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Go8 Submission to Jobs and Skills Australia (JSA) Discussion Paper (January 2023)

Jobs and Skills Australia
Department of Employment and Workplace Relations

The Group of Eight (Go8), as Australia’s leading research-intensive universities has been a leading advocate for the establishment of Jobs and Skills Australia (JSA) and the critical role of universities in delivering the current and future workforce the nation needs.

Collectively the Go8 is responsible for 70 per cent of the university sector’s research and graduates more than 110,000 students each year, including training high quality future employees – doctors, engineers, lawyers, graduates in AI, space, quantum computing and cyber security – all of whom are in high demand from existing and emerging industries and essential to boosting the nation’s productivity and economic prosperity.

The Go8 has long called for the role of JSA to formally include and recognise Australian universities and the higher education sector and it is pleasing that the Discussion Paper acknowledges the key role of universities in the JSA’s forward agenda. It is vital that higher education form an ongoing and tangible part of the JSA’s research and advisory functions and engagement practices. The current Australian labour market is challenging because of widespread skill shortages. Rapid technological change across all sectors of the economy has resulted in unprecedented demand for a highly skilled workforce and our workforce crisis is building to catastrophic levels in some sectors.

The National Skills Commission has forecast that jobs growth will be highest in services industries and in jobs requiring higher level qualifications. Longer-term trends suggest occupations requiring a bachelor degree or higher are expected to account for over half of the projected total employment growth to November 2026.

Therefore, the role of universities and academic experts will underpin the JSA’s ability to inform effective government policy.

We support the JSA commissioner model with a tripartite advisory body that includes the higher education sector. Moreover, the JSA should be tasked with ongoing labour market analysis of jobs related to requiring at least a bachelor degree. Consistent with this position, the following are specific responses to the questions posed in the JSA Discussion Paper.

Structure and governance:

  1. Are there other design considerations that could further strengthen Jobs and Skills Australia’s ability to provide advice to government?

The JSA Discussion Paper envisages additional representation on the tripartite advisory body from experts in skills and training or tertiary education. It is important that the proposed tripartite advisory body specifically include experts in the university sector given over half of employment growth will be in occupations that will require university education.

The Discussion Paper proposes to establish various sub-committees under the advisory body. Given the functions of JSA involve analysing and advising on the labour market and skills, one of these sub‑committees should include experts in workforce planning, education and training, labour economics, as well as data analytics. This can augment the existing skills within the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations and will assist the advisory body to have available independent technical advice to call on.


  • What principles could be used to guide Jobs and Skills Australia’s priorities, and the development of its workplan?

A focus on the evidence base should be a key principle to guide JSA’s priorities. The tripartite JSA advisory body will include governments, unions, and industry. These representatives may at times have potentially different positions with respect to the workplan and priorities of JSA, and their strategic deliberations will influence the direction of JSA. Hence, using an evidence base to prioritise work and publishing the minutes of the tripartite advisory body’s strategic deliberations can enhance the priorities and direction of JSA.

A key principle related to the proposed JSA workplan should be a focus on quality – that is, quality of advice to government, quality of research and analysis, and quality of engagement with stakeholders. JSA can build on the work of its predecessor, the National Skills Commission, by reviewing existing analytical and information products and identifying the need for and designing new products. Ultimately JSA’s advice should enhance the quality of policy decisions related to jobs and skills, leading to improvements in the functioning of labour markets across Australia.

  • How could Jobs and Skills Australia seek broader input into the development and refinement of its workplan?

The proposal for an annual JSA workplan that clearly specifies the priorities for the 12-month period and is informed by consultation is welcome. Broader input into the development and refinement of its workplan could come from the Commissioner and/or the Deputy Commissioners directly engaging with international agencies and institutions that have implemented similar topical workplans, to garner lessons for Australia.

  • How could Jobs and Skills Australia engage tripartite partners, experts and other interested parties in its major studies?

The ability for key stakeholders to comment on terms of reference of JSA major studies is valuable. For example, the Go8 has recently made a submission on the terms of reference for the JSA study on the clean energy workforce to recommend that any definition of the workforce include the research workforce given their expertise and role in creating new technologies. This highlights the importance of JSA consulting with stakeholders and involving them in their work. Universities can provide a level of nuance and perspective that can strengthen JSA’s advice to government.

More broadly, as mentioned earlier, having a sub-committee of technical experts to the tripartite advisory body will assist, as will potentially JSA holding regular conferences of interested stakeholders (see response to question 7 below). Moreover, the JSA Commissioner could host public webinars at the commencement and conclusion of major studies to explain the rationale and objective of the given major study, and in turn the key findings and implications of the major study.

  • What new information should Jobs and Skills Australia be collecting through its engagement to build a stronger evidence base?

The JSA website has various labour market information and products such as the Internet Vacancy Index and the Monthly Labour Market Dashboard. Yet the full scope of JSA’s existing data and information collection and inventory is not clear – as a start JSA should undertake and publish an inventory of existing information and data.

The tripartite nature of JSA also provides an opportunity for JSA to engage with participating stakeholders to directly source more granular and timely data and information. For example, the JSA could potentially access detailed information from education and training providers in each jurisdiction regarding student enrolments and graduation to monitor the ‘pipeline’ of skilled labour supply. Similarly, JSA could seek information from industry regarding emerging labour demand, well ahead of official published data on job advertisements and vacancies.

Coordination across existing government portfolios, agencies and data is also vital for the JSA. There is labour market and education and training related data in various federal government departments and agencies, such as the Australian Bureau of Statistics, that JSA should explore accessing to build a stronger evidence base. One example is data from the Department of Home Affairs regarding the status of visa applications and processing – which can provide some insight into existing and future labour supply.

Ways of working:

  • How can Jobs and Skills Australia expand its engagement to include a broader range of skills and industry stakeholders in its work?

Beyond the consultation opportunities canvassed in the Discussion Paper, such as engagement groups, JSA could also schedule regular stakeholder meetings as a means of engagement, much as the Treasury and the Reserve Bank of Australia have structured (industry) liaison programs. This will assist with broader input into the development and refinement of the JSA workplan. The engagement should also include academic experts in Australian universities that conduct research into Australia’s labour market and education and training systems.

  • What types of outreach could Jobs and Skills Australia use to increase visibility and use of its products and advice?

JSA should consider holding regular conferences of interested stakeholders and labour market experts to present their labour market research and analysis. This would allow for broader dissemination of the products and advice of the JSA and enable engagement with a broader set of stakeholders and interested parties.

  • How can Jobs and Skills Australia present data and analysis to best inform your work?

The JSA’s current website provides some useful information but could be improved by better organising and presenting its data and analysis. The website could be redesigned to have an easier to navigate section on published reports, and associated data by topic and date. A potential model for redesigning sections of the JSA website is the Australian Institute for Health and Welfare (AIHW) website (https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports-data) that has, by topic area, a well organised set of reports, data, data sources, glossary, and links to other relevant information.

To account for geographic and industry differences, where applicable the JSA should disaggregate and publish data and analysis by region, occupation, industry, assisting stakeholders who often need granular data on which to make informed decisions.

The Go8 looks forward to further engaging with the Government and the JSA as it considers the various submissions to the Discussion Paper and begins to formulate its first work plan.