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Expansion of uni places encouraging - the start of vital education and training reform

"Today’s announcement of the expansion of university places with a focus on the needs of employers is welcome and will assist in meeting the higher skill level jobs needed to contribute to our transforming industry,” Innes Willox, Chief Executive of the national employer association Ai Group, said today.

“COVID-19 has seen many employers pivot their business models and develop innovative approaches, as they shift further into new technologies. These changes have created an urgency to ensure that short and medium-term skills development is aligned with priority industries and emerging markets. In particular, industry has been concerned for some time about the STEM skills shortfall and Ai Group is pleased to see that incentives to undertake courses in STEM have been introduced through reduced costs to students.

“While the government has said the new university fee levels are designed to align with jobs growth, there should also be a further increase in funding so that the reduced fees are not at the expense of increased fees in the humanities disciplines. A large financial burden is being shifted to these future workers who will fill important professional roles required by industry.

“The announcement is important in the light of yesterday’s unemployment figures which show the unemployment rate for the 15-24 years age range is 16.1% - the highest since 1997. Young people have been disproportionately impacted by the social, economic and health consequences arising from the global pandemic, and experience from previous economic downturns tells us that it takes at least twice as long for youth employment levels to recover.

“Ai Group stresses that the higher education announcement today is only one of a number of much-needed new education and training arrangements that must be introduced as Australia moves to re-establish and grow its economy. Industry needs an equal focus on the vocational education and training sector to gain short and medium-term access to vital certificate and diploma level skills.

“In particular, there must be a major uplift in the effort to re-establish apprenticeships and traineeships for both industry and young people. The crisis has decimated apprentice numbers with the Mitchell Institute predicting new apprenticeships/traineeships will decline by 30% within two years.

“In May, Ai Group called on the Australian Government to implement Supporting Apprentices and Trainees 2.0, a detailed proposal for universal wage support for apprentices and trainees in stage one and two of their contract of training regardless of the size of the company, the number of employees, age, occupational groupings and geography.

“Re-building the economy through education and training and prioritising those most likely to benefit will require a number of other new measures in addition to more university places and apprenticeship support. Other labour market programs such as youth support programs and employer training incentives are needed to address urgent business needs and stimulate operations.

“Australia needs young people to find relevant, meaningful work in order for industry to recover, and to bring long term benefits to the economy and individuals. Broad support for education and training is a key to achieving this,” Mr Willox said.

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