Release type: Speech


Keynote address - ‘Skills for Tomorrow: Technology or Training’ event


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

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I am pleased to join you today to discuss how we can continue to work together to grow the housing sector and fill the pipeline of skilled workers to support the industry’s future.

The HIA is recognised within and outside government as one of the most effective industry associations in this country.

You are driving forward a crucial industry which is a vital source of national economic growth, jobs and innovation.

By building homes, you contribute to the Australian dream — helping every day Australians own their own homes and build their families’ financial future.

I know there are ongoing challenges across the residential construction sector concerning safety and licensing, expanding sustainably as the population grows, adapting to changing technology, housing affordability and even the impacts of stamp duty.

The list of issues is long, but I congratulate the HIA for the positive and constructive contributions you are making to resolve these issues, including convening this conference which I am sure will lead to further positive progress.

Our focus today is on an issue which is fundamental to the future of the sector.

How can we best provide the pipeline of appropriately skilled workers so that the always, innovating residential construction sector not just survives, but thrives?

This is a big challenge, but one we have to get right.

New technology and changing consumer preferences are shaking up your industry, and we have to find the dynamic balance so the sector grows strongly and sustainable.

A crucial element of that is ensuring that all businesses — large, small and family-owned — are growing and thriving. That’s why the Australian Government has committed to the creation of 1.25 million jobs over the next four years.

It’s a target that challenges all of us to have confidence in the future of this country and work together to expand the economy.

Like you, the Prime Minister understands that this will only be achieved if we recognise and support the contribution of small and family businesses and that’s why he has specifically appointed Senator Michaelia Cash with this responsibility.

Family and small businesses are not only supporting the residential sector, they are the driving force of job creation in the Australian economy.

If even every tenth small business put on one extra employee this would be a huge economic expansion by itself.

 With 30 years’ experience in small business, I know that small business owners and managers are usually busy with the day‑to-day operation of their business, and need support to find the skilled, workers you need.

So I am excited to be here today to tell you about our plans to help you build this skilled, flexible and innovative workforce through a new VET system, including a new vision for apprenticeships.

I will echo the words of Minister Cash who recently told the National VET Research Conference that she was passionate about lifting the profile of vocational education and that it is a valuable career choice for many Australians and should not be seen as less important than a university degree.

I feel we are seeing positive progress in this area and there’s also growing recognition of the contribution VET can make in better meeting the needs of employers, workers and customers.

But we can, and should do more to ensure VET is recognised as an attractive first choice for school leavers, for people thinking of changing careers, and also people who are looking to up-skill in their current job.

The $525 million package announced in this year’s Budget is a new beginning for vocational education and training in this country.

It was clear that the time for tinkering around the edges had passed and we needed a fresh approach incorporating a clear and positive path forward for VET.

Our Delivering Skills for Today and Tomorrow package responds to the review of the VET system undertaken by Steven Joyce for us last year.

Our aim is for VET to be responsive to changing industry requirements and future-focussed.

We want VET to be seen as a trusted and equal partner with higher education in the success and outcomes from Australia’s tertiary system.

And not least, it should provide high quality training, which is well-matched to the skills you need. 

The Joyce Review of VET found that fundamental change is required to lift confidence in the VET system as a whole.

Australia’s VET sector must connect better with industry, reflect community requirements, and be supported with consistent funding arrangements.

That’s why the Government’s new skills agenda recognises that VET is a shared responsibility, and is encouraging all VET sector stakeholders to work together more closely and responsively.

The theme of this conference — Skills for Tomorrow: Technology or Training – highlights a crucial issue that must be addressed cooperatively by everyone involved.

Technology is changing job roles and it is not enough just to train new entrants in the latest techniques and approaches.

The VET system also needs to be helping current workers to update their skills, so that employers can develop their existing workforce rather than letting people go and hiring others with the skills they need.

In this way, businesses will be supported by a skilled and flexible workforce that can reap the benefits for the business from technological advances, while supporting business growth.

A flagship initiative within the Skills package is the establishment of a $36 million National Skills Commission to help bridge the gaps between the sector, industries, students and the community.

The Commission has a critical leadership role, charged with engaging with the VET sector and working collaboratively with the Commonwealth, states and territories to review and improve the current funding arrangements.

The role also includes identifying future skill needs and establishing an efficient price for training. 

Working in coordination with the Commission, will be a series of Skills Organisations, which will lead industry workforce planning to align training with industry skill needs and employment pathways.

It’s vital that we strengthen the pathway to employment, particularly for young Australians.

That’s why our Skills Package includes substantial funding to establish ten Training Hubs across Australia as part of a pilot program to tackle youth unemployment in key regions by building better connections between local businesses, industries and schools.

Training Hubs will be established in these regions to help local young people to engage in vocational education and training, and to develop the skills suited to occupations in local industries.

We’ve also created a National Careers Institute to bring together information about career pathways, and provide a framework for quality career guidance on a national scale.

The advice provided will be accurate, straight forward, and consistent. 

Importantly, the Institute will help connect more than half a million young Australians who are not fully engaged in work or study with industries that are struggling to find skilled employees.

A Careers Ambassador will also be appointed to work on behalf of the Institute, to connect with tertiary providers, schools and industry to identify gaps in services, and promote opportunities to improve community and employer awareness of the VET sector.

Our VET Information Strategy is addressing misconceptions around VET and promoting the opportunities that come from completing a VET qualification.

We are also establishing a competitive grants program to foster innovative partnerships between industry, schools, and providers.

The grants will be worth up to $350,000 each and will be awarded to education and training projects which align best with industry needs.

Being a qualified electrician myself, I have a passionate interest in the success of the Australian apprenticeship system.

So I was delighted to be given ministerial responsibility within the Morrison Government for apprenticeships and VET.

Among other measures in the Skills package, we’re 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 will help create and support up to 80,000 new apprenticeships over five years.

Occupations eligible for the payment include carpenters and joiners, plumbers, bricklayers, plasterers and tilers, so this is a terrific initiative to support businesses in the residential construction sector to take on apprentices, with up to $4,000 in financial support in addition existing programs.

We are directly addressing immediate skills shortages that workforce and industry are facing right now, and so VET qualifications keep pace with changing technology and the needs of industry.

From 1 July next year, it will be simpler for employers to claim incentives under the new Incentives for Australian Apprenticeships scheme.

We’ve also doubled the size of the successful Australian Apprentice Wage Subsidy Trial to support up to 3,200 Australians living in our regions with the opportunity of an apprenticeship.

Our overall aim is to grow the apprenticeships system and build the skilled workforce Australia needs to remain competitive in an international market.

Since taking on this portfolio, I’ve been hearing some very useful views and insights from a range of people about how we can improve Australian apprenticeships and I’m looking forward to working through these issues with you all.

I am excited by the work we have underway to shake up and support the VET sector so employers, industries, students and local communities are ready for the future.

We are really just at the beginning of a long process of transforming VET and it’s crucial that everyone involved shares their insights and gets involved in offering ways to better meet future workforce needs, particularly in areas of skills shortage.

The HIA already does an outstanding job of working with the Government to grow the residential construction sector and the economy as a whole.

The Government will continue to work closely with industry partners like the HIA to reform and improve the VET system to create a more prosperous Australia.