February 25, 2021

Industry and union leaders have identified the need to work together to ensure manufacturing’s place in the nation’s future economic recovery and growth following an Industry Leaders Roundtable virtual forum hosted by IBSA Group yesterday.

Roundtable panelists Ai Group Chief Executive Innes Willox, Business Council of Australia CEO Jennifer Westacott, Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry Chief Economist Ross Lambie, and ACTU Assistant Secretary Scott Connolly all agreed on the renaissance-like opportunities facing the sector but that skills were fundamental to the delivery of a vibrant modern manufacturing industry.

“It was clear from the conversations yesterday that if manufacturing is to become the cornerstone of Australia’s economic future, skills development must be regarded as the bedrock for the delivery of a vibrant modern manufacturing industry,’’ IBSA Group CEO Sharon Robertson said. “This was highlighted in Innes Willox’s comment that if ‘you don’t have industry if you don’t have skills’.’’

Ms Robertson said there was broad agreement amongst panel members that industry, business and unions were uniquely and strategically placed to work together to set an ambitious agenda for Australia’s economic recovery through modern manufacturing.

This was echoed by a call from the ACTU for the sector to work together on skills development in the future.

“We need to record and document our consensus here and say it to Government in one voice,’’ ACTU Assistant Secretary Scott Connolly said.

Ms Robertson said manufacturing could not grow without a skilled workforce.

“If recent times have shown us anything, it is the speed with which we need to provide these skills that will ensure the flexibility and resilience of the workforce,’’

Sharon Robertson, CEO, IBSA Group.

Business Council Australia CEO Jennifer Westacott told the audience, which included CEOs of industry associations, representatives of manufacturing unions, directors of TAFE colleges and government officials, that supporting advanced manufacturing required a skills ecosystem and business environment that embraces innovation and research and development.

“We need to support upskilling and reskilling for people with a wide range of prior experience and capabilities, including through flexible, stackable micro-credentials’’

Jennifer Westacott, Chief Executive, Business Council of Australia.

According to Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry Chief Economist Dr Ross Lambie: “Australia needs a strong modern manufacturing sector to be globally competitive, but to produce innovative products we need to overhaul our education and training sectors. We need quality training that is jobs-focused and delivers skills right across the supply chain.”

Ms Robertson said panelists agreed discussion needed to turn away from what is not working to find solutions which harness the opportunities presented by the current Covid-induced challenges.

The need for the VET (vocational, education and training) sector to be more closely aligned with higher education, the revitalisation of TAFE and the need for manufacturing to raise its appeal as employer of choice were other key themes discussed.

The Industry Leaders Roundtable Event today was the last in a series of seven online-based industry engagement events kicked off by Skills Minister Michaelia Cash involving employers and the workforce following the release of the Modern Manufacturing Strategy in last October’s Budget. It will culminate in a report to the Minister and the Federal Government on findings and recommendations to invigorate the Australian skills sector.

The Delivering Modern Manufacturing Through a Skilled Workforce report is due to be released in April.