Technology or training?

The HIA Summit opened the conversation on how vocational education and training is or is not working to deliver the skills we need, at the speed we need them, to maintain a stable and proficient residential building industry, now and into the future.


Kristin Brookfield
Each year the HIA Building Better Cities Summit provides an important opportunity for HIA to focus on a key area of industry policy which affects members. Held in Melbourne on 7 August, this year was no different, with the ninth summit titled Skills for tomorrow: technology and training? taking up the skills and training mantle. 
The summit brought together a range of speakers with expertise in vocational education to share insights on shaping the future of the training system. Their variety of approaches and views provided fertile ground for considerable discussion over the course of several question times. 

Robert Sobyra, Director of Evidence, Data & Innovations, Construction Skills Queensland, kicked off proceedings discussing where technology is taking the industry. He provided insights about how the business playbook is being rewritten around automation, and identified a range of technological, social and economic forces that are expected to reshape the industry over coming decades. The key theme of his talk centred on the inevitability of jobs changing in the future and why the residential building industry must ensure our workforce is appropriately trained for it.

The federal government is demonstrating a renewed focus on vocational education, reflected in the attendance of the Hon. Steve Irons, Assistant Minister for Vocational Education, Training and Apprenticeships. The Minister highlighted the priority areas for the government following the 2019 Budget, and the release of the Joyce Review of the vocational education and training system. He shared his frustration with the training system’s complexity and it was pleasing to hear that this is a priority area. The Minister has asked the relevant department to focus on streamlining some of that complexity.
Professor Kerry London
What the summit ultimately provided was a range of ideas and options, together with strong engagement from attendees throughout the day
HIA was also pleased to welcome Nadine Williams, Deputy Secretary, Department of Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business. Nadine drilled down into the recommendations of the Joyce Review, revealing how engaged her team is in undertaking reform of Australia’s VET sector. Nadine called on industry to be part of the process of change, stating that she wanted a VET system that is ‘industry-facing’. She confirmed that the federal government is committed to supporting vocational education as an equal partner to university education, reinforced when this key objective was accepted at the COAG (Council of Australian Governments) Leaders Meeting two days later.

Professor Kerry London spoke next and brought a depth of research to the discussion on how industry can change. She delivered a presentation on how disruptive innovation can be promoted through team building and facilitating a sharing of information and cross-pollination among industry partners. Kerry’s research also offered a view on industrialised building, looking to the industry in China for ideas which Australian industry could consider. 

A key challenge for the residential building industry is ensuring we entice a sufficient number of young people to meet the current and future skill requirements of our industry. Two presenters stepped up to the mark in spades to address this topic. The first, Mark Hands, offered a unique view as the CEO & Executive Principal of the Australian Industry Trade College in Queensland. The college offers a school-based trade qualification which has been developed to match the needs of young people with the needs of employers. The heart of the college’s motivation is to move away from a trade being seen ‘as the thing you do when you can’t do other things’.

Established in 2008, and just 10 years on, the college has 2000 graduates across four campuses, with more to come. The college has assisted more than 1900 students to enter into apprenticeships and traineeships, with the aim to have 4500 students across 17 campuses by 2028. 
Robert Sobyra
(L–R): HIA Managing Director Graham Wolfe; the Hon. Steve Irons; HIA National President Simon Norris
In support of the need to promote a career in building, along the way removing some of the stigma attached with learning a trade, Andrew Varasdi from Banjo Advertising brought a fresh set of eyes to the potential campaign the industry could use to re-engage with young people. Focusing on three key themes – that people taking up a trade can earn more than a university graduate over their career, can earn a wage sooner and can have pride in what they deliver – Andrew provided a lively insight into how the industry might promote the benefits of pursuing a skilled trade as a career pathway.
Rodd Camm, Principal at Nous Group, wrapped up the impressive speaker line-up. He offered a view on the trade training system and proposed changes, consistent with a number of the ideas in the Joyce Report which the government may pursue. He talked about the VET sector’s complexity and the need for simpler funding and skills matching. Rodd also addressed questions of competency versus skills and the prospect of greater flexibility to training courses.
The summit concluded with a panel Q&A that engaged a large number of attendees. It was not lost on anybody that there are challenging tasks ahead. As just one example, training our labour force in the skills they need for the future, while maintaining training for the industry’s foundational skills, is not a one-dimensional challenge with a silver bullet answer. What the summit ultimately provided was a range of ideas and options, together with strong engagement from attendees throughout the day. This creates an important platform for HIA to pursue policies that will grow and nurture our workforce in the skills needed today and into the future. 
View speaker presentations here 

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