Address to the Jobs and Skills Summit - Maximising the potential of our industries

Parliament House Canberra

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I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet today, the Ngunnawal people, and pay my respect to Elders, past and present. I also pay my respects to any Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people here today.

This summit is more than just an opportunity to address the here and now. It asks us how we can grow, learn, contribute and build Australia’s future.

All of us.

It brings together capital - and human capital. Worker, manager, investor. Advocates to decision makers.

What threads us all together is a simple proposition: that a belief in the power of our ideas, brought to life by skill, when applied in the right way, can contribute to national wellbeing.

And this session will examine what that needs to look like.  

How will we grow and evolve? How do we all widely share in that growth?

Through stronger businesses, more secure, satisfying jobs, better wages, more opportunity.

It’s our task as a nation to signal to the world that we’re open for business and we mean business.

A nation that makes things. A nation that does that because it has faith in its own ideas, its’ know-how, its’ ability to get the job done. A nation that exports not just raw materials but Australian smarts.

If we get those things, right we will change our nation for the better. 

To do that, we – working together – must change our approach to the future of jobs and the future of skills in this country. 

We must be energised by a sense of urgency.

Beyond our shores, other countries get this. They get that the power of doing things differently, smartly, gives them an edge.

That’s one reason why our government embraced a big target of seeing 1.2 million Australians in tech-related jobs by 2030. It’s because we need to weld this skill set within the breadth of Australian industry.

From fruit canneries in Batlow to timber mills in George Town to manufacturers in suburban Perth designing and building mobility equipment, I’ve seen the way these businesses continuously improve their operations or automate and grow jobs, jobs requiring an investment in skills and technology, delivering better pay, improved productivity.

We have now begun to think about how we can do this at scale, working together.

I was inspired to see so many thoughtful contributions put forward at more than half a dozen roundtables that I, Assistant Minister Tim Ayres, the Chief Scientist Dr Cathy Foley and the Industry and Science Department hosted two weeks ago. 

Almost universally, participants in the roundtables supported longer-term solutions to skills gaps, supporting changes in the ways workers are trained: working to deliver on the job experience, from apprenticeships to traineeships.

One example is the Developer Apprenticeship Program, created and run by on roundtable participant – the Australian online design marketplace Envato. That scheme provides women with a pathway to enter the tech sector through training and mentorship.

I’d also like to take this opportunity to recognise the joint agreement between the Tech Council of Australia and the ACTU designed to ensure skilled, digitally savvy, workers across all our industries, not just in areas we traditionally think of as the tech sector.  

The roundtables also identified that we need to rethink education in science, technology, engineering and maths.  

And many wanted a clear signal from Government about what our national priorities are, ensuring we lead and bring people together with purpose.

The economy and the nature of work is changing in many areas, transformed by a range of digital technologies. But, of course, an equally significant shift over the past 20 years has been the rise of the services sector. 

An important part of the growth in services has been in health care and social services, which employs 15 per cent of the workforce: more than 2 million people. 

The changing nature of work doesn’t mean jobs will be transformed immediately, but we need to make sure we are preparing the nation for the opportunities that change brings - particularly in the development of skills. 

The benefits of an advanced economy have to be spread more evenly – along with the chance to contribute. We need to call up talent and skill from a broader pool of people.

We must do better.

Women are over 50 percent of the population – yet make up only 16 percent of people who possess STEM qualifications. Of First Nations people, only half a percent hold STEM qualifications. 

Widening the skills pipeline is a huge priority – providing better, more inclusive pathways for women, First Nations people, migrants, mature workers and those living with disability.  

All of us – in government and the private sector – need to be ready to invest in our people to support the jobs of the future. 

The panel discussion to follow is about maximising the potential of our industries featuring experts across a range of fields, including in innovation, start-ups, health and manufacturing. 

I can’t miss the opportunity, on this occasion, to leave you with these points.

For too long, as a people, we have tended to value an idea that someone came up with from lands well away from us.

Why is it that idea of someone we don’t know, living tens of thousands of kilometres away from us is worth backing compared to the idea of a person standing right next to us, right here on home soil?

Our know-how must be worth something. Because we managed to survive on one of the toughest continents on the planet. Yet over the years our manufacturing self-sufficiency slumped to the worst in the OECD. Our economic complexity continues to slide down the ladder of international measure.

We rightly pride ourselves in the role we played inventing wi-fi and the solar panel.

But when we hit the full stop of that last sentence, we don’t seem ready for the question that rapidly follows: what’s next?

We need to reinvigorate the faith in Australian ideas from wherever they emerge: from the factory floor, from the lab bench and the boardroom.

It’s the key to creating new firms, strengthening existing ones – growing jobs.

As a new government we are determined to back those ideas.

Our $15 billion National Reconstruction Fund will provide a huge co-investment platform to transform and grow industry. Within it, a Critical Technology Fund to entice Australia’s best and brightest in AI, robotics and quantum technology to stay onshore. 

To make this work, we need the private sector to support the fund’s roll out.

Our Buy Australian Plan will open government contracts to strengthen industry capability, growing small and medium-sized enterprises.

We’ve made the world sit up and take notice of us before.

Together, we can do it at scale - backing ideas, investing in skill, improving national wellbeing.