Address to the Australia India Skill conference

Speech
  • Minister for Education and Training

Simon Birmingham: Thank you very much, and good morning ladies and gentlemen. It’s a pleasure to be with you, and a particular pleasure to follow on from my friend and colleague, Minister Rudy. Thank you for your remarks. Thank you for the time that you have taken to come to appreciate the capacity and capabilities of Australia’s skilling system, of our vocational education and technical training systems and institutions. We really have valued your trips to Australia, as you heard. 

The lunch yesterday with the Prime Ministers Turnbull and Modi, somehow conversation turned onto or against me as we went through the reality that Minister Rudy and Prime Minister Modi and Prime Minister Turnbull have all scaled the heights of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and apparently I as a young lad from Adelaide have been a little slack in not having followed the trends of all those others in undertaking that great Australian cultural experience. But Minister Rudy, I’ve been shamed into making sure that I do so, and of course perhaps on your next trip to Australia, you can take me up there and make your second such trip. But it’s probably not appreciated by many in the room that Minister Rudy is also a qualified commercial airline pilot, so obviously the heights of the Sydney Harbour Bridge are but a small height for him compared to the others that he scales from time to time.

I’m thrilled to be here on what is a case of third time lucky for me in terms of coming to India. When I was the minister responsible for water in the Australian Government, I was scheduled to come to India to talk about water policies and cooperation, and around a month or two before that occurred, I was promoted to become the Assistant Minister for Education. And then as the Assistant Minister for Education, I was scheduled to come in October of 2015 to visit India to talk particularly about vocational education and skills, not long after my first meeting I’d had in Australia with Minister Rudy. But in September, around a month before that trip, I was promoted to become the Minister for Education and Training. So scheduling trips to India has been incredibly lucky for me in terms of generating promotions. But fortunately now that I am at the Cabinet table, I was able to schedule this trip, and nothing got in the way, and it’s been a real delight to be here, to spend time with Minister Rudy, to meet Prime Minister Modi. But importantly to advance our strong relations which many of you heard Prime Minister Turnbull and I speak of last night at the dinner about the knowledge partnership between Australia and India, the potential of that to further our relations at all levels: economically, diplomatically, culturally, socially, because of course that knowledge exchange across skills and vocational education, across higher education, across research foundations, all of that exchange enriches and enlarges all aspects of the Australia-India relationship.

I note today that we are in the Shah Jahan Ballroom of this wonderful hotel, and I’m sure many of you know in particular – and particularly Minister Rudy and our Indian colleagues in the audience – that Emperor Shah Jahan was distinguished in many ways. A great Mogul ruler with formidable military skills, but one of his legacies was also a talent and passion for building. According to official histories, as a teenager he built his own quarters in a fort in Afghanistan and redesigned several buildings within Agra Fort. Shah Jahan went on to erect many beautiful monuments, most famously of course the Taj Mahal.

The demand for skills … I mention this because of course the history of building in India is rich, but the demand for such skills today is very much perhaps at the top of India’s immediate capabilities and demands. Research by KPMG India found that the number of people working in construction is expected to increase rapidly from 45 million in 2013 to 76 million in 2022, an increase of almost 70 per cent in less than a decade. All aspects of those numbers to Australian audiences are absolutely mindboggling. Minister, you mentioned the reality of 1273 million people. The task of course that has been set by Prime Minister Modi of skilling and upskilling 400 million people by 2022, and even just that task of skilling an additional 30 million people in the construction sector in less than a decade is a task that is daunting for anyone, but especially when those numbers exceed the entirety of the Australian population.

But we believe we can help, and we believe we can help because, as you recognise and acknowledge, of our experience in building a very successful vocational education and technical skills sector in Australia with recognised, transferrable, industry-developed skills and qualifications, delivered by high quality registered training providers, established in a model that we think can be replicated and is being replicated in many ways across India. We are well placed to help India meet her targets in terms of the development and training of her people. This has been – education and skills has been and is perhaps the strongest single aspect of the Australia-India relationship. It’s no surprise to anybody that Prime Minister Turnbull’s first visit here as Australia’s head of government has been accompanied by a massive delegation of education and training leaders and of course myself as our Education and Training Minister, because it is in this space of human cooperation and human and skills development that we put the priority on the Australia-India relationship, and much has already been accomplished.

The Australia-India Education Council Skills working group has notched up many significant achievements, like the vocational education leadership training program, which has seen more than 181 people complete courses in Indian institutions partnered with some of our TAFE providers. And I know some of the alumni are in the audience today and they are of course wonderful examples of the ongoing relations that are then built as a result of such exchanges.

Other achievements include capacity-building and collaboration in research and data analytics, and particularly working with other Indian Ocean Rim member states to develop occupational standards. This was a topic that Minister Rudy and I focused our discussions on earlier, because it is a means by which we can enhance the mobility of people who train in all of our nations if they are trained and recognised to common occupational standards.

We’ve established many, of course, relations outside of the skills portfolio as you would recognise: across higher education, across research, and including increasingly school partnerships. Our Government’s committed to making sure we have two-way mobility, that this is not just a relationship about helping to up-skill India but is also about ensuring that Australian students as they study have greater opportunities to engage in India and by doing so to learn more about India, to understand India’s culture and aspirations, and of course from there to be able to help strengthen all aspects of our relationship well into the future.

We have strong foundations, but like any good building, it can do with continuous repair, continuous work, to extend, to build, to improve. That’s why we’re doing more, particularly to build the capacity and capability of trainers who are the cornerstone of industry-led vocational education systems. The National Skill Development Centre has advised that India needs an estimated 400,000 new VET trainers and assessors. As you heard Minister Modi speak of, that is of course the anchor, the core for how it is that India can meet, will meet her target of upskilling so many young Indians into the future. That must be our focus as well, how it is to help India achieve those numbers of new trainers and assessors that are necessary.

Today, I’m delighted to launch the new International Skills Training courses for trainers and assessors. These are an innovative approach to skills training. They’re co-branded by the Australian Government and the National Skills Development Corporation of India. Seven Australian registered training organisations were involved in the piloting of these courses to more than 250 students in India. The International Skills Training courses can be delivered by Australian RTOs in partnership with Indian entities to help skill trainers and assessors for India. They complement the range of training courses and qualifications offered by high-quality Australian RTOs, all of which are well positioned to support India to achieve its skills ambitions.

Again, in our bilateral discussions, Minister Rudy and I focused on how it is we can make sure that utilisation of those International Skills Training courses happens in a practical sense, where it is that Australian providers can best target their efforts to find partners in India, to establish their own footprints in India to ensure the rollout and utilisation of these new places.

We also seek to foster an environment where vocational training is valued. I’m delighted that this skills mission has really highlighted the outstanding work of apprentices as part of our partnership. Shane Dealy was named the 2016 Australian Apprentice of the Year in the Australian Training Awards. Shane was mid-way through an engineering degree at university when he decided to follow his heart and switch to carpentry. He now works on new homes, extensions, alterations, decks, all of the different elements you would expect a carpenter to do so. Equally, we have Western Australian Apprentice of the Year Brendan Carlson who also made a career change, switching from work in the Australian Defence Force to the electrical trade. His apprenticeship gave him skills and knowledge to work in the important oil and gas industries, key export sectors for Australia.

We’re joined by Dylan Di Martino, representing WorldSkills Australia and the development of his technical skills, and Judith McDonald who brought her knowledge of industry and her links with local employers to her girls’ high school, ensuring a huge uplift in the number of students attaining vocational certificates in our schools system. These are wonderful examples of collaboration, wonderful examples of young people, and teachers, and trainers, and assessors who are helping to further the partnership and providing practical people-to-people understandings. It was a thrill yesterday morning to see Australian WorldSkills competitors meet with Indian WorldSkills competitors, and you heard Minister Rudy speak about the benefits of WorldSkills before and our intention to ensure that our areas in which our two nations can cooperate effectively in terms of the success of WorldSkills but also establish new and better role models for future for both of our countries.

Collaboration also involves industry, individual businesses, working closely with training providers. And this is a rich area for Australian trading providers seeking to engage in India to work closely and directly with businesses on the their particular needs and skills just as our own vocational education system was developed to make sure qualifications were relevant to the needs of industry. I pay tribute to a South Australian company in my home state, SAGE Automation, who design, make, and improve industrial control systems that automate processes in industries, including defence manufacturing, mining, and utilities. SAGE provides advanced training to enhance the skills of those who work in their different areas of technology every day and they’ve opened their first international office in India. By doing so, they’re able to serve the demands of world-class infrastructure that India is aiming to develop.

The person behind SAGE’s expansion is Rajesh Jagadale. Rajesh is an Indian-born electrical engineer who studied in my home town at my alma mater at the University of Adelaide before joining the SAGE graduate engineer program in 2006. He’s taken the initiative of bringing this South Australian business to India and implementing SAGE’s expansion here. He’s been responsible for the logistics, organising the office location, and building a team of 20 experts particularly to meet the skill subset that SAGE requires. The training SAGE delivers, as they are working to deliver their own training in this market now, bridges the gap between education and being truly work ready. They’ve supported more than 500 Indian graduates to pass through a 12-week course.

A similar collaboration exists from the Canberra Innovation Network. Fostering entrepreneurs in Canberra, it’s an initiative linking universities, research and training institutes, as well as government industry and the community to promote and support innovative partnerships in the ACT and I understand you’ll be hearing Andrew and Peter later today about both of these important education and skilling initiatives and how it is that Australian training providers are operating effectively here in terms of delivering of new and different and entrepreneurial training opportunities.

It is a rich relationship, it’s a relationship that’s strong at government-to-government levels, it is strong across sector-to-sector, and it is increasingly strong between individual providers and individual businesses fostering and building more partnerships. And it is in that latter space that we must make sure we really build this relationship into the future, that we take the policy ambitions of our respective governments, we take the close collaboration and interest in cooperation, and we translate it now into real delivery by training providers working together cooperatively with industry, with business to make sure that the training happens on the ground.

We are thrilled with the support that all of you have given through your deliberations and discussions and we know that you will give much more today, in this room, as you hear from different speakers and canvas the next steps in the relationship. And I am confident from the discussions that Prime Ministers Turnbull and Modi have had, that Minister Rudy and I have had, that our governments stand ready to work with you, to open the doors, to ease the pathways, to ensure that this is a most successful collaborative venture well into the future. Thank you very much and I wish you all every success.

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