Release type: Speech


Skilling our naval shipbuilding workforce


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

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It’s a pleasure to join you this morning to discuss how we can create the future workforce to support naval shipbuilding in Australia.

I know the Minister for Employment, Senator Michaelia Cash, was disappointed not to be here — she sends her best wishes.

It is a privilege to be with you all here today at Pacific 2019: both to look to the future but to reflect on the past proud history of naval shipbuilding in Australia.

Not too far from here, the Cockatoo Island Dockyard assembled the very first Australian-built ship, the HMAS Warrego, in 1912.  HMAS Warrego then went on to play an important military role in both the Pacific and the Mediterranean during the first World War.

What shouldn’t be overlooked, however, is that the Warrego was in fact an investment in naval capability building.  HMAS Warrego was first built in the UK, before being dismantled and shipped to Australia.  The exercise was specifically undertaken to give Australian workers skills in ship construction.

So while the HMAS Warrego is an important part of Australia’s naval military history, it is also an important part of Australia’s story of government investment in developing Skills.

Since that time, the story of Australian naval shipbuilding one about increasing complexity, requiring ever more sophisticated technology for building and operating the craft supported by an increasingly skilled and growing workforce.

We will only need to walk around the exhibits here at Pacific 2019 to see how complex and powerful the latest technology is.

The good news is that naval shipbuilding is making a major contribution to our economy and way of life.

This is not just in maintaining our defence capability, but across all aspects of technological innovation, growing technologically-based businesses, developing a skilled workforce and giving individuals, families and communities the benefits that flow from skilled employment.

That’s why the Coalition Government is investing $90 billion to build new naval ships, submarines and world leading shipyard infrastructure.

This effort includes establishing the National Naval Shipbuilding Enterprise to support the delivery of the 2017 Naval Shipbuilding Plan.

We estimate the naval shipbuilding workforce will grow to more than 5000 workers in the next decade, with more than double this number of workers required for sustainment activities and throughout the enabling supply chains.

The Enterprise will require an extremely broad range of skills —
from specialist engineers and program managers, to logistics experts and data analysts, designers, planners, and advanced tradespeople and technicians, all supported by excellent leadership and business enabling areas.

Critical to the delivery of this program is the need to ensure workers with the right skills are available when needed.

The Morrison Government has a number of important initiatives underway to support the development of a highly skilled naval shipbuilding workforce.

These initiatives include the establishment of a Naval Shipbuilding Industry Reference Committee to ensure that qualifications across the tertiary sector are fit-for-purpose for naval shipbuilding.

Our Government’s approach is grounded in the strong recognition that strong partnerships between government and industry are required for the success of the National Naval Shipbuilding Enterprise.

And it’s not just building the craft, there’s also a wealth of activity required to deliver top-quality supply chain networks and sustainment activities to support the sector.

All this activity requires a skilled and flexible workforce with a mix of entry level qualifications and careers pathways flowing from a commitment to life-long learning and strong support from industry to invest in the skilling of their workforce.

Where the Morrison Government will help is in reforming Australia’s VET system to make it more responsive to the needs of industry and to ensure that it provides opportunities for Australians to undertake high quality training and apprenticeships.

We recognised naval shipbuilding requires a special and focused effort and that’s why we established a Naval Shipbuilding Industry Reference Committee or IRC.

This committee is providing an explicit focus on understanding the skilling requirements for the naval shipbuilding and sustainment industries, and how these are catered for through nationally accredited training.

We have stakeholders on board from across industry, including representatives from the prime shipbuilders, relevant unions, Defence and of course, the Naval Shipbuilding College.

The IRC completed its review of the national education and training system, or Industry Skills Forecast, in June this year and did not identify any major gaps in current course offerings.

Some minor gaps were identified in some highly specialised naval shipbuilding skills and we are in the process of adding a small number of units of competency to existing training packages to meet these niche skills needs.

More broadly, we have exciting plans to strengthen VET at the national level so it continues to deliver a productive and highly skilled workforce, while enabling working age Australians to participate in the labour market.

Minister Cash and I are both passionate about lifting the profile of vocational education.

We both see it as a valuable career choice for many Australians that should not be seen as less important than a university degree.

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 choice for school leavers, for people thinking of changing careers, and also people who are looking to up-skill in their current job.

At the most recent Council of Australian Governments meeting held in Cairns, all jurisdictions signed on to a vision for the future of vocational education and training.

This has since been backed up by the inaugural meeting of the COAG Skills Council, and there is much more to come in this space.

The vision agreed by COAG recognises the VET sector is a responsive, dynamic and trusted sector that delivers an excellent standard of education and training.

In particular, the vision is directed to a VET system that ensures employers have ready access to a highly skilled and adaptable workforce.

The vision also states that the VET sector should be flexible in providing skills at all points in an individual’s career cycle whether it be foundational training, initial training, upskilling or re-skilling.

This top-level agreement across jurisdictions on the future direction of VET in Australia means everyone involved recognises that we must work to ensure our vocational education system remains world‑class, modern and flexible.

The Morrison Government had this goal in mind when it commissioned Steven Joyce last year to undertake a review of vocational education and training in Australia.

The Review acknowledged the good work undertaken in the sector so far, but highlighted that VET needs to adapt so it can support important and emerging industries and become a first choice for students who want to pursue technical careers.

Following the Joyce Review, the Government is investing $525 million in the sector through our Skills Package Delivering Skills for Today and Tomorrow.

Through this Skills Package we are promoting a national approach to skills development and enhancing the role of industry.

Our overall aim is to transform the way we deliver skills, support employers and fund training.

A new National Skills Commission will provide leadership on workforce needs and VET funding.

There will also be pilot Skills Organisations in priority industries: human care services and digital technologies – including cybersecurity.

We are also improving the literacy, numeracy and digital skills of Australians, including a pilot of four tailored services for people in remote communities.

A new National Careers Institute and a National Careers Ambassador will work with industry, governments and our schools and tertiary providers to better connect skills and training choices.

We are taking a co-design approach in developing these models, with consultations occurring now and more information available on my department’s website –

We’ve also introduced the Additional Identified Skills Shortage Payment from 1 July, which is a payment for eligible new apprentices and employers in areas of national skills shortage.

And in August we announced a consultation process for the review of the National Skills Needs List.

Overall, our package of initiatives will boost the supply of skilled workers, help businesses grow and support up to 80,000 additional apprenticeships over the next five years.

The expanded Australian Apprentice Wage Subsidy Trial will support around 3200 Australians living in our regions to have the opportunity to secure an apprenticeship.

Young people in our regions will also benefit from 10 new Industry Training Hubs to help create better linkages between schools and local industry in areas of high youth unemployment.

Before I finish, I want to tease out what this means for the naval shipbuilding sector.

To build the skilled workforce of 5000 or more people that we will need to deliver the Naval Shipbuilding Plan, it’s vital that we think about VET in a new way.

Businesses need to make links to VET institutions such as the Naval Shipbuilding College and its network of education and training providers so that the courses and training are relevant and anticipate future needs as far as possible.

Businesses also need to take seriously the skill capability of their current workforce and identify how you will invest in your workers and managers to meet future needs.

Workers and job seekers need to be flexible and open to changing employer requirements.

This could include being ready to take short courses or other training options so they remain appropriately skilled for current roles and ready for the next step in their career or even moving to a related job with similar skills.

VET institutions need to be engaging strongly with the initiatives in the national Skills Package as they roll out.

By engaging early 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.

I mentioned there’s number of workshops and co-design activities underway for bodies such as the National Skills Commission and I encourage you to get involved because the more you influence and understand the roll out of the Skills Package initiatives, the more useful they will be to you.

Finally, everyone involved can support this process by recognising this is a once-in-a generation opportunity to strengthen VET in Australia.

We all need to be thinking about how we can work across traditional boundaries to address and anticipate skills gaps.

That might mean making stronger links with VET institutions, universities and larger employers in a region or bringing together small business operators, community groups, and the different levels of government to devise solutions to address workforce gaps.  

Being here at Pacific 2019, I can see the very real sense of excitement and optimism about the future of naval shipbuilding in Australia.

The Naval Shipbuilding College is playing an important role and I congratulate Ian Irving and his team for hosting this National Skilling Breakfast.

Bringing us all together in this way is a great initiative to share ideas and insights for how we can ensure the naval shipbuilding industry and Australian industry more broadly can thrive through the support of a skilled and flexible workforce that is ready for future challenges and opportunities. 

I believe the Australian Government has set a strong direction with our Skills Package and the specific activities underway to support naval shipbuilding.

By working together, we can all deliver a vocational education sector that provides workforce skills and relevant, up-to-date qualifications that are well‑matched to the evolving opportunities and challenges of Australia’s modern economy.