The new government’s first order of business this week was to introduce legislation creating Jobs and Skills Australia – a new body to advise government on how to train the workforce and fix skills shortages plaguing the economy.
Jobs and Skills Australia has a broader remit than the National Skills Commission it is replacing, with an added focus on collaborating with state and territory governments, unions, and training providers.
The independent body, whose director will be appointed by Skills and Training Minister Brendan O’Connor, has six functions related to its main task of providing advice to the government about the labour market, skills, and the quality of vocational education and training (VET) programs.
Jobs and Skills Australia will do this by preparing studies about jobs in current and emerging industries, assessing and forecasting the existing and future workforce, and looking closely at how training organisations are funded.
That the new government is leaning hard into VET programs shouldn’t come as a surprise given its election promise to create 450,000 fee-free TAFE places.
In his second reading speech on Wednesday, O'Connor said skills shortages were among “the biggest challenges facing Australian employers” currently.
“Skill shortages have been made worse by the pandemic, especially with the reduced skilled migration and the lack of support for temporary migrant workers during the COVID lockdowns,” he said.
“The number of businesses unable to fill job vacancies is growing and is expected to dampen economic growth.”
Since coming into power in May, Labor has been trying to get on top of the main complaint from business leaders: that there simply aren't enough skilled workers.
Part of the problem has been a backlog of skilled migrant visas which the government is trying to turn around by prioritising some 60,000 visa applications.
O’Connor mentioned shortages in areas like aged care, disability care, and childcare as being specifically problematic for Australians.
But he is also hopeful Jobs and Skills Australia will point toward ways of improving the local talent pipeline for the tech sector.
“To succeed, our emerging industries in advanced manufacturing, technology and clean energy – all critical to tackling climate change – require an increase in the supply of highly specialised skills,” O’Connor said.
“These challenges for emerging industries are being experienced against a backdrop of an already-tight labour market and supply chain and related economic challenges.”
Labor has committed to a soft target of 1.2 million technology workers in Australia by 2030. But data from the Australian Computer Society (ACS) suggests those workers will be needed as early as 2027.
Industry and Science Minister Ed Husic has been calling for expats to come home in order to help meet the tech talent shortfall, telling Information Age last month his department was looking at ways to “smooth the landing” for Australian tech professionals wanting to come home.
“We’re not intending to get every single Australian who’s working overseas to come home, but we want to let them know we’ve got a clear national purpose,” he said.
“We’ve got things we need to get done and they’ve got the skills and experience they’ve developed overseas that we need back here in Australia.”