Senate Education and Employment Committees
The Group of Eight (Go8), as Australia’s leading research-intensive universities (with seven of our members ranked in the world’s top 100 universities) which are responsible for 70 per cent of the sector’s research and graduate more than 110,000 students each year strongly supports the establishment of Jobs and Skills Australia (JSA) through the introduction of the Jobs and Skills Australia Bill 2022.
However, while the Go8 strongly supports JSA’s establishment, we do believe that the draft legislation does unfortunately leave some obvious gaps which are detrimental to the nation’s prosperity and productivity.
The Go8 would want these gaps addressed to ensure its member universities are able to deliver high quality, evidence-based advice to the Australian Government on key national workforce and skills development issues which are currently a challenge for every sector.
Please note that this submission represents the views of the Go8 as a whole. Individual Go8 members may also choose to provide a submission, focusing on their specific circumstances.
Also note that we are happy for this submission to be published and have no wish for any of it to be treated as confidential.
Australia is at a critical juncture. Its future prosperity (and importantly its national defence capability) plus that of every Australian is vulnerable because of short and long-term skills needs deficiencies.
Every sector of our economy is facing serious challenges to maintaining workforce capacity.
JSA’s creation is an important step toward to addressing Australia’s workforce and skills shortage and as such is an opportunity to recalibrate our national workforce planning. Doctors are in as short supply as care workers. AgTech specialists are in as short supply as fruit pickers. Engineers are in as short supply as electricians. JSA is a worthy vehicle with which to identify what needs to be done and how to alleviate this issue, one which is building to catastrophic in some sectors.
Go8 universities are well placed, through both research and training capabilities, and with the capacity to be nimble and pivot as required (as an example the speed at which extremely high-quality online learning was made available to our international students during COVID). The Go8 is therefore able to play a key role in this new agency and this responsibility should be formally recognised in the legislation.
Taking an overview, Go8 universities are Australia’s drivers of world class (and above world class) research, knowledge creation and higher education. All universities play a part in being critical elements of Australia’s skills and training system.
They are essential to the Australian Government’s economic agenda for renewed productivity growth, by addressing workforce shortages and providing an education which delivers Australia high quality, high wage professionals, without whom a nation could not function.
It is, after all, universities which produce the engineers whose skills ensure structures above and below ground are safe; architects who design homes and offices etc. We provide the paramedics for emergency ambulance crews, the doctors and nurses who worked tirelessly for us during COVID and beyond.
The Australian Government’s intention for JSA to collaborate closely with all stakeholders, including state and territory governments, education providers, unions and industry will provide a much needed and coherent approach to ensuring Australia has a pipeline of appropriately skilled employees to meet the needs of current and new and emerging industries. Frankly, JSA has been too long coming, and therefore is much welcomed.
Key discussion points
A continuum of providers from the vocational education and training (VET) sector through to world leading universities represented by the Go8 will be critical to the development of a fit for purpose workforce. For JSA to deliver the best for Australia, as I said publicly frequently as far back as six years ago, we need to work together as equals – cooperatively and seamlessly. That was backed by TAFE.
It is clearly not one type of formal education provider over another that can be tasked with the onerous responsibility of solving Australia’s workforce and skills challenges and providing for the opportunities we must grasp for Australia’s prosperity. It must be a post-secondary team effort. The Go8 has much to offer that team. It should be noted that employment in Australia increasingly requires skill levels commensurate with tertiary levels of education (such as a bachelor degree or higher). That is not the Go8 speaking. This is the conclusion from the National Skills Commission, the Reserve Bank of Australia and labour market researchers.
The National Skills Commission estimates that Australia will need 1.2 million more workers within four years and demand for university degrees will grow by 13.5 per cent compared to eight per cent for vocational education.
The Commission forecasts “that jobs growth will be highest in services industries and in jobs requiring higher level qualifications”. More than nine out of 10 jobs to be created will require post-secondary education – jobs in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) are predicted to grow by 14.2 per cent (https://www.nationalskillscommission.gov.au/insights/projecting-employment-2026).
The recent first interim report from the Productivity Commission’s inquiry into productivity endorses this position, stating that a highly skilled workforce, proficient in non-routine cognitive tasks, is even more valuable in a rapidly changing service economy.
Because of the above the Go8 asserts that universities must play an integral role in Australia’s workforce planning process. This in no way denigrates the placement of TAFE and VET. The Go8 values them as partners in this quest.
JSA will undertake workforce forecasting, assessment of workforce skills requirements, and cross-industry workforce analysis. These are critically important given Australia’s current environment of virtually full employment with associated high job vacancies and skills shortages.
Given the Go8’s role and footprint in education and workforce development underpinned by research informed teaching, our universities are uniquely placed to assist and collaborate with JSA to ensure this workforce forecasting and other analyses are fit for purpose.
JSA’s proposed function to assess workforce skills requirements should recognise the role of universities in producing skilled graduates and should ideally be more directly informing Australian Government determinations regarding skilled migration settings.
The Go8 recommends that the Jobs and Skills Australia Bill 2022 be amended toformally recognise and include Australian universities in the proposed functions of JSA.
The ‘Performance of functions’ clause of the Jobs and Skills Australia Bill 2022 should be made more specific and include Australian universities. The current words “training providers” does not cover the spectrum required. As currently drafted, universities are potentially only captured under “other industry stakeholders, and other persons or bodies with an interest in the labour market, workforce skills or workforce training needs.”
That is in fact erroneous. Universities, as set out above, are central and critical to this effort.
More broadly, the Go8 recognises the importance of JSA’s intended role of analysing the resourcing and funding requirements for registered training organisations in delivering accessible quality VET courses. Addressing this component of the formal training system should go hand in hand with recognising and addressing impediments to teaching within the university sector.
For example, at a time when the engineering workforce is in short supply, the previous Government’s impossibly poorly designed Job-ready Graduates package has created a financial disadvantage for universities to provide more engineering places and graduates.
There is incompleteness in attempting to address the needs of the VET system while not concurrently addressing teaching impediments to universities as also essential providers of much-needed workforce skills.
|Go8’s recommended amendments to the Jobs and Skills Australia Bill 2022: Formally recognise and include Australian universities in the proposed functions of JSA with respect to advice to the Minister, and to the Secretary, on Australia’s current and emerging labour market workforce and skills needs, and priorities. This could be implemented by amending Clause 9(a)(ii) related to the Functions of JSA to include a specific reference to Australian universities and university enrolments.With respect to universities assisting and collaborating with JSA on workforce forecasting, assessing workforce skills requirements, and cross-industry workforce analysis, Clause 10 on the Performance of functions should, in addition, specifically include Australian universities.|
Given the Australian economy is in a position of low unemployment and high job vacancies, workforce/skills shortages in many sectors are already pronounced, as are mismatches in skills demand and supply. Australia is facing an unprecedented shortage in critical high-value professional occupations such as engineering, medical workforces and advanced information technologies and computing. Without those occupations available to the workforce Australia’s future as a more sovereign nation cannot be achieved.
It deserves note that it is our universities that will deliver the quality and quantum required for a more sovereign nation of doctors, engineers, lawyers, and the education of graduates in AI, Space, quantum computing and cyber security; all of which, and it cannot be said too often, are critical to the nation’s economic prosperity, social wellbeing, and national security.
While the Jobs and Skills Australia Bill 2022 (and associated Explanatory Memorandum)indicate Jobs and Skills Australia has a remit to focus on the vocational education and training (VET) sector, the role of universities, and Go8 universities in training and up/reskilling the workforce should be explicitly included in the legislation.
It is important for the Go8 to state that it is not asking for any diminution of the emphasis in TAFE and VET. The Go8 recognise their integral role. What the Go8 is asking is to also be taken into consideration as of value.
Go8 universities are essential to the upskilling and reskilling of the workforce in Australia for employment opportunities in high-skilled occupations and industries, especially in meeting the needs of key sectors in the economy such as medicine, engineering, and science. But also, for new and emerging sectors such as IT/data analytics.
The Go8 has over the past few years taken the initiative and engaged with industry and government on this issue. As a result, the Go8 already has the expertise to work with government, business, and industry to address skills shortages in Australia’s workforce.
In the past 12 months alone, the Go8, in collaboration with industry partners, has convened engineering and medical workforce summits – both areas critical to Australia’s prosperity and wellbeing.
Further, the Go8 will host an IT Summit in late August 2022 to develop solutions to increase the national supply of IT and computer science professionals to meet Australia’s future needs.
The Go8 has the knowledge and capability to contribute to:
- policy development to secure Australia’s future workforce
- deliver the world class graduates the nation needs.
Following the success of the recent industry summits the Go8 proposed several policy measures aimed at securing Australia’s skilled workforce including:
- A doubling of the supply of domestically educated engineers for nation building projects for our future.
- Increasing Commonwealth Supported Places for medical students by at least 1000 over four years. Australia’s medical workforce has been significantly challenged by the demands of COVID-19.
Importantly, Go8 universities already graduate more than 60 per cent of Australia’s medical students and 42 per cent of engineering students.
In 2020, over 424,000 students were enrolled at Go8 universities. Moreover, the Go8 has sector leading retention rates for students from regional, low-SES and indigenous backgrounds. The Go8 is strong in its ethos that enrolment is only the start. Our job is only complete when a student graduates and we put every effort into ensuring this happens. We are also sector leading when it comes to national bachelor completion rates. Importantly, the Go8 has over 40 campuses in regional areas in proximity to regional labour markets.
The Go8 also leads in post graduate education, enrolling more than one third of all post graduate students, and almost half of all students in higher degrees by research. Go8 universities award half of all doctorates in Australia.
All the above is a portent to what the Go8 capabilities are to support the success of JSA.
The Go8 looks forward to working in partnership with JSA to deliver the skills the nation must have onshore to deliver a much-needed boost to productivity and economic prosperity.
The vital role research-intensive universities play in terms of boosting productivity, commercialising R&D, and educating the next generation of Australians is unparalleled.
 See: Alexandra Health, Reserve Bank of Australia (2020), ‘Skills, technology and the future of work’, Speech to Career Education Association of Victoria and Victorian Commercial Teachers Association Work Futures Conference; and Jeff Borland and Michael Coelli, ‘The Australian labour market and the digital economy’, University of Melbourne, February 2022.