The Prime Minister has flagged major changes to Australia’s training and vocational sector as part of government’s JobMaker package to help the economy recover from the COVID-19 shutdowns.

In a speech to the National Press Club on Wednesday, Scott Morrison laid out a series of planned reforms to the vocational training system to improve career paths for Australian students.

The Prime Minister’s plan includes better access to real time data on skills shortages and training options to help students choose courses with a greater focus on the vocational sector.

“I want those trade and skills jobs to be aspired to, not looked down upon or seen as a second best option, it is a first best option,” the Prime Minister said.

The plan comes after the Federal government established a National Skills Commission in its 2019 budget with $132.4m funding.

ACS welcomed the Prime Minister’s plan to include skills development as part of the economy recovery with President, Ian Oppermann saying “as Australia emerges from the COVID-19 lockdown, we are presented with a once-in-a-generation opportunity to position the nation so our businesses and citizens can take advantage of the Industry 4.0 era."

“This was the thinking behind ACS’ announcement last year of an AI centre of excellence based out of our Melbourne Innovation Hub and early stage investment fund.

“However, in order to take advantage of these opportunities, we need a skilled and flexible workforce underpinned by a modern training system, something that has been highlighted by ACS’ annual Digital Pulse report.”

The 2019 Digital Pulse reported three policy priorities for driving the growth of Australia’s digital economy: boosting skills, start-ups and investment, with the highest priority being skills development, finding the nation faces a shortage of 100,000 tech workers by 2024.

2019’s Digital Pulse also noted VET sector technology enrolment had declined by 11,875 since 2016, underscored by a survey last year finding millennials are shunning IT careers.

The Prime Minister partly put students’ reluctance to choose vocational studies down to difficulties in navigating the options, saying “it is no wonder that when faced with this complexity, many potential students default to the university system, even if their career could be best enhanced through vocational education.”

In order to address these difficulties, the Prime Minister cited three pilot schemes to reform vocational training in mining, human services and digital technologies.

While the digital technology skills organisation pilot was established at the beginning of the year, its steering group has barely moved on from ‘defining its vision’ at its most recent meeting in April.

In the meantime, states have already rolled out TAFE program offerings as part of their COVID recovery initiatives, although few of these included formal certifications in the digital industries.

ACS has also been moving with its own programs to help the IT profession during the economic shock.

"The COVID-19 lockdowns have provided challenges to the entire economy and ACS has released several key initiatives supporting a wide range of areas to support the technology sector and our membership,” said Dr Oppermann.

These initiatives include cyber security and working from home technology guides, a career hub for ACS members, and a Virtual Tech and Employability Skills half day conference to assist those who are entering the technology workforce.