Nation’s skills not match-fit for net zero, government agency warns

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Australia isn’t match-fit to train people in the skills the nation desperately needs to slash its emissions, a key government agency has warned, as Labor pledges an overhaul of the beleaguered vocational sector to ensure it is up to the task.

Jobs and Skills Australia says the nation’s ability to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 is at risk while the tertiary sector can’t keep pace with the demand to train people in emerging occupations.

Figures showed the take-up of the Albanese government’s new energy apprenticeships was just 13 per cent in the program’s first nine months.Credit: Bloomberg

It said the pipeline of young tradies would need to increase dramatically as separate figures showed the take-up of the Albanese government’s new energy apprenticeships was just 13 per cent in the program’s first nine months.

The government has set aside $95.6 million over nine years for 10,000 places in the subsidised new energy apprenticeships program. Trainees are eligible if they undertake a trade that is mostly in renewables.

Jobs and Skills wants the scheme to be opened up to include trades that aren’t directly in renewables but require many of the same skills. It is also calling for apprenticeship training targets, better use of international students, women and Indigenous Australians in the clean energy sector, and for STEM subjects to be further encouraged in high schools.

“Without addressing these fundamental, underlying constraints, the student pipeline won’t be match-fit to address the growing and evolving skills needs of the sector,” the agency says in a draft report on the country’s clean energy capacity.

“Even if we do all this, it may not be enough.”

Skills and Training Minister Brendan O’Connor will dedicate a large portion of a National Press Club speech on Tuesday to the need to ensure Australia has education and training sectors that are “fit for purpose” to meet national challenges such as a carbon-neutral economy.

“After years of profound neglect towards skills needed for decarbonisation and net zero transformation, the task is bigger and more urgent than ever,” O’Connor will say.

“Decarbonising will need highly skilled workers to do all the rewiring, replacing, the relocating, the re-programming and the maintaining.”

Skills and Training Minister Brendan O’Connor will speak about the need to ensure Australia has education and training sectors that are “fit for purpose” to meet national challenges such as a carbon-neutral economy.Credit: Alex Ellinghausen

The Jobs and Skills study found the nation would need 2 million workers in building and engineering trades by 2050, and the core clean energy workforce would need to grow from 45,000 workers today to 62,000 by that time to achieve the government’s aims.

The government is close to brokering a five-year national skills agreement with states and territories to ensure collaboration between jurisdictions on the delivery of critical skills.

“The VET sector has endured underfunding, deregulation, loose rules of VET market entry, a lack of national cohesion and an obsession for competition at the expense of collaboration,” O’Connor will say.

At the same time, the Albanese government has pledged a blitz to enforce standards in all courses in vocational education and training while ensuring providers are not running “ghost colleges” used to siphon off student visa holders into low-paying and exploitative jobs.

O’Connor will announce in his speech the creation of an integrity unit within the Australian Skills Quality Authority, and a $37.8 million injection to help it work with Home Affairs and the Australian Federal Police to target unethical and illegal practices.

In another report to be released on Tuesday, the Grattan Institute has accused the government of offering false hope to international graduates by extending their post-study working rights, arguing most were languishing in low-paid jobs.

“Encouraging so many international graduates to stay and struggle in Australia is in no one’s interests,” Grattan’s economic policy program director, Brendan Coates, said.

He called instead for the government to cut the duration of post-study work visas, and raise the English language requirement for temporary graduates, among other things.

The Jobs and Skills report also found international students could face difficulties finding skilled employment despite holding appropriate qualifications, and said greater focus should be placed on finding them jobs, along with migrants whose relevant qualifications were not recognised by Australian occupational bodies.

It also canvassed expanding the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility Scheme – which allows Pacific Islanders to work temporarily in Australia, usually in farm work – into renewable energy, but said this would require significantly more investment in the program.

The government is being pressed by the Electrical Trades Union and National Electrical Contractors Association to create a special visa stream for workers with renewable energy skills.

Last week, the government released its employment white paper, which included a plan to upgrade the quality of vocational training to encourage TAFE students to sign up to “degree apprenticeship qualifications” to better equip them for careers in clean energy, among other in-demand fields.

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