Last week the Jobs and Skills Summit convened in Canberra.
142 Australians from Government, employers, unions, and the broader community were invited to Canberra to work on the challenges and opportunities facing the Australian labour market and economy.
Minus a few back and forwards in the week prior about who was invited and who wasn’t, the Summit was welcomed by most of Australia. We have some serious headwinds upon us, and getting agreement on immediate actions to help build a stronger economy, and then to look at longer term solutions seemed like a solid idea.
So, what came out of the Summit?
To save you a little time, we’ve summarised some of the components that really captured our imagination. Plus, we’ve provided the handy links you need if you want to go deeper into specific areas of interest.
What was great.
1. Amazing Experts
It was inspiring to see so many deep experts – people who had spent their lives working on research agendas that could be invaluable in planning a better future.
Our votes for best contributions (in very strong competition) were Danielle Wood from the Gratton Institute (and that quote) and Professor Sarah Charlesworth from RMIT (for the presentation on evidence-based policies for increased participation, productivity, and prosperity).
Minus that pre-week lobbying, you had to respect that so many voices were heard.
• 52 Business Leaders
• 33 Union Leaders
• 14 Government
• 29 Community Leaders
• 14 Academics
• 50% of participants were women (a big change from 1 in 97 participants at the 1983 Summit).
• Information on other demographics were hard to come by, other than noting that representation was broad and inclusive. We’d be guessing if we noted other groups – and that isn’t useful. Click here for the full list of attendees.
Amongst our favourites:
• Dylan Alcott, Australian of the Year, Disability Ambassador Extraordinaire, after an excellent presentation on changing thinking on participation of people with disability in work.
3. Taking a Gender Lens
This included new voices and deeper understanding of issues such as caring responsibilities, and of course, quote of the Summit on gender went to Danielle Wood: “I can’t help but reflect that if untapped women’s workforce participation was a massive ore deposit, we would have governments lining up to give tax concessions to get it out of the ground”
4. Improved conversation about under-employed groups
Alongside women, there was also better conversations around those with caring responsibilities, people with disability, First Nations Australians, and the mature age workforce. The Summit looked at their specific barriers to participation in employment.
5. A call for (and agreement on) an increase in immigration
The Summit examined and then agreed to addressing some of immediate areas of skill and labour shortages, via an increase in immigration numbers.
Challenges still open
Of course, the Summit was just a few days, so not every challenge was solved and resolved., and not every opportunity was full explored. No criticism, but also keen to make sure some ideas stay on the radar as the Summit’s “next steps” or “more work to do” plans are further developed.
Purely our opinion, but the big issues we’re still super interested in are:
1. Skills with global shortages
Clearly some of our acute needs are ‘acute needs’ all over the world.
These include nurses (and healthcare generally), teachers, technology, and aged care. So, immigration won’t work. We will need to think about training, not just importing.
Still quite some work to go on rethinking the design of education to ensure under-trained groups with great potential are left on the shelf. We still hold a societal view that ‘all smart people get educated’. That’s not true. People go to university when they have the support and financial means to get there. Micro-learning and micro-credentials are leading to better skills and improved careers / working lives for those who don’t do University straight from school, but do have great potential to be part of the skilled workforce we need for the future. The Summit had a great focus on Apprenticeships and foundational skills, but there’s an untapped group further into their working life that would be so valuable.
3. Work Design
The conversation on redesigning work got some airtime, ultimately it needs to work well for more of us. We need to design good jobs not just ‘work’ to ensure the jobs are sustainable. This ‘job design’ and work design skillset is underdeveloped in most organisations, leading to transitional workforces.
For more context, we’ve been moving to a 4-day working week for the last 16 years, and to portfolio careers for the same time period. Plus, looking to work flexibly whenever we have agency to do so (i.e., read ‘power’ to do so), so work is gradually changing shape anyway. It could just go a little faster. (See the Happy Worker Report for the details)
4. Keep an eye on the data and lived experience.
This Summit showcased so many great experts in Australia, who have a wealth of amazing data and research, or extraordinary lived experience that needs to be heard and understood.
Rather than reaching for ‘an American author’s latest book’, it would be great to keep giving a platform and accessibility to relevant Australian research and experience in solving our own complex problems. This is especially important as context matters. Solutions are not ‘one size fits all’. We need to think about unique industries, demographic groups, and skill cohorts, starting with understanding and being open to new ideas and different solutions that work for each group.
5. Keep focus on groups that are under-represented
Work is a fundamental human right, and it’s in the best interest of ‘all of us’ to have everyone able to participate fully in our economy. It’s also a great step forward from the Summit that under-represented groups be treated as a valuable resource, and not an underestimated set of cohorts to be ‘fixed’.
6. Childcare and parental leave
While the Summit didn’t move to support the suggested new childcare subsidy regime or 26 weeks of parental leave, it is critical we keep an eye on this for the (near) future. Children and caring remain the singular biggest challenge to women’s full participation and full career.
The 36 Immediate Recommendations
The Summit released a formal paper of recommendations. (Link here)
They thanked the everyone who stepped up and spoke up at the Summit and the more than 100 roundtables held prior to the Summit in communities across the country, for their fresh ideas and open and constructive approach to addressing our nation’s big economic challenges.
Noting that many of the ideas and suggestions will be explored further over the next 12 months as part of the Employment White Paper, the Government committed to release the terms of reference for the White Paper later in September.
The Jobs and Skills Summit outcomes document can be viewed in full at www.treasury.gov.au/employment-whitepaper/jobs-summit.
By decision, we take an optimistic but pragmatic outlook to changing work, and making work work for more of us.
In our view, the Summit took some big steps forward in collaboration and conversation to better outcomes. There were some overdue resets and new views and perspectives at the table to be considered.
So, is there more work to do? Of course!
Are we optimistic that we’ve started better conversations? Absolutely!