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Solutions needed to boost Aust’s skills and raise productivity

29 April, 2009

Fresh approaches to national skills training are urgently needed in order to meet the challenges of the economic downturn and to position Australia for a return to growth and prosperity, according to a consortium of peak industry, trade union and youth advocacy bodies.

A report released recently by the National Skills Policy Collaboration (NSPC) – comprising the Australian Industry Group, Australian Council of Trade Unions, Group Training Australia, Australian Education Union and Dusseldorp Skills Forum – recommends a new wave of training reform to take advantage of opportunities beyond the current economic crisis.

The report, Investing Wisely, sets out a framework to elevate skills development and to entrench a culture of learning across the workforce.

Heather Ridout, Chief Executive, Australian Industry Group said the importance of skills cannot be taken for granted.

“Despite rising unemployment, we cannot afford to take our foot off the pedal in addressing the skills gap in Australia. As soon as labour market conditions improve skill shortages will re-emerge with a vengeance, especially given our aging workforce. It will bring with it all the familiar pressures on our ability to have the skills we need to sustain investment and growth. Indeed, we need to avoid the mistakes of past downturns where training was seriously neglected and businesses need to be positioned to emerge with the skilled workers they need to take advantage of the recovery,” Ridout said.

Sharan Burrow, President of the ACTU said, “increased productivity flowing from enhanced skills and training will be vital if we are to emerge from the economic slowdown with a more skilled workforce that is able to compete globally.

“There is always a risk that in the current economic climate, the focus on skills will take a backseat to other more immediate concerns. That would be a big mistake,” Burrow said.

The report stresses that skills development needs to keep pace with the demands of the new economy, and that there must be a focus on quality, not just quantity.

The consortium says improvement is needed in four key areas:
  • accurate information about skill needs, and mechanisms that shape public policy and funding decisions; a prevailing industry culture that values investment in skills development and makes the most of the skills at its disposal; a focus on people and the skills and opportunities they need to participate in society and the economy; and
  • government funding which supports the development and use of the right skills.
“The shortcomings identified are not new and they will not be fixed merely by more funding or more training places,” Jim Barron, Chief Executive Officer, Group Training Australia said.

“Action is required to maximise the value of investments in skills, and achieve a more strategic use of public funds”.

AEU President Angelo Gavrielatos said: “The report highlights the need to place a well resourced public TAFE system at the heart of any strategy to increase participation and equity in Australian workplaces and society.”

The report makes five key recommendations:
  • Work closely with industries and employers. A significant funding investment should be made in encouraging industries and enterprises to pursue high-skill strategies; Develop a culture of learning across all levels of the workforce. Key personnel should be developed and supported to engage workers across all sectors in learning. Managers should play a critical role in this process;
  • Make public funding mechanisms more flexible and responsive to demand. This does not necessarily mean responding to the demands of individuals and individual firms; rather, responding to broader industry and social objectives; 
  • Ensure sufficient investment is made in the public training system. A legacy of government funding cuts must be reversed; and 
  • Ensure sufficient investment is made in the development of essential skills. There is a good case for maximising the public and employer contribution, and minimising the individual contribution, to this end.

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