Release type: Speech


VET reforms that support a skilled workforce — 2020 — the year of action


The Hon Steve Irons MP
Assistant Minister for Vocational Education, Training and Apprenticeships

Check against delivery


Good morning everyone.

It’s great to be here with you today, to provide the opening address and speak about how 2020 is the year of action in delivering the Government’s extensive improvement program for vocational education and training.

Having ministerial responsibility for VET and apprenticeships is something I cherish.

I started out as a sparkie many years ago, and I often ponder how that qualification and the wisdom of my teachers has supported and sustained me throughout my career.

My son Jarrad also began his working life as an apprentice so it’s been great to share with him some of the lessons I also learned on the football field about teamwork as the key to success on any of life’s playing fields.

It’s endlessly exciting for me to see education transforming lives and giving people the skills and capability to do their work well, to make good decisions, and then to be able to continue learning throughout their life.

So it’s a pleasure to come full circle now as Minister and work with so many people committed to helping young people to realise their potential through the gift of education, just as I received that gift during my apprenticeship as an electrician and on the football field.

Before I go further, I want to pause and make mention of the incredible work of our RFS and the determination of communities to rebuild after the devastating bushfires.

I also applaud all ITECA members for how you strengthen individual capability and local communities through the transformative power of skills training and education.

The work you undertake every day contributes to successful and responsive local and regional development.

Through your commitment to quality and innovation, you are also making a vital contribution to Australia’s economy and national wellbeing.  

Training is an investment in the future that promotes optimism and builds resilience, encouraging the capacity to manage change and bounce back in challenging times.

This is especially relevant as we recover and rebuild from these bushfires and also the floods up north.

Some of you will have been directly affected or know someone who has been.

This is a difficult time for many people across the country.  

We have established a National Bushfire Recovery Agency funded with an initial $2 billion to work with the States and Territories to ensure families, farmers and business owners are supported.

There will be long-term challenges for many communities, including in training, education and workforce participation.

I know the local knowledge and networks of RTOs will be important in providing rebuilding and resilience measures tailored to local communities.

You will have a key role in supporting the rebuilding of homes, facilities and infrastructure by providing high-quality and responsive VET skills training for students, trainees and apprentices.

More broadly, as the nature of work in Australia changes, we need flexible and applied ways of learning, so Australian workers are ready for all the opportunities of today and tomorrow.

When I completed my qualification, it was a very different era in terms of how VET and apprenticeships were valued and delivered.

What I am seeing now is that businesses, providers and students recognise how work and careers are changing and are ready for and seeking sensible improvements to VET.

This means workers able to train and retrain as needed for changing opportunities; businesses can be confident they have a pipeline of skilled workers available so they can expand or innovate; and VET qualifications are appropriately recognised as having high value.

I think by now most of you will be aware of our ambitious but achievable $585 million package of improvements for the sector, called Delivering Skills for Today and Tomorrow.

Our approach recognises the importance of building on the current VET system, including the complementary capabilities of independent and government providers.

The National Skills Commission is one of the flagship initiatives in the package, and through our national consultation process we have acted on your views on how it should work and the need for effective leadership in this area.

As an important first step we appointed Adam Boyton as the Interim National Skills Commissioner.

The Commission will formally commence on 1 July when it will really start driving long-term improvements to the VET sector.

This will include undertaking research and analysis of future skills needs across industry to ensure government funding addresses national labour market priorities, including those arising from developing technologies.

What’s important is that the Commission complements and enhances the existing VET system, working to improve coordination, increase efficiency, and enable local and regional solutions.

As Interim Commissioner, Adam Boyton is already leading critical technical work to determine a robust evidence base for improvements to the Australian VET system, including reviewing the effectiveness of incentives to increase apprenticeship numbers.

He is also developing efficient pricing model options and preparing to forecast future skills demand.

Within the Delivering Skills for Today and Tomorrow package, our skills organisation pilots are an exciting new approach to effecting practical change in key industries, starting with human services care, digital technology and mining.

The first two skills organisation pilots, for the human services care and digital technology industries, commenced last December.

The initial phase of these pilots is being led by small steering groups that will undertake some projects and collaboration with industry on the development of a detailed design of a long-term model for the pilots.

As part of the detailed design, each steering group will consider a diversity of views across industry sectors, geographic locations and small to medium sized business.

These Skills Organisations pilots provide a crucial opportunity for you as providers and everyone in these industries to trial new ways of working, while looking for opportunities to make sure training is tailored to the needs of employers and the economy as a whole.

To give you an idea of why we are starting with these sectors, demand for care-related occupations is expected to increase by over 100,000 jobs in the next five years alone.

We can all see that digital technologies are essential to Australia’s economy, with demand for ICT professionals and telecommunications technicians projected to increase by an additional 71,000 workers by 2024.

And as many of you may know, mining accounted for one fifth of Australia’s GDP growth in 2018, employing more than a quarter of a million people, with many of those employees located in regional, rural and remote communities.

We are collaborating with the Minerals Council of Australia on early industry engagement as we establish this Skills Organisation pilot.

The third major initiative of the Skills Package is the National Careers Institute which was established on 1 July last year.

And what it will be doing is ensuring Australians have access to high quality career information and support.

Regardless of age or stage, navigating career, education and training decisions can be complex and the wealth of competing information can often make it harder to understand and compare options.

Quality career development support assists people to find meaningful employment, and often the search for information starts online.

That is why, later this year, we will launch a digital information platform to ensure people have access to accurate and authoritative careers information and advice on learning, training and work pathways.

The digital platform will provide people with a ‘front door’ to the range of information available and help them navigate information and decisions as they develop and manage their own careers.

As the world of work continues to change, ensuring people can access up to date, easy to understand information is only becoming more important.

The National Careers Institute will also administer a partnership grants program, with grants of up to $350,000 per year for education providers, employment providers, industry and local government.

The grant funding will support collaborative projects that improve careers information and address service and pathway gaps by enhancing partnerships between industry, employers, schools and tertiary providers.

Applications for funding will open in the next few months.

Last year we also announced Scott Cam as the inaugural National Careers Ambassador to promote the work of the National Careers Institute and highlight the advantages of the VET system in supporting individuals to train, retrain and upskill.

With the Ambassador, the Institute will also share the success stories of over 450 people, businesses and organisations through the Australian VET Alumni and UNESCO-recognised Australian Apprenticeships Ambassadors Program.

The Alumni bring the benefits of VET home to people through relatable personal experiences and strengthen awareness of the success and rewards vocational education and training can provide to both individuals and organisations.

The importance of employers in the VET system and helping people build rewarding careers has not been forgotten.

Last year I launched an Employer Engagement Program that promotes the benefits of hiring and training people with VET qualifications. 

With businesses like Qantas and LeadLease signed up already, demonstrating their commitment to careers for VET graduates. I look forward to getting more employers on board this year to champion the advantages a VET qualification provides in pursuing a rewarding career.

The Institute is also committed to engaging with a wide range of stakeholders.

Our new NCI engagement-Hub enables people to follow and shape the work of the National Careers Institute through a range of consultation topics.

I encourage everyone here today to sign up to the e-Hub so that we can hear your ideas to draw on existing data sources, address service gaps and drive innovation to determine efficient ways to align with labour market needs and opportunities.

I was delighted to be given ministerial responsibility within the Morrison Government for apprenticeships, due to my personal interest in the success of the Australian apprenticeship system.

As well as the other big-ticket items in the Skills Package,we are also investing $156 million in an Additional Identified Skills Shortage payment to eligible apprentices and their employers in ten occupations experiencing national skills shortages.

This new payment commenced on 1 July last year and is expected to deliver up to 80,000 additional apprenticeships over five years.

And from 1 July this year, it will be simpler for employers to claim incentives under a simplified and streamlined Incentives for Australian Apprenticeships program.

We’ve also expanded the successful Australian Apprentice Wage Subsidy Trial to support some 3200 Australian employers in rural and regional Australia to grow their businesses.  

There’s more I haven’t mentioned, and of course you will be hearing directly from Saxon Rice today about the reforms she is driving at ASQA which are a vital complement to the other work underway as part our Skills Package.

But before I finish I just want to mention an important committee we have established so that we can hear directly from stakeholders.

Nineteen organisations are included on the VET Stakeholder Committee. I am really pleased that ITECA is represented by CEO Troy Williams and I encourage you to participate by getting in touch with him to share your views and needs.

The committee meets regularly and I am sure that he would be more than happy to pass on your views for how VET can perform better, and how you can assist in rebuilding after the bushfires.

Indeed, I know this audience will not be short of expertise or ideas for improving VET, and also how you can assist in rebuilding after the bushfires.

My message to you today is that you will find the Government receptive and keen to understand your views and needs.

I wish you well with the rest of today’s summit.