Universities given Jobs and Skills Australia role

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Universities have been written into the legislation establishing the Australian government’s signature workforce planning agency, following intervention from an independent senator.

Parliament has passed the Jobs and Skills Australia Bill after both houses approved Canberra-based senator David Pocock’s amendments requiring the new agency to “consult and work with” universities, among other organisations.

Universities had feared their role in skills training would go unacknowledged in the creation of the new agency, to be known as Jobs and Skills Australia, whose establishment has been one of the fledgling government’s priorities. The bill to create it was the first tabled by the new government.

Ahead of the legislation being amended, discussions around the scope of the organisation’s work had focused on vocational training, despite increasing evidence of yawning labour shortages in professions requiring degrees.

Universities Australia chief executive Catriona Jackson said the amendments recognised universities’ contribution in providing the skilled workers Australia needed. “Universities play a central role in educating these workers – from teachers, nurses and doctors to engineers, technology professionals and lawyers, to name just some.

“Many of these industries are grappling with skill shortages right now. Half of the 1 million jobs expected to be created in the next five years will require a university degree,” she said. 

The amendments negotiated by Mr Pocock, a conservationist, social justice advocate and former national representative rugby player who secured election to the Senate this year, also require Jobs and Skills Australia to provide advice on boosting gender equity in workforce training and the labour market.

His intervention came after the government last month amended its own bill, requiring the agency to advise on pathways between vocational and higher education and opportunities to improve tertiary education “outcomes” for historically overlooked groups.

Skills shortages were a prominent theme of Tuesday’s budget. Delivering his budget speech to parliament, treasurer Jim Chalmers described them as a symptom of Australians’ “wasted potential”.

john.ross@timeshighereducation.com



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