By Ron Maxwell - CEO 

Now that both the federal and New South Wales elections are done and dusted, it’s time to focus on the period ahead. With Vocational Education and Training (VET) high on the agenda, it’s certainly going to be an interesting period. I’m hopeful that the focus will lead to further action in this space. 

For me, there are three key areas I would like to see focused on, both in the near future and longer term.

1. Let’s focus on helping businesses grow 

There’s no doubt that sections of the business community took a battering during the latest federal election campaign. It’s understandable that there was anger in the community towards big business, especially post the Royal Commission into the banking and finance sector. Unfortunately it felt like all businesses copped a backlash and there has been some anti-business sentiment in some of the campaign messaging.

While I’m certainly not trying to excuse any bad practices in some sectors, I certainly believe that a strong economic environment that supports growth in business is absolutely critical to keeping employment opportunities open to all. My first hope is that the Coalition government in Canberra continues to deliver policies that foster economic growth and support businesses of all sizes. There’s no denying that to keep employment opportunities open, this has to be a priority.

Off the back of that, we would certainly like to see a continuation of the focus on both metropolitan and regional business growth. We need the right incentives, especially in regional Australia, to keep giving businesses an incentive to hire as many local workers as possible.

2. Work harder on the skills shortage 

For many years now I’ve written about the looming skills shortage in our country. In many industries and sectors, this is still a major challenge. 

The Coalition announced policies during the election specifically focused on apprenticeships, but it will be good to see the finer details over the coming months. In reality, it doesn’t go far enough: we need to do more to avoid what could be a major skills shortage in the years ahead. VET is a core part of the solution and we need to see greater recognition of this in longer-term policy from all levels of government. The first step in this is to look for adequate funding for VET at all levels, both public and private, to help encourage as many Australians as possible to look at careers in the areas where we have a shortage, such as aged care and hospitality.

3. Look to arrest the slide in apprenticeship commencements and completions 

There’s no doubt that we’ve seen a worrying trend in recent years in both the number of commencements and completions in apprenticeships. For so many of the sectors facing a skills shortage, apprenticeships and traineeships play such a vital role in bringing in new skilled labour. 

For starters, the increased funding for the regional incentive for employers to take on apprentices is welcome news, however it’s really only a start. I believe it should be looked at in a wider context, with more places available. The reality is that we need more than just a limited incentive model. These incentives play a huge role in helping businesses, especially small business, to take on an apprentice. In my view it’s certainly a small price to pay for heading off a looming skills shortage and the knock on economic impacts.

We look forward to working with government at both a state and federal level over the coming years to help grow VET, making it available to more Australians, and helping our employers to access the skills needed to foster long term growth.