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Address to the OECD Skills Summit, Brussels

The Hon Brendan O’Connor MP

Address to the OECD Skills Summit, Brussels


It is a pleasure to attend this Skills Summit, as the first Australian Minister to do so. 

I would like to express my thanks to Prime Minister De Croo, the Belgian federal and regional governments, Mathias Cormann, and the OECD for the invitation to participate in this year’s Skills Summit. 

We are all facing similar challenges. 

That’s why collaboration and knowledge sharing among OECD countries is so critical. 

Most of our countries are facing severe skills shortages and ageing populations. 

The twin economic transitions of decarbonisation and digitisation may play out differently in different countries, but there is commonality in how we are looking to ensure our skills systems provide workers with the skills necessary to enable these transitions.

There is a critical role for better data informed by the real-world experience of industry to estimate and plan for future skills needs, to drive policy and enable targeted investment in skills across the tertiary sector. 

We have established the tripartite Jobs and Skills Australia to lead this work.

To improve the quality and relevance of skills and training we need strong partnerships, between industry, universities and vocational education and training providers. 

The Australian Government has recently put in place 10 Jobs and Skills Councils, representing critical areas of the economy to drive collaboration on skills training and innovation. 

Access to skills is an enabler of access to labour and to greater equality in society. 

Last year the Australian Government initiated a program that delivered 300,000 enrolments in Fee-Free VET courses in areas of highest skills shortage, with the dual benefit of providing much needed skilled labour to industries facing critical skills shortages, and secure job opportunities for Australians, including low income or previously unemployed workers.

Australia has a federated VET system and it has been critical to achieve a national commitment from states and territories to shared priorities for investment in skills and agreement on areas of much needed reform.

After a decade of disagreement, the 5-year National Skills Agreement commenced 1 January 2024, and reflects a commitment by all Australian Governments to ensure that no Australian is left behind or held back as the economy transitions and adapts to structural change, including by providing opportunities for life-long learning and foundation skills development.

We reflected on the need for more flexibility in our training systems, particularly in retraining and post-entry level, to ensure that people can take up opportunities in response to a rapidly changing landscape. 

This needs to be done in a way that preserves quality and sustains a focus on the learner and their long-term interests. 

Achieving Net Zero is Australia’s biggest economic, social and environmental challenge and we have fallen behind many European countries over the last decade. 

In this context we have much to learn from OECD colleagues as we drive forward with the transition and ensure we are shaping our training system for the future.  

I look forward to continuing our discussions to share our experiences as we move forward with critical reforms and forging strong lines of communication between us and our governments and officials on these issues.

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