Speech at Ai Group launch of Graduate Employment Service

Simon Birmingham: Thank you. Thank you very much, Innes. It’s wonderful to be here with you and Megan and Don Matthews, the chair of your graduate board, and representatives of industry, just as it is to be here with John Dewar and Sandra Harding and Paul Welling, the Vice-Chancellors. Vicki Thomson and other representatives of the universities education sector. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much for coming and giving us a great good news story to celebrate the opportunity to launch your Graduate Employment Service, but also to reflect a little bit on the couple of policy statements that Megan just outlined. The Connecting for Productivity Study as well as the study in terms of student graduate pathway; all of them very important pieces of work that reinforce the critical link that must exist in Australia between students, business, and education and training providers. And it really is a partnership that we need to make sure we continue to foster and encourage. 

Students seek many things out of their education, but first and foremost for the vast majority of students going into universities, higher education providers, and vocational education providers is that they seek enhanced employment prospects for the future. A job, good job, and a better job. A job that’s relevant to their interests, to what they’re studying. A job that hopefully has a chance of security. A job that has a career trajectory. A job that pays them what they aspire to. Not always all of those things are achievable in the first instance, but indeed, helping them on that pathway is critical.

Australian business and industry equally requires skills, capabilities out of graduates to help Australian business and industry transition as part of our transitioning economy. To make the changes that are necessary in our workforces, in our businesses, in where we invest to ensure that Australia continues to be a high-wage, high social safety net, successful, low unemployment, strong economic growth economy. And over the last 12 months, our economy has [indistinct] added to it. We continue to track with 3 per cent plus economic growth. We are unquestionably in an envious position compared to many other Western nations, with a prolonged period of strong economic growth translating to continued strong employment outcomes. 

But we cannot take any of that for granted, and it is why in the higher education landscape I’m committed to continuing the policy work we’ve been undertaking to work towards incentives and policy settings in higher education that encourage excellence in innovation within our universities. And the measure of that excellence has to be employment outcomes for graduates, and the achievement of those employment outcomes, the organisation of that of course comes from those universities and higher education providers partnering with business and industry to make sure the skills provided are relevant. Both the hard skills, where they are qualifications that are direct pathways to a particular occupation or career path, and the soft skills that are necessary for all graduates to effectively participate in a workforce and to bring the type of critical thinking and analysis skills that they need. 

Equally, of course, we can stand by and will continue to stand by the importance of ensuring that our education and training pathways provide opportunities for equitable access; for circuit breakers in people’s circumstances that can help them change a family trajectory, change a pattern of intergenerational welfare dependency or the like. And again, the opportunity that can be afforded and provided by ensuring that training, education they’re receiving is as strongly linked to employment outcomes can only be to the benefit of helping people from such backgrounds who may not have ordinarily reached university to be able to actually have the confidence that the training they’re receiving will also equip them with skills to succeed in the workplace. And so the pathway of university reform and higher education reform is something that we will continue to do. And I see Belinda sitting there at the back row. That’s what happens when you start to single out people when I do acknowledgements and it’s always risky in higher education to single one out above another, I’ve realised.

Lest you- hate to be caught having dinner with the wrong group and others think they’re being left out. But in all seriousness, can I praise the Ai Group for your work in terms of bringing this product, Graduate Employment Service, to reality. It does provide a valuable tool that I hope is not just an employment service, is not just a service that provides an opportunity for students to link with jobs, but is a service that deepens that connectivity between business and industry and universities and higher education providers so that we actually do have as a result of that pathways that ensure graduates are more job ready, are getting the training and the skills they need  and have the greatest capacity not just to secure a job at the end, but of course to help ensure that they are part of a growing economy in the future that creates more jobs for other people. Well done. Thank you. My pleasure to launch this, and I think to take a couple of minutes of questions as well if the opportunity is still there.