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    Wimmera Southern Mallee Development chief executive Chris Sounness.

Landmark plan to build industries in the Wimmera

By Jessica Grimble

A national education and skills development plan will strengthen localised initiatives to address skills shortages and support emerging industries to thrive. 

Wimmera Southern Mallee Development chief executive Chris Sounness said the landmark five-year National Skills Agreement between state, territory and federal governments would support skills development and unlock new opportunities for businesses.  

The agreement, which will take effect from January, will embed national co-operation and strategic investment into Victoria’s TAFE and training sector.

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The Federal Government will invest up to $3.15 billion to expand access to Victoria’s VET sector and will further strengthen Victoria’s existing investment of more than $4 billion into the sector since 2014.

Its priorities include gender equality; Closing the Gap; clean energy and net zero transformation; sovereign capability including advanced manufacturing skills, national security, food security and construction; care and support services; ensuring Australia’s digital and technology capability; and delivering reforms to improve the regulation of VET qualifications and quality.

“If you look at the priorities and asked community leaders what their priorities are for this region, I don’t think there would be many changes,” Mr Sounness said. 

There is an additional $1.3 billion, nationally, to implement agreed reforms including establishing nationally networked TAFE Centres of Excellence and strengthening collaboration between TAFEs, universities and industry; supporting, growing and retaining a quality VET workforce; establishing a national TAFE leadership network to promote cutting-edge curriculum; and initiatives to Close the Gap, designed in partnership; with First Nations people and led by them. 

The funding also includes initiatives to improve VET completions among women; to improve foundation skills training capacity, quality and accessibility, and to improve VET evidence and data. 

Parties will collaboratively develop and publish the plan by June 2024. 

Mr Sounness said while the detail of the agreement was yet to be confirmed, its purpose aligned with existing initiatives and it was important Wimmera, Mallee and Grampians organisations could capitalise. 

He said Federation University was doing ‘great work’ in net zero transformation and an innovative training model was supporting the development of aged care workers; while Longerenong College and VET programs were supporting capability and capacity in terms of food security initiatives. 

“We’ve got the building blocks; now it’s up to the region to enhance those building blocks,” Mr Sounness said. 

“It’s not just about the institutions themselves; the community can get around them and allow them to be the best possible institute they can be. 

“Some of our young people want to do their training and development elsewhere, but those who want to stay in the region have the opportunity to develop their skills locally, and we could get to a point where people are coming to the region to develop their skills.” 

Mr Sounness said with multiple renewable energy projects and mineral sands mining seeking to invest in the region, it was important the community worked together for best possible outcomes. 

He encouraged businesses to consider the opportunities available to them in the next 10 to 15 years that would allow their business to grow. 

Mr Sounness said emerging tender opportunities could offer businesses a chance to offer more jobs, including apprenticeships and traineeships, and encouraged businesses to engage in discussion and develop partnerships, for example, in skills and training of new and existing staff. 

“Traditionally, we’ve serviced the agriculture sector and our local institutions like health and council. That’s not going away, but there’s likely firms, big multi-nationals working in our region and they will, ideally, want to use local firms,” he said. 

Victorian Skills and TAFE Minister Gayle Tierney said the agreement would build a stronger future for people, businesses and communities across the state. 

Federation University deferred commenting on the agreement until more detailed information became available. 

The entire November 15, 2023 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!