A few days removed from the conclusion of the Federal Government’s Jobs and Skills Summit, industry leaders, employers and employees alike have begun to reflect on the results of the two-day event.
Beginning on Thursday 1 September, the Jobs and Skills Summit saw the Albanese Government working with industries, union representatives and other invested parties to address a number of the challenges the Australian labour market and broader economy have been facing, including critical talent and skills shortages.
“There is strong hope among all sectors of the economy that some real, immediate actions can be taken to help fill some of the 480,000 jobs that are currently available in Australia,” said Anneke Thompson, chief economist at CreditorWatch, ahead of the Summit’s conclusion on Friday, “This summit will be critical for Australia’s future economic outcomes, as the lack of workers is impacting many businesses – particularly small businesses – ability to operate at full capacity.”
While the previous Federal government was vocal in celebrating Australia’s low unemployment rates, industry experts and insiders have been sounding the alarm about less discussed downsides to such a decline in the unemployment rate and the growing role of an ageing population in shaping the labour market.
“Seasonally adjusted unemployment rate is at the lowest it has been since 1974, at 3.4 percent. There are now fewer unemployed people than there are jobs available in Australia,” said Thompson, “However, looking beyond the raw unemployment rate, we may be seeing early signs that some heat is coming out of the labour market, as the total number of people employed dropped for the first time since October 2021. The reason the unemployment rate also dropped, was that the participation rate (the proportion of Australians currently in the job market) also declined.”
Seeking to address these and other concerns, the Federal government ultimately emerged from last week’s Jobs and Skills Summit agreeing to a total of 36 initiatives to begin implementation processes immediately, with several of particular interest to retailers and employers in the e-commerce sector.
Of particular note, the Federal government pledged to:
- Offer a $1 billion one-year funding boost for fee-free Tafe in 2023, accelerating the delivery of 465,000 additional places in fee-free Tafe courses, including 180,000 in 2023.
- Establish a Jobs and Skills Australia work plan in consultation with industries to address workforce shortages and contribute to building longer term capacity in priority sectors.
- Increase the permanent Migration Program planning levels to 195,000 in the period 2022-23 to address critical skills shortages, including a pledge of over $36 million to accelerate visa processing and resolve visa backlog.
The Government additionally announced plans emerging from the Summit to provide pensioners with a temporary income bank credit, allowing them to now earn up to $11,800 before their pension is reduced. Of the measure, Treasurer Jim Chalmers said, “It’s a time limited measure that we hope spurs some additional workforce participation among older Australian workers.”
The future of Australia’s tech industry also emerged particular winners from the two-day summit, with the Federal Government announcing plans to work with businesses and unions to deliver ‘Digital Apprenticeships’ supporting workers while they learn in entry-level tech roles, deliver a further 1,000 digital traineeships in the Australian Public Service particularly focused towards opportunities for underrepresented working communities, and partner with the Tech Council of Australia to develop a free ‘national virtual work experience program’ designed to build awareness of tech careers and support early-stage talent pathways into the industry.
“[It’s] certainly a step in the right direction,” said Evan Lucas, chief market strategist at InvestSmart, “We know tech’s the future, we know there’s only going to be a larger and faster embrace so the changes are the right decision to be making now.”
Yet Lucas is quick to assert that the Jobs and Skills Summit could have gone further in addressing productivity concerns, adding, “It’s a positive step forward, but certainly a long way short of aspirational ideas leading into the summit.”
With the Albanese government flagging a prioritisation of cooperation and collaboration for industry and the labour market in months and years ahead, it remains to be seen if those more aspirational ideas will emerge on future agendas.
You can find the Government’s full Outcomes report from its Jobs and Skills Summit here.
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