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Australia to create ‘skills passport’ to boost lifelong learning


Treasury white paper addresses skills shortage and research translation failures

A national “skills passport” is to be developed in consultation with tertiary institutions to address Australia’s skills shortage.

The passport, announced by treasurer Jim Chalmers on 24 September, will provide digital proof of a worker’s qualifications and abilities.

It will help to address workforce shortages pinpointed in a Treasury white paper on employment and promote lifelong learning, he said. The white paper, released on 25 September, said that “the tertiary system must adjust to meet future workforce needs by providing greater support for disadvantaged students and increasing collaboration across higher education, vocational education, industry and governments”.

“A culture of lifelong learning, supported by greater workplace training, will ensure people are able to upskill to take advantage of future opportunities in the labour market,” it said.

It added that the participation of disadvantaged groups is still low—and although more women are working, gender inequality is still a problem. New ways to help older workers return to work are also needed.

Research translation

The white paper said that Australia “underperforms in achieving [research] translation outcomes”.

“Australia ranks last in the OECD for business collaboration on innovation with higher education or government institutions, and only 33 per cent of university research income came from industry in 2021.”

This was partly attributed to a lack of “management capability” and willingness of Australian firms to adopt innovations.

“There are opportunities for Australia if we can improve management practices to support adoption of innovative practices, better harness our research strengths and improve targeting of migrants to support productivity spillovers,” the paper said.

University response

Universities Australia said that universities need “funding and policy certainty” to make the necessary changes.

The vice-chancellors’ group said the white paper highlighted failures in the current system, such as the cost of compulsory placements.

“Right now, we are missing out on workers in areas of serious shortage, including nurses and teachers, for financial reasons,” said chief executive Catriona Jackson. “We strongly support the government’s specific intention to explore ways to better support students financially as they undertake compulsory placements during their studies.”

Jackson said the proposed skills passport would also help address skills shortages, “particularly if it builds on the existing qualifications recognition infrastructure that universities and other tertiary providers already use”.