Release type: Speech


National Defence Industry Skilling and Workforce Summit


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

*Check against delivery*

Thank you to Dr Kearnan for the warm introduction.

I’d also like to acknowledge the Hon Melissa Price MP, Minister for Defence Industry, and thank her for the invitation to speak at this gathering.

It’s a pleasure to be here today to contribute to the discussion about how we can create the workforce needed to support our future defence capability in Australia.

For all our interstate visitors, welcome to my electorate of Swan, and I hope you are enjoying your time in this beautiful city.

Perth is an important hub for our defence capability and operations, and in providing skilled workers to maintain that defence capability.

I see investing in Australia’s defence industry as providing a double benefit.

Other sectors of the economy do create jobs and grow the economy, but defence industry also contributes to the security of the nation.

That’s why the Coalition Government’s $200 billion investment in defence capability is money well spent.

As the Assistant Minister for Vocational Education, Training and Apprenticeships, I recognise the importance of getting the most out of this huge investment by facilitating a pipeline of skilled workers so that defence firms have the ability to expand and innovate.

In addition to committing to defence spending, the Morrison Government is also working to ensure that our VET system is responsive to the needs of defence industry and provides opportunities for Australians to undertake high quality training and apprenticeships.

To be most effective, this can’t be a one-way operation.

We need defence firms to be actively considering their current and future skills needs and to work with government and other stakeholders to ensure that there is a pipeline of skilled workers available. 

I know the Minister for Employment, Senator the Hon Michaelia Cash will speak tomorrow about our high-level plans to improve VET in Australia.

This is a key part of the Morrison Government’s strong agenda for growing the economy.

Today I will focus on how the Government is improving support for Australian Apprenticeships and I’ll also be encouraging you, as Defence Industry leaders, to become involved in the important work currently underway in the VET sector.

Both Minister Cash and I see VET as a valuable career choice for Australians.  VET should not be seen as being less important or less worthy than a university degree.

I am a product of VET.  I’m a sparky who started as an apprentice.  I then ran my own business for a few decades, hiring and training apprentices.  I know the challenges but I also know the benefits.

That’s why I’m passionate about VET and about driving improvements to the system.

And I think we are seeing positive progress and a growing recognition of the contribution that VET can make in better meeting the needs of employers and workers.

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

That’s why we’ve recently appointed Scott Cam as our National Careers Ambassador.  Scotty will spread the word among young people and their parents about the value of an apprenticeship and VET education.

I know the ADF and defence industry are active in providing careers information to school leavers and young people and I encourage you to keep doing that.

I also encourage you to think about how you can attract existing workers ready to change careers.  Workers who have had previous careers may require requalification or upskilling, but they also bring a range of other skills and experience to your enterprise once on board.

The Government’s $585 million Skills Package, Delivering skills for today and tomorrow, has been developed to ensure the VET sector continues to support individuals in developing new skills, as well as transferring or upskilling existing skills, so workers and businesses are ready for the jobs of today and tomorrow.

We have announced a number of flagship initiatives in this Package.

We have a new National Skills Commission, to which Adam Boyton has just been appointed as Interim Commissioner.

We have established a new National Careers Institute that will become a “one-stop-shop” for information.

And as I said before, we’ve appointed Scott Cam as the National Careers Ambassador.

Government, however, does not have all the answers.  That is why we are committed to a strong level of industry involvement. 

My department is running a nation-wide program of industry consultation as part of the co-design of the system.  We have a number of Committees that have strong industry representation that will also input their views.

While these big-ticket items are all getting underway, the Morrison Government is 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 this year and is expected to deliver up to 80,000 additional apprenticeships over the next five years.

Occupations eligible for the payment include carpenters, plumbers, bricklayers, plasterers, and vehicle painters, as well as air-conditioning and refrigeration mechanics, with up to $4,000 in additional financial support available.

And from 1 July next 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 from 1 July this year, to support up to 3200 Australian employers in rural and regional Australia to grow their businesses.

Returning to Defence Industry, in preparing for this address, I was surprised when my department told me that across all the firms involved in the summit, there were only 59 apprenticeship commencements last year.

I also learned that this number has been higher in the past.  So what the Government needs to know is how we can create the right environment to encourage you all to increase your uptake of apprentices.

This is why the co-design work I mentioned before is so important.  This is the time—now and over the coming months—for you all to share your views with Government through our industry consultation.

You can help us, and work with us, to raise the profile of VET and apprenticeships as excellent pathways to real career choices.

I also encourage you all to assess the skill capability of your current workforce and to identify how you will invest in your workers and managers to meet future skills needs.

Then make contact with your local VET institutions if you haven’t already to discuss how they might provide courses so young people can be job‑ready.  If there is a lack of short-courses for quick upskilling, make it known to the training sector.

Give feedback or engage with the co-design opportunities the Government has underway, or work through your representatives in peak bodies engaged in the process.

By engaging in the process, you will be ahead of the curve in terms of getting the most out of the changes and influencing how they are implemented.

You’ve already made a great start by coming along to this Summit which is an excellent initiative to share ideas and insights on how we can ensure defence industry continues to thrive. 

The Morrison Government has set a strong direction with our Skills Package, including the measures to encourage apprenticeships.

This is a once-in-a generation opportunity to strengthen VET in Australia. 

I know we can seize this opportunity but it will require you to work with Government.  Together we can deliver a vocational education sector that provides skills and relevant, up-to-date qualifications that are well‑matched to the evolving opportunities and challenges of Australia’s defence industry.

Thank you and enjoy the rest of the Summit.