On 1-2 September, the Federal Government held the Jobs and Skills Summit, which resulted in 36 immediate initiatives to address Australia's economic challenges.
The immediate initiatives can be grouped into five key areas:
A better skilled, better-trained workforce.
Addressing skills shortages and strengthening the migration system.
Boosting job security and wages and creating safe, fair and productive workplaces.
Promoting equal opportunities and reducing barriers to employment.
Maximising jobs and opportunities in our industries and communities.
In each area, immediate actions, areas for further work, and complementary commitments were outlined.
Topline summary of key takeaways relating to our sector, plus our ongoing advocacy
While early education and care was mentioned frequently across the Jobs and Skills Summit, no money was put on the table to support the workforce crisis that will limit the ability of parents to participate in the workforce and, as such, impact national productivity.
However, there were a number of immediate initiatives identified which may benefit the sector, including:
Access to free training in order to gain qualifications.
Expansion of skilled migration, extending the duration of stay for graduates in sectors of high need and expanding pathways to permanent residency.
Making it easier to develop Enterprise Bargaining Agreements.
Making it easier for older Australians to work by allowing them to earn up to $4,000 without it impacting their pension.
The medium-term actions are likely to be more impactful and include:
Gender equity as an explicit object of the Fair Work Act and a focus on reviewing Awards.
Development of a national Early Years Strategy, including a vision for the education and care sector.
Increasing the Child Care Subsidy in July 2023.
The Productivity Commission and the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission’s upcoming reviews of the sector.
What we advocated in Canberra last week
It is clear that there is an unprecedented level of political will to expand parental access to education and care. This has evolved due to an increase in societal frustration with the gender pay gap and a need to boost national productivity to manage federal debt.
In the wake of the Jobs and Skills Summit, CELA CEO Michele Carnegie, together with like-minded peaks ELAA and CCC, met at Parliament House last week with Minister Aly and senators on the Education and Employment Senate Committee.
The group reinforced that while early education and care was mentioned frequently across The Summit, no money was put on the table to support the immediate workforce crisis. Early education and care capacity will not be able to expand to the level needed unless the sector can pay its workforce in proportion to the demands and complexity of the work.
We expressed the urgent need for a retention strategy that addresses the workforce crisis now while a permanent solution is implemented.
CELA is closely examining Multi Employee Enterprise bargaining and remains concerned that while proposed changes to the Fair Work Act may make it easier to bargain for wage improvements in the sector, not all educators are union members. Enterprise agreements can be effective but do not always lift employees equally. These are inevitably slow processes, which will not resolve our immediate workforce shortages and potentially result in a disparity in pay and conditions across the sector.
Across our meetings, we reinforced the need to reduce student attrition by funding additional support in the form of mentoring for students across certificate III and Diploma to progress to qualification and employment in the sector successfully.
We also spoke about the need for infrastructure funding for community-managed not-for-profit services to enable them to meet the growth that will come with higher demand.
A more in-depth overview for readers who like to know the details
Below we provide further detail around the actions relating to each initiative and their implications for the education and care sector.
A better skilled, better-trained workforce
There are a number of initiatives in this area aimed at expanding access to free VET training, including the $1 billion National Skills Agreement that will fund free TAFE in 2023 and accelerate the delivery of 465,000 additional TAFE places, including 180,000 new places, next year. On Friday Minister for Education Jason Clare advised CELA that he is awaiting advice on how many of these funded places will be carved out for our sector.
Areas requiring further investigation involve reinvigorating foundational courses for vulnerable Australians to gain secure work, driving up digital skills, and reforming the framework for VET qualifications so that micro credentials can be stacked into full VET qualifications.
Additional actions include expanding Commonwealth-supported university places for under-represented groups in areas of skills shortages.
Implications for education and care
Many educators planning to undertake VET qualifications in early childhood education and care are able to study for free next year (many may have already benefited from free study under the Commonwealth and State and Territory-funded Job Trainer program). Reinvigorating foundational training is a positive step toward expanding the pool of potential early educators, as many new migrants have their employment opportunities limited because of their English language skills.
Addressing skills shortages and strengthening the migration system
Immediate actions in this area include:
The Permanent Migration Scheme will be expanded to 195,000 people in 2022-23.
There will be additional funding to process the backlog of visa applications.
The duration of post-study work rights will be increased by allowing graduates an additional two years of stay in areas of skill shortage.
There will be additional investigations into expanding pathways for temporary skilled sponsored workers to permanent residency, investigating the possibility of industry-sponsored skilled migrants, and exploring strategies to address regional labour shortages by deploying skilled migrants.
Implications for education and care
While it is too early to say with complete confidence for all cases, these measures may mean that migrant educators may have the opportunity to remain at their service, and graduates and students will have greater opportunities to go into education and care, increasing the number of staff for our sector. In addition, as Australia competes with other countries for skilled migration, adding early education to the skilled shortage list may attract more qualified early educators to our shores.
Boosting job security and wages and creating safe, fair and productive workplaces
Immediate actions in this area include:
-support employer and union bargaining
-provide stronger access to flexible working arrangements and unpaid parental leave
-provide stronger protections to workers against adverse action, harassment and discrimination
Further work in this area will include undertaking a detailed consultation and research process considering the impact of workplace relations settings (such as rostering arrangements) regarding improvements to Modern Awards and the National Employment Standards.
In addition, work is under way to include gender pay equity and job security as objects of the Fair Work Act.
Implications for education and care
For union members, the immediate steps may make bargaining for wage improvements in the sector easier. However, many educators do not belong to unions, and enterprise agreements do not always benefit everyone. These are inevitably slow processes, which will not resolve our immediate workforce shortages.
We know CELA members would like priority placed on lifting pay and conditions for all educators. Government is the major funder of education and care, providing around two-thirds of overall income to the sector, with most of the remainder coming from parents in fees. As the single most powerful “purchaser” of education and care, it has the buying power to influence how its money can be directed, and it can and should be directed towards improving pay and conditions to attract and retain a stable, qualified workforce. We know this to be a critical quality factor.
Another important aspect of government as the main funder of education and care is its primary power to adjust wages and conditions. If government is unwilling to “grow the pie” of what it spends on education and care, services are hamstrung in terms of what they can do with their share of income to improve wages and conditions. We know, for instance, that many community-managed not-for-profit services spend around 80% of their income on wages and professional development. For some of these services, particularly in disadvantaged communities, the overall income available does not allow them to pay staff much above Award.
Promoting equal opportunities and reducing barriers to employment
The immediate action in this area involves allowing seniors to earn an additional $4,000 without affecting their pensions. Other actions include increasing the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ capacity to measure barriers and incentives to work and creating a Care Friendly Workplace Framework so enterprises can self-assess, learn and be recognised as a carer-friendly workplace.
There is a lot of focus on our sector in relation to this area. The federal, state and territory governments have committed to collaborate to better support outcomes across ECEC, particularly in relation to workforce shortages. In addition, National Cabinet will develop a long-term vision for education and care reform to better support parents’ workforce participation. The philanthropic sector has promised to partner with government on its Early Years Strategy for over ten years.
Additional planned actions include the increase in Child Care Subsidy rates from July 2023, a Productivity Commission review of the childcare sector and an Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) into childcare prices and gender-responsive whole-of-government budgeting.
Implications for the sector
The changes in eligibility to work without impacting pensions may make it easier to entice older educators who have left the sector to return to help fill casual and short-term vacancies.
The other actions, such as the increase in Child Care Subsidy rates, will likely increase the demand for places. However, the ability to cater for that demand will depend on a rapid expansion of the education and care workforce. While the 2021 ECEC Workforce Census showed a modest expansion of the workforce, this is being undermined by higher levels of attrition driven by burnout from the pandemic.
CELA welcomes the development of a long-term vision for education and care, but not just for parents’ workforce participation; the benefits high-quality education and care can deliver for children are of primary importance.
A significant amount of public money and family fees fuels the education and care sector. It is important that this money is reinvested in children’s learning and development to reward quality, affordability and access as measures of success and effective spending. Therefore, we welcome the upcoming reviews by the Productivity Commission and the ACCC. CELA, together with ELAA and CCC, has already provided input to help shape the terms of reference for the Productivity Commission’s review.
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