5th September, 2022
As Australia faces an ongoing talent shortage, government, business and union leaders met in Canberra to discuss ways to address these issues.
Australia’s labour shortage is the second worst in the world behind Canada, according to June OECD numbers, with retail workers, general admin clerks and nursing roles in highest demand.
While the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic may be behind us, impacts are still being felt across all industries, with recent data from MYOB revealing that sick, carers and personal leave taken by employees in small and medium businesses peaked at 44 percent above the pre-COVID baseline.
This data, representing more than a million Australian small business employees, is strong indication of absenteeism across the board.
Gathering in Canberra last week, the Jobs and Skills Summit brought together unions, employers, civil society and government representatives in a bid to address workforce-related challenges.
In the lead up to the event, leaders of the Business Council of Australia (BCA) and the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) partnered to deliver a shared statement of principles in a clear display of cooperation.
“We’re pleased to have worked with the ACTU to find common ground ahead of the summit,” remarked BCA CEO Jennifer Westacott. “We don’t agree on everything but where we can find solutions, of course we should.
“The summit is a chance start forging a new national direction, and repositioning Australia on the global frontier.
“We have to work together to deliver new industry formation, new and higher paying jobs, higher living standards, better access to skills and training, and a fairer and more inclusive society.”
On Thursday, 1 September, the two-day agenda began with a Welcome to Country from Ngambri-Nguunawal custodian Paul Girrawah House and speeches from prominent government leaders, including Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Treasurer.
“Last year’s Intergenerational Report showed real GDP growing at 2.6 percent over the next 40 years, compared to the average of three percent,” said Chalmers.
“The last decade has been the worst for productivity in 50 years – effectively, a lost decade.
“As a share of the economy, business investment has been trending down since 2012 – and is now at the lowest level since 1992, around the time Australia was in recession.”
The Treasurer highlighted lost productivity and hobbled business investment is translating into the cost-of-living crisis as wages stagnate, setting the direction for the two-day summit.
“Australia does have a productivity problem – which has become a growth problem and a wages problem.”
These opening remarks were followed by a series of keynote speeches, panel discussions and over 100 roundtable discussions featuring a wide array of voices from around the country, with topics covered including ‘maintaining full employment and growing productivity’, ‘equal opportunities and pay for women’ and ‘megatrends driving our current and future skills needs’.
As mentioned, the summit included a wide array of voices from around Australia, including industry, union, education and Indigenous representatives — nearly 150 of them, all told.
Business leaders including National Chairman of KPMG Australia Alison Kitchen, CEO of PricewaterhouseCoopers Australia Tom Seymour, Qantas CEO Alan Joyce and CEO of Toll Global Express Christine Holgate all found their seat at the table, alongside industry representatives such as CEO for Australian Industry Group Innes Willox and CEO of the Australian Retailers Association Paul Zahra.
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Upon concluding the summit, the Government released a list of eight key outcomes from the event design to address workforce participation, productivity and critical gaps in equality.
The outcomes represent a consensus between unions, business, state and territory governments, resulting in 36 initiatives the Federal Government is now seeking to present in Parliament.
Here’s an overview of those outcomes.
Minister for Skills and Training Brendan O’Connor said the summit focused on what could be done to immediately strengthen our vocational, education and training (VET) system with the aim of getting more Australians trained for the needs of today’s workforce.
“As an immediate first step, state and territory skills ministers and the Australian Government will work together to agree a 12-month Skills Agreement to strengthen the TAFE sector,” O’Connor said.
“The agreement will accelerate the delivery of 465,000 additional fee-free TAFE places, with 180,000 to be delivered next year, and with costs shared with the states and territories on a fifty-fifty basis.”
Income credits to give older Australians the option to work and earn more
Another measure will see Age and Veterans pensioners able to earn an additional $4,000 throughout this financial year without sacrificing any of their pension with the introduction of a one-off pension.
The temporary credit will result in pensioners being able to earn $11,800 this year before their pension is impacted, up from $7,800 and will be available until 30 June, 2023 if the legislation passes.
The Government announced a plan to attract additional funding from super funds and private investors for housing projects.
The initiative aims to support the housing industry while also meeting the needs of Australia’s population growth.
“We will make it possible for $575 million in the National Housing Infrastructure Facility to invest in affordable housing by attracting financing from super funds and other sources of private capital,” said Chalmers.
“If we can provide via the income stream of this fund a little bit of extra incentive, we can unleash some housing investment in this country.”
Workplace relations were much discussed prior to and during the summit, and Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke went on to present key changes to the Fair Work Act as a result.
These changes are now open for consultation, with key areas of focus including stronger access for flexible working arrangements and unpaid parental leave; protections against adverse action, harassment and discrimination; as well as making bargaining more accessible for all workers and businesses.
The Government is also seeking to simplify the “better of overall” test, to give the Fair Work Commission the power to proactive help workers and to sunset “zombie agreements” that allow employers to pay workers under old agreements made under WorkChoices.
Women’s participation was a key theme for the entirety of the summit, being the focus of several keynote addresses and panels over the course of the two-day event.
The Government also wants to promote the inclusion of culturally and linguistically diverse people and is seeking to introduce equity targets for training places, 1000 digital apprenticeships in the Australian Public Service and other measures that aim to reduce barriers to employment.
On top of finding ways to support and promote more Australians into the workforce, the summit also introduced more short-term solutions to critical workforce gaps.
One such initiative will see the permanent Migration Ceiling raised by 35,000 to 195,000 in 2022-23, making it easier for migrants to stay and work in Australia.
Working in tandem with the increased permanent Migration Program ceiling, another outcome of the summit has been to extend visas and ease work restrictions on international students.
The Government also announced it would introduce more funding to resolve the current backlog in the visa system.
The migration initiatives have been hailed as “instrumental in resolving Australia’s chronic skills shortages,” by the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
“Changes announced by the government are a win, not just for businesses, but for all Australians,” said ACCI CEO Andrew McKellar.
“With labour and skill shortages at their most severe levels in 48 years, raising the migration intake and addressing protracted visa processing times will be essential in addressing unmet labour demand.”
To read all the detail on the Jobs and Skills Summit, its agenda and outcomes, head to the Australian Government Treasury Website.