Well, 2023 has been an incredible year in many ways. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much energy, engagement, aspiration and, in many cases, genuine collaboration, towards the goal of ensuring Australia has the knowledge, skills and capabilities to take us into the future. The Centre for Education and Training team has not stopped for a minute.

Insights from Ai Group’s 2023 CEO Outlook Survey set the tone in January, with 90% of businesses surveyed expecting to feel the effects of skills shortages in the coming year. We also made our Pre-budget submission, setting out our top policy priorities, including reform of the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF), improved work-integrated learning, more higher skill apprenticeships and addressing key challenges in foundation skills, digital skills and navigating economic transition.

It's fair to say reform of the AQF has been an ongoing feature of our advocacy this year. In April we published a piece in The Australian ‘Australian Industry Group says AQF must be updated’  and continue to speak about it every chance we get, because we know this reform is a key enabler to creating the integrated tertiary education system we need – not just in the future, but now.

April also saw a focus on young people and their pathways from education and training into work as we released our research Connecting the dots: Exploring young Australians’ pathways from education and training into work.

The research, which took a deeper look at the real trajectories and early career pathways of young people, was covered in the Financial ReviewHalf of all young people go to uni but tradies are happier’, ABC News Breakfast and LinkedIn News, sparking a widespread conversation about the benefits of different pathways from school to work, and apprenticeships in particular. We explored this in more depth in our April webinar, joined by Saxon Phipps from Year 13 and Kira Clarke from the Brotherhood of St Laurence.

Of course, the Universities Accord Review process has been a central focus of 2023, sparking a national conversation on what universities mean to us, and how we could shape them to better serve us in the future. The Centre made its substantial submission in April and continued to prosecute its agenda through a range of forums and events linked to the Accord process throughout the year.

May saw the release of the World Economic Forum’s 2023 Future of Jobs report. This global survey brought together insights from over 45 economies worldwide, with the Centre acting as the Australian partner organisation. The findings painted a rich picture of the future of work and jobs through exploring the impact of macrotrends like technology, sustainability and AI.

Ai Group’s analysis was shared in an opinion piece in The Australian ‘This insight into the future of jobs should not be wasted’, and in our May webinar featuring a conversation with the World Economic Forum team behind the report.

In July we received the Interim Report from the Universities Accord expert panel, and it was encouraging to see many of the reforms for which we have long advocated included. Most notably, a commitment to a more cohesive and integrated tertiary education system, a recognition of the critical importance of university-industry collaboration and the need to better integrate knowledge, skills and application for all tertiary students.

We continued the conversation in our August webinar featuring Ai Group CEO Innes Willox and Accord Panel Chair Professor Mary O’Kane. We followed this with an opinion piece in the Financial ReviewIts time to reshape universities for the national good’.

In September we released a paper on another issue we will continue to prosecute Degree Apprenticeships: Creating the Right Environment in Australia. We continue to lead the way in exploring new approaches to higher skill apprenticeships because we know how much they are needed.

Our September webinar explored the impact of generative AI on education and training. This fascinating conversation was just the beginning, and we intend to delve deeper into this fast moving frontier in 2024.

September also saw the beginning of my work as part of the VET Qualification Reform Design Group.  We are now well underway, and I look forward to continuing this important work into the new year.

October didn’t give us much time to pause, with the long awaited finalisation of National Skills Agreement and the release of the Government’s Employment White Paper. Our October webinar unpacked key themes in the White Paper.

Running alongside all of this, 2023 saw the establishment of Jobs and Skills Australia (JSA) and the Jobs and Skills Councils. We have worked closely with the Federal Government, interim JSA Director Peter Dawkins and a range of other stakeholders as this important new framework has been established. 

We provided input into JSA’s first capacity study into the clean energy workforce, through the steering group, a detailed submission and facilitating member consultations. We’re looking forward to continuing this strong involvement in 2024 as JSA and the JSCs deepen their engagement and work.

November was all about the release of a book we had been working on in collaboration with the Mitchell Institute at Victoria University  Rethinking Tertiary Education: Building on the Work of Peter Noonan. The book brings together the work and ideas of the late Peter Noonan and some of his many colleagues and collaborators to create a coherent agenda for reform. It was launched by the Federal Minister for Skills, Brendan O’Connor at an event at Victoria University, which set the tone for an engaging and productive roundtable event at the State Library the following day.

Of course, the release of the book is just the beginning. We plan to delve deeper into its key themes and policy directions in a series of continuing webinars and discussions in 2024.

November also saw us host a conversation between Ai Group members and Minister O’Connor at a roundtable event in Melbourne, where we were able to constructively discuss many of the skills and workforce issues our members are facing.

Minister for Skills & Training, Brendan O'Connor (right) joins Megan Lilly and Innes Willox at our Skills Roundtable event in Melbourne in November

Let’s not forget, alongside the talking we were also ‘doing’. Through its government-funded project activity, the Centre continued to incubate new models and provide education and training support services to businesses.  Often involving partnerships, our projects in 2023 have focused on developing and implementing higher and degree apprenticeships in a number of states, supporting university students into scholarships in defence industry companies and securing and supporting women to undertake STEM-based apprenticeships.

Last, but certainly not least, throughout the year we have brought the voice of industry to a range of reviews and consultative processes too numerous to mention here - forums such as the Foundation Skills Advisory Group, Digital and Tech Skills Working Group and the VET Workforce Blueprint Working Group and many others at both the state and federal level.

Representing our members in this way keeps us incredibly busy, but it’s so important that the voice of industry continues to be heard at every table, every time important conversations are happening about skills, education and training.

To all our members, collaborators, networks and friends, thank you, as always, for your continued engagement and contribution to the Centre’s work in 2023.  

A big thank you, in particular, to those who have featured in our webinars throughout the year. Over 2,800 people registered for our webinars across the 2023 series. That’s a testament to the wonderful experts and member companies who have generously joined us for these important conversations.

Thank you also to my co-editors and authors of Rethinking Tertiary Education. This has been a very special, and meaningful, project for all of us.

The Centre team and I wish you all a very happy (and restorative) festive season and look forward to working with you again in the new year.

Pictured above at the book launch (L-R): Associate Professor Peter Hurley, Director Mitchell Institute; Professor Peter Dawkins, Emeritus Professor, Victoria University; Megan Lilly, Executive Director, CET; The Hon. Brendan O’Connor, Minister for Skills and Training; Innes Willox, Chief Executive, Ai Group

Megan Lilly

Megan has an enduring commitment to research, policy and advocacy in education and training, especially in relation to work.  In leading the work of the Centre, Megan represents members on a diverse number of international, national, and state based committees, councils and boards. Megan is a strong advocate for reform and has been involved in key national reforms over many years. Megan is firm in the belief the capacity of education and training to transform lives.