Jobs and Skills Australia has hit the ground running to address a tight labour market, skill shortages and lagging productivity. 

Tasked with advising the Government and other stakeholders about the skills needs of the economy and the adequacy of the skills system, the newly formed independent agency will take an economy-wide approach and consider the impact of vocational education and training, higher education, migration and broader factors in meeting Australia’s skills and workforce challenges. 

At an Ai Group webinar last week, the organisation’s Interim Director, Professor Peter Dawkins AO, said rigorous research and analysis of pressing economic issues would be undertaken. 

“Relevance needs to go with that rigour, so we need to address the key questions from the Government, stakeholders, industry, unions and education training providers and feed that intelligence into our analysis,” Prof Dawkins said. 

Calling for industry's voice to be heard and needs met, Ai Group Chief Executive Innes Willox said top concerns include digital skills encroaching into everyday jobs and the development of clean energy skills. 

Micro credentials remain a priority. 

Soft skills lacking 

To address the short-term issues of a tight labour market and skill shortages, JSA surveys employers about the suitability of applicants for advertised positions.  

“In many cases, only half the applicants, sometimes even less, are deemed suitable,” Prof Dawkins said. 

“It doesn’t so much relate to their technical skills but rather, their general skills relating to factors such as communication, planning and problem-solving. 

“This kind of research helps to support the education and training system so providers know what is needed. It's not necessarily just the qualification; we need these broader employability skills.”  

Meanwhile, demand for experienced workers has spurred JSA to encourage educators to work with industry to ensure graduates have had the opportunity to gain work experience. 

Foundation skills 

Among JSA’s first tasks is to survey Australians about their foundation skills: literacy, numeracy and digital literacy. 

When the ABS conducted a major survey regarding foundation skills about 10 years ago, it emerged that as many as 3 million Australians of working age had inadequate foundation skills to engage successfully in further training and secure work.  

“We don't know how that's played out over the past 10 years — whether it has improved or is worse,” Prof Dawkins said. 

“The new survey will show us how significant an issue it is, and we'll be able to do deep dives to find out where it's a problem.  

“We'll work with stakeholders and education training providers to determine how to address this problem.” 

Clean energy sector 

The Government has also asked JSA to deliver within six months a major capacity study on the clean energy sector. 

An advisory group will be set up to determine the short, medium and long-term skill needs in this sector and how the education training system can innovate to meet those needs. 

“There will be strong growth in demand for some existing occupations and there will be some new occupations,” Prof Dawkins said. 

“Along the way, we'll test our findings with people on the ground in areas affected by this big transition.” 

Industry’s ambitions for JSA 

Speaking at the webinar, Mr Willox said it was vital that JSA gave industry a voice to ensure the needs of businesses are met. 

“For most of the past decade, we’ve been missing that sense of industry and government planning together to map the skill needs of the future,” Mr Willox said. 

“Findings can then play back into the education system and help support the development of school curriculums, micro credentialing and a whole range of other options to allow businesses to adapt.”  

Results worth waiting for 

Mr Willox said the effects of this collaboration would take time but be worth the wait. 

“There’s always going to be a lag here: where industry goes, skills will naturally have to follow, and where industry goes, in terms of where they put their focus, will determine what the skills needs of that time — and the future — will be. 

“However, an organisation with the remit that JSA has will give us a much better chance of meeting those needs.” 

With skills gaps and labour shortages rife throughout the economy, on-the-job training has become the No.1 priority for businesses, Ai Group’s 2023 CEO Survey showed. 

“So, planning, collaboration and cohesion in this (skills) space is incredibly important, and that's why we're excited about the development of JSA, because of all the benefits it can potentially bring to workplaces,” Mr Willox said. 

“Workplaces won’t see it immediately, but they’ll see the results of that collaboration over time.” 

Stakeholder engagement 

JSA will establish an Engagement and Advice Branch to encourage two-way conversation with key stakeholders.  

The Government has also established a Consultative Forum, which is meeting this week, comprising representatives from: 

  • industry including employers, employer groups such as Ai Group and unions and 
  • the education sector, including higher education and vocation education. 

“That’s going to be a great place where we can hopefully get a meeting of minds from all the key stakeholders about what the priorities are,” Prof Dawkins said. 

Jobs and Skills Councils will be involved in this process. 


There is growing recognition within the university sector of the need to work more effectively and efficiently with industry. 

“A key part of the conversation is the need to examine the role of the tertiary sector in working with industry to develop credentials industry wants and needs,” Mr Willox said. 

“How can universities mesh the theoretical element of a course with the practical?  

“Industry is telling us that graduates need to emerge from their education with a greater sense of the practical implication of what they are studying, whether that be through working with companies directly or practical application pathways such as higher apprenticeships.  

“That hands-on experience is becoming increasingly important so people become productive earlier which is critical at a time of labour shortages.      

“We often hear from industry that it takes more than two years for someone emerging from university to become productive in a workplace sense, and there's a real need for that to be sped up as much as possible to get greater productivity. 

“Productivity is the big word here; it’s about how we can do more with what we've got. 

“It's important that educators are part of this conversation, so they can be clearer on how they can help meet industry’s needs.” 

Micro credentials 

Micro credentials are increasingly becoming a hot topic of conversation among industry and educators. 

Megan Lilly, Executive Director of the Ai Group Centre for Education and Training (Ai Group CET), said: “All of our data tells us that employers are looking for shorter, sharper, more relevant pieces of learning and they would prefer it to be credentialed and assessed. 

“For business, it’s about getting the skills they need in specific areas at a specific time.”  

Prof Dawkins said micro credentials need to be linked to the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) and ‘stackable’ to form full qualifications. 

“It’s a big challenge, but it's one we've got to address,” he said. 

Close the gap  

By 2025, 27 per cent of existing jobs will disappear and 49 per cent of jobs will be reshaped and require major reskilling efforts. 

By 2030, 22 per cent of the workforce will be not in a job that exists today. 

It means JSA’s role around planning is essential, Mr Willox said. 

“In many ways, we're always going to be behind the game when it comes to skills because the landscape is evolving so rapidly owing to technology,” he added. 

“While it would be presumptuous to try to predict what the skills needs of the future would be in a precise way, we have some very clear lines of sight around where trends are. 

“As time goes on, we have to work hard to close that gap between skills development and needs, and where the workforce is at. 

“Technology will move at a pace and industries are running fast to keep up. The education system needs to run even faster.” 

Ai Group members are encouraged to share their views, needs and perspectives regarding skills with the Ai Group CET

“Strong engagement will make industry’s voice sharper,” Mr Willox said. 

Don't miss the Ai Group CET’s next webinar, Plugging skills shortages through diversity, on Thursday, March 9, 11am-noon AEDT. Register here. 

Our next Member Network Meeting will be held next Thursday, February 23 at 11am AEDT.  

Visit our website to subscribe to our newsletter and to join our Member Network.      


Wendy Larter

Wendy Larter is Communications Manager at the Australian Industry Group. She has more than 20 years’ experience as a reporter, features writer, contributor and sub-editor for newspapers and magazines including The Courier-Mail in Brisbane and Metro, the News of the World, The Times and Elle in the UK.