2020-21 Budget: The Federal Government is footing the bill for a new era of professional development

Industry News

Much like the rest of the world, 2020 has been a struggle for Australia. And not just emotionally, but economically too. In fact, the pandemic’s most recent resurgence Down Under has been particularly viscous for hardworking individuals and businesses across the country, intensely so for the viral state of Victoria. But as we ride out the dregs of this second wave towards a promised utopia of ‘normality’, it appears we’ve all been thrown a professional lifeline in the meantime by the Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg.

October 6th marked the release of one of Australia’s most anticipated Federal Budgets to-date. And there’s no points for guessing its primary focus — economic recovery. Almost $300 billion of it to be exact. But what does an injection of federal cash mean for the professional futures of those individuals and businesses slogging their way through one of the most unprecedented economic disasters in Australian history?


The 2020 budget winners are our emerging learners

A welcome pledge straight from the Treasurer’s lips was that a hefty chunk of that $300 billion is set to be funnelled straight into education. So, what does a $51 billion investment in Australia’s scholastic and professional landscape look like? A timely leg up for those of us looking to either break into the professional landscape, or scale further up it.

The federal government has made it no secret that the trick to rebooting the economy is more jobs. But what makes us employable? Education. And that’s why future learning and professional development has (rightly) received a big slice of the budget pie.

Here’s a peak at the educational bill the government will be footing according to the 2020-21 federal budget:

  • $10.3 billion invested in the national child care system
  • $146.3 million in combined private and public school funding
  • $62.8 million invested in the Local Jobs Program, which will focus on reskilling, upskilling and employment pathways to assist people back into the workforce
  • 100,000 new apprenticeships through the $1.2 billion Boosting Apprenticeship Commencements wage subsidy
  • $49.5 million invested in funding 14,485 additional places in the Skills for Education and Employment (SEE) program to support new job seekers who lack basic language, literacy and numeracy skills

Amidst this list of recovery-focused injections is one glaring (and important) inference we can make from this year’s budget — the government is stepping up to make gaining, maintaining and retaining employment easier for Australians. And the pollies have pin-pointed exactly how we can do this — by investing in our own education.

Something well and truly worth phoning home about is the 2020 federal budget’s focus on stimulating independent and workplace training. $251.8 million of university funding will be allocated to 50,000 new higher education short courses over two years, meanwhile another $62.8 million is being spent on giving individuals access to the skills and pathways required to re-enter the workforce via the Local Jobs Program.

And it seems that a big part of getting Australia back on track to its former economic glory — ripe with golden soil and wealth for toil — is stimulating the job economy with not just well, jobs, but essential skills.

COVID has lifted the rock on rampant skills gaps

If a viral pandemic has shown us anything, it’s which skills are essential.

Skills gaps are a natural biproduct of an evolving economy, particularly one fuelled by developing technology. However, an unprecedented event such as COVID, which has turned not just work but everyday life on its head, has caused a mass labour displacement. The scale of which Australia hasn’t seen since the ye old days of the Great Depression.

Fortunately, the powers that be are well and truly aware of the importance of matching skills and jobs post-COVID. At the moment, the recently formed National Skills Commission (NSC) — currently piloted by interim commissioner, Adam Boyton — is busying itself with fancy machine learning technology in order to identify exactly which emerging skills are needed to plug those gaps in 2021 and beyond.

Boyton himself echoes the sentiment of the recent budget with regards to skills-based learning being the key to getting the economy’s cogs turning again:

We need to make sure that as the recovery progresses, skills shortages don’t hold us back. By looking at what skills can transfer from one industry to another, and focusing on skilling and reskilling workers, we can better connect job seekers with ways to help get them back into jobs.

While research is currently underway to identify the red-hot technical skills of the future workforce, we do now know which soft skills will take us one step closer to professional progress. The NSC’ latest report, ‘A snapshot on time: The Australian labour market and COVID-19’, has identified a list of core employability skills required for every occupation in Australia, giving workers a solid launchpad from which to begin their professional development.

Australian Skills Classification core competencies

Australian Skills Classification core competencies

Source: NSC Analysis

Suffice to say, with unemployment currently sitting at 6.8%, now is the time to invest in making yourself (and your team) indispensable.

2021 is an opportunity to invest in self-education

While gaining skills is becoming increasingly critical to gaining employment, it’s just as essential to maintaining it. With the future of work currently pivoting to adjust to a more COVID-safe world, it’s now more important than ever that staff’s development grows alongside their business’. This will help close internal skills gaps. (And if the whopping US$11.5 trillion the global economy stands to gain from closing the worldwide skills gaps is anything to go by, there’ll be a little sweet something in it for you and your biz.)

Before we dive into the importance and benefits of professional development, it’s important to note that there is an entire spectrum of self-education available to you. From extensive (and often expensive!) independent tertiary study, through to cost and time-efficient online short courses (including both accredited and nationally recognised courses). Beginning or changing careers often requires more comprehensive and extended study. However, the beauty of upskilling and reskilling is that you can complete it in bite-sized chunks — quite literally as if you’re adding a new skill to your toolbelt each time.

Now, independently, workers stand to benefit from greater career mobility when they invest in self-education. However, businesses themselves can tap into an entirely new growth reserve when they make corporate training and development a fixture of their internal business strategy. Particularly in a post-COVID world of work where changing business models are now demanding greater, newer skills from their employees — upskilling at work is a no-brainer.

A recent paper published by Swinburne University in Melbourne identified four ways that professional development can address the growing skills gap both within the economy and independent businesses.

  1. Capability building: this involves using downtime to upskill workers in essential areas, such as digital literacy, virtual collaboration, and emotional intelligence, making them more valuable employees.
  2. Community learning: this means extending accessible, low-cost education to displaced workers with free capacity for learning new skills.
  3. Cross-sector mobilisation: this involves skill supplementing or ‘upskilling’ workers so as to introduce them to other in-demand areas.
  4. Career shifting: this happens when someone departs a career or industry but leverages strong existing skills (in combination with fresh new skills) to shift into a completely different role.

As you can see, picking up a few new tricks isn’t just a strategy for dealing with COVID monotony — a professional development strategy can give your career and your business new life. And with the threat of rampant virality in the back of everyone’s mind, online courses have become — and will no doubt remain — the learning flavour of the month for the foreseeable future.

The era of upskilling is on now (and online)

When it comes to kicking the job economy back into gear, the trick is equipping ourselves with in-demand skills. The cash allocated to education in the new federal budget is proof of that. The next step is knowing exactly what to upskill yourself, or your team, in.

Due to the largely virtual nature of 2020, digital and information technology skills will no doubt on the rise, particularly as a centrepiece of corporate professional development strategies. Customer service and communication skills will be close behind, supporting the growth of nationwide essential services. Health, safety and wellbeing, in addition to people and culture skills, will also enjoy a surge in popularity as workplaces grapple to adapt to the new ‘state of working’ and what it means for staff morale and productivity.

Fortunately, these are skills taught by a slew of online, face-to-face, short, flexible, accredited, recognised and affordable professional development courses offered by providers all over the country, which means there’s never been a better time to cash in on professional development.

So, while the government is holding the cheque book and COVID is holding the global economy in a death grip, now is the time to invest in education. And by extension, to invest in yourself.