The National Skills Commission (NSC) has come into being at a critical and pivotal time.
Late last year when stakeholders were invited to co-design the NSC there was an overwhelming call for an independent national body to revitalise the skills sector, to provide new leadership on skills and workforce development to meet the needs of Australia’s economy.
None of us could have anticipated just how radically different the economic landscape would be just six months later.
While much of the discussion then focused on skills gaps, we are now instead needing to think about managing skills surpluses and retraining options for unemployed workers as we deal with our first recession in nearly 30 years.
This report — the first for the NSC — speaks to that massive shock our labour market is experiencing. Much of the data presented will come as no surprise. The impact of COVID-19 has been immense. However, there are also some glimmers of hope, acknowledged by the OECD last month when it noted that Australia’s economic resilience was greater than most.
Of course, Australia is still in its early days of recovery. That said, more businesses than we would have expected just months ago have plans to hire workers. And while the share of businesses that are citing skill shortages as a constraint on their hiring plans is small, there are some businesses ready to hire now who need workers with skills that are not there at the moment. We need to make sure that as the recovery progresses, skills shortages don’t hold us back.
There are also a large number of Australians with job-ready skills looking for work. An important part of the NSC’s work will be to identify pathways into jobs where skills can be transferred, as well as reskilling and upskilling opportunities that can open new prospects for job seekers.
This report details some of the work already underway by the NSC to improve and consolidate Australia’s skills forecasting capability with the future in mind — that is, with an eye to the new and emerging jobs and skills workers will need.
While some of our work is in its infancy, it nonetheless has the potential to provide the evidence and analysis needed for meaningful reform to our education and training system, the backbone of a strong and prosperous future Australia.
Initiatives such as JEDI — the Jobs and Education Data Infrastructure project — and the potential benefits of ‘nowcasting’ are two examples of how we are looking at ways to harness new approaches and technologies to provide a better understanding of current, and future, skills needs.
I look forward to working with you to shape an NSC that becomes an enduring, critical part of Australia’s economic infrastructure — now as we deal with COVID-19 and the impact on the economy, and also into the future.
Interim National Skills Commissioner