers: The Hon Brendan O'Connor MP, Minister for Skills and Training; Jennifer Westacott chief executive, Business Council of Australia
Topics: Skills; competencies; apprenticeships, microcredentials; women’s participation


The Hon Brendan O'Connor MP, Minister for Skills and Training: It is my pleasure to welcome our wise and diverse group of panellists for our discussion on skills and training for the future labour market. And in the interest of time, I have asked each panellist to introduce themselves and open with a short statement of views.

Jennifer Westacott chief executive, Business Council of Australia: Good morning everyone, I’m Jennifer Westacott and I am the chief executive of the Business Council of Australia. As all of my colleagues have done – as a profound mark of respect, I acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the land we are meeting on today and pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging.

There are two highlights from yesterday. We achieved great success in making women’s participation a core economic issue, not a topic you have after lunch on day two of the summit. And secondly, every discussion went back to skills. Today it’s time for action. Catherine Livingstone yesterday put up a fabulous framework which allows us to think about this. She talked about three horizons: jobs, skills, and competencies, which build the skills of the future.

The other take out from yesterday is everything we do in skills, every dollar we spend, every decision we make has to help us get ahead of the megatrends we discussed.

I’m going to start with competencies, the things that build the skills of the future. I don’t want to get into the schools system because that would take a five day summit. But there are two or three things we could do on competencies. As Catherine said – early childhood. Let’s get on with that. We could intervene in the pathways that young people take: how they leave school, the competencies they leave with, so, they are not just getting a mark, they are leaving with a set of recognised competencies. And of course, we could completely transform careers advice.

Now let me quickly turn to skills system. We need to revitalise, refresh and properly fund the VET and TAFE system. It was fantastic to see yesterday’s announcement - 180,000 extra places, a new national skills agreement. But we need to move quickly to use that money to transform the system.

That transformation has to be about a tertiary system where we remove the cultural and funding biases that push people disproportionately into the university system or into a pathway that’s not right for them. We need to start to make the system more interoperable. By that I mean, interoperable between VET and higher education, interoperable driven by learners and employers, and interoperable between institutional learning and workplace learning. Workplace learning needs to be part of the qualifications framework, part of the way we actually train and skill people, it has to be recognised, there has to be standards, and make sure it is portable.

And where it is credentialled, where it has integrity, it should be able to potentially be used by other people. For example, both Microsoft and IBM both do digital apprenticeships – why can’t that be available to a wider group of people.

The next thing is around microcredentials. Getting the skills we need – when we need them, not waiting three years. We need a framework for microcredentials. That’s about making sure they are credible, meaningful, portable, they can be stacked, they are a supplement to the qualifications system, not a replacement model. Workplace learning needs to be part of the microcredential framework.

On top of all that, we need to rethink the apprenticeship system. The modernisation of it. Making sure we are looking at things like digital apprentices. We need to make sure we are expanding beyond the traditional dominated sectors, and we need to incentivise completion rates as much as starting points. All of that requires us to then have a digitised system. Where we can record what people have learnt, they can keep that record. It’s against a set of standards. An employer can see a candidate’s set of credentials. People can build up this body of evidence about their competencies, their capabilities, their skills, not just the qualifications they have.

Final couple of points. We talked a lot about gender, and we have some specific ideas about gender. Skills guarantees for older women workers, making sure we target digital apprentices, broaden the apprenticeship scheme. But make no mistake, fixing women’s participation isn’t about carving out a few courses for women. It’s about a fundamental premise that the skills system has to be designed to address the skills gaps and close the access problems for women across many sectors.

Then the crucial point that ACCI, the ACTU and Ai Group have called for, is that we have to revisit foundation skills. We cannot continue to deny the fact that many people who are not working to their potential or are long-term unemployed – simply don’t have the basic skills of reading, writing, spelling, numeracy and digital. So, asking those people to upskill, is simply not realistic. We have to go back to a proper foundation skills model.

So, what are we willing to do as business, to take the Treasurer’s challenge.

Firstly we, the BCA, want to work with other business groups to design an industry skills guarantee. We would commit to continue to step up on training, voluntarily reporting on the training we are doing, sharing our work-based training so they could form the basis for microcredentials, and we could commit to sharing the leading-edge courses. And then work with Jobs and Skills Australia about the skills that we need.

Secondly, we want to work with government to design a trusted trainer program. We have to recognise and give credit to many of the employers in this room who are out there and leading the pack. The idea is to strengthen the connection between training and skilled migration. See them as complements, not substitutes remembering that well-managed permanent migration adds to the skills base and creates other jobs employers who are leading on training would become trusted trainers and be able to access faster, easier, and less costly skill migration which supplements and allows them to expand and grow.

What we're doing today is essentially writing Minister, the first three months job description for Jobs and Skills Australia. We have to stop talking about it. We've got to do it. Do it step by step because all the stuff we talked about yesterday, if we want to get to the frontier, it is the skills and capabilities of people that get there. It’s the skills and capabilities that give them access to high paid jobs. It's the skills and capabilities of people that drive innovation and it's the skills and capabilities of our people that will make our country a magnet for investment. Thank you.


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