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Immigration reform: Itís a matter of skill

By Jonathan J. Ariel - posted Monday, 16 May 2011

Take two developments in the last 10 days, flowing from different arms of government and ask yourself why one Federal bureaucracy doesn't orchestrate them both.

On 3 May, Skills Australia[1], Australia's independent skills and workforce advisory body, recommended a root and branch overhaul of the country's vocational education and training (VET) system in order to help raise productivity, and address skills challenges that threaten future economic growth and prosperity.

Skills Australia published a comprehensive national review of the Australian VET system covering the last two decades wherein it recommended a series of strategies designed to produce a more flexible and market-oriented education and training system. A system capable of addressing projected skills shortages, rising structural changes in the economy and an ageing population.


The authority's recommendations included:

· Increasing the public subsidy for those undertaking vocational courses;

· Extending scholarships to VET students currently receiving Youth Allowance, Austudy and Abstudy; and

· The creation of an industry-led "Enterprise Skills Investment Fund‟that would aggregate a number of existing funding streams.

It estimated that Australia would need an additional 2.4 million skilled workers by 2015, increasing to 5.2 million by 2025, to meet projected industry demand. Presently, the projected supply of skilled workers is well short of these estimates.

Skills Australia assess the proposed reforms to cost an extra $310 million per year from 2012–13, ballooning to an estimated $12 billion in 2020. This funding will cover the cost of the expansion of VET qualifications by 3 per cent per year. This is the rate the authority argues it needs to secure enough skilled workers to support projected economic activity.


Skills Australia reports to Senator Christopher Evans whose cloakroom stores many hats, including the Minister for Tertiary Education, Minister for Skills as well as the Minister for Jobs and Workplace Relations. The Minister for Immigration (Chris Bowen) and Minister for Employment Participation (Kate Ellis) don't get much of a sneak peek into the authority's activities.

Fast-forward 8 days.

On 11 May, the Federal Treasurer, Wayne Swan, revealed that Australia's migration inflow will swell by 16 000 to make room for skilled migrants whose labour is urgently needed in regional Australia. These much needed folk will be welcomed under the Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme.

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About the Author

Jonathan J. Ariel is an economist and financial analyst. He holds a MBA from the Australian Graduate School of Management. He can be contacted at

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