The Opposition will make a major election pitch at human capital and skills to address looming technological change, the shadow treasurer flagged in his speech to the National Press Club on Wednesday.
Shadow treasurer Chris Bowen focused on two key themes of Labor’s election campaign: improving access to cancer treatment and human capital.
While Opposition Leader Bill Shorten’s own budget reply was shy on innovation and did not mention the looming challenges presented by tech-induced job displacements, Mr Bowen made it a central pillar of his own budget reply.
“In this rapidly changing world of automation, there has never been a more important time to arm our population with the capacity to form and grow their skills than now,” Mr Bowen said in the speech.
“Ninety per cent of all jobs created over the next four years will require a university degree or VET qualification,” he said.
“The economy is changing. Better aligning workforce skills not only helps businesses, it also ensures opportunities for particularly young workers that are facing a very different landscape to the previous generation.
“Technological change means that, in the absence of real investment, workers are at risk of going even further backwards.”
Mr Bowen did not make many new policy announcements in the space, instead using the speech to outline Labor’s broad focus on skills and education.
The Opposition’s focus on training and skills would help Australians ride the wave of digital change, he said.
“Problem solving, financial literacy, digital literacy, teamwork and communication are different from technical skills which are specific to a particular task, role or industry and are in growing demand,” Mr Bowen said.
If elected in May, Labor will guarantee additional support for 150,000 new apprenticeships in areas of skills shortages, and launch a national inquiry into Australia’s post-secondary education system within its first 100 days in office.
“We’ll invest in massive upgrades in skills formation and human capital, from universal access to preschool for three and four year olds, to better and fairer schools funding, to a massive investment in TAFE and a reversal of cuts to universities.”
There has been little focus on tech and innovation in the lead up to the campaign, with barely a mention in the federal budget or Mr Shorten’s reply.
Mr Bowen’s speech marks a new focus on skills and training to prepare for vast technological change in the Australian workforce.
“Labor at its best has always been about aspiring, building, planning for the future. Making big calls to best prepare us for an unknowable future. I don’t mean just preparing for the worst,” he said.
“I mean arming Australia to make the most of a changing world, preparing our economy for the future and improving our society for all.
“And we face this election firmly as the party of the future. We’re comfortable with modernity…we want to embrace the future with confidence, with big ambition for our country.”