The federal government will develop a National Skills Passport and “turbocharge” TAFE to deliver ‘higher apprenticeships’ in digital skills as part of the first Employment White Paper in nearly three decades.

Treasurer Jim Chalmers unveiled the policy document on Monday, following a year of consultations that kicked off at the Jobs and Skills Summit. The paper includes nine immediate steps to be taken by the government and 31 future reform directions centred on ensuring Australians can “make the most of the big shifts underway in the economy and our society over the coming decades”.

The paper identifies technological change as one of the key factors transforming the workforce and economy, and for driving productivity growth.

One of the five forces identified in the paper as shaping the economy and labour market is the expanded use of digital and advanced technologies.

“These forces are changing the composition of our industries, workforce needs, and the nature of work itself,” the white paper said.

“Maximising the opportunities these shifts present, and ensuring all Australians can participate and benefit, will require a more productive, dynamic and resilient economy, with a bigger, better-skilled and more adaptable workforce.”

The centrepiece of the white paper is $31 million in funding for new TAFE “centres of excellence”, and $10 million to develop higher and degree apprenticeships in priority areas. These priority areas include net zero emissions and digitalisation.

“Higher apprenticeships would allow students to develop more specialised higher-level skills tailored to emerging skills needs, such as digital or cyber technology and advanced manufacturing, not offered under traditional apprenticeship models,” the white paper said.

With the funding, six centres of excellence will be fast-tracked, consisting of the upgrading of existing TAFEs and establishment of a coordinated national network of institutions.

“The intention is to create new degree apprenticeship qualifications and enable TAFEs to deliver new bachelor equivalent higher apprenticeships independent of universities, giving them capacity to provide students with opportunities to gain the advanced skills needed by industries,” Chalmers said.

“Higher apprenticeships are an innovative skills pathway, ensuring the education and training sector can respond to the skills that industry demands and is responsive and agile.”

National Skills Passport

The federal government has also set aside $9.1 million to develop a business case for a National Skills Passport, 18 months after the former Coalition government allocated $5 million for a trial of the same concept.

The passport will be a single digital record of qualifications for employees across VET and higher education and “has the potential to make it easier for employees to demonstrate their skills, change jobs and upskill”, Chalmers said.

The business case will define the scope of the National Skills Passport, its outcomes and benefits.

“We want to make it easier for more workers in more industries to adapt and adopt new technology and to grab the opportunities on offer in the defining decade ahead of us,” Chalmers said in a statement.

The new policy was welcomed by the Business Council of Australia, which labelled it a “game-changer”.

“This will enable Australians to store their qualifications easily, make applying for a job simpler and more streamlined and help reduce the barriers to lifelong learning,” Business Council of Australia chief executive Bran Black said.

“It will make the system more flexible for learners and make it easier for them to switch degrees or institutions while receiving recognition for what they have already achieved.”

But the Opposition said the government is “committing to a Coalition policy, 18 months after it was announced”.

“Had the Coalition been returned to government, Australians would already have the skills passport announced today and be able to use them,” Deputy Leader of the Opposition Sussan Ley said.

“Yet again, Labor have tried to spin Coalition policy as their own work.”