Labor has pledged $25 million for the creation of regional digital skills hubs, and has put government tech suppliers on notice that they should be prepared to create on more IT apprenticeship positions.
The Opposition is focusing its election technology pitch on training and better preparing workers for future jobs.
Shadow digital economy minister Ed Husic and shadow regional communications minister Stephen Jones made the campaign announcement in the marginal seat of Gilmore on the NSW south coast on Tuesday morning.
The $25 million in new funding goes toward the creation of Digital Skills Hubs across regional areas around Australia to assist with digital learning across a several programs for up to 500,000 Australians.
The Opposition also announced that it would work with government technology suppliers to ensure that one-in-10 employees on government projects are apprentices or trainees if it wins the upcoming election.
Its another tech policy announcement from the Labor Party that carries a clear focus on skills and jobs, and on ensuring Australians view emerging new technology as an opportunity and not solely as a threat, Mr Husic said.
It goes with the previously announced commitments of $3 million for a blockchain academy in Perth and $4 million for a National Centre for Artificial Intelligence Excellence in Melbourne.
“If people have noticed the common thread that all of our digital announcements have been about human capital then I’m glad because that’s exactly what it’s about,” Mr Husic told InnovationAus.com.
“We need to move the innovation debate from being one purely about the benefits to capital and wealth creation, [and more] to demonstrating how it will open up opportunities for working people,” he said.
“Don’t get me wrong, wealth creation is a very important signal of success, but we need to be demonstrating a broader agenda than that. And if people believe that government and business are getting their act together to help in the transition as a result of technological change then that will be a good thing all round.”
Labor’s planned Digital Skills Hubs, which leverage existing public facilities, include improving access and engagement with technology, training on digital skills for work, and training for launching a digital business.
Mr Husic said the bulk of the funding would go towards regionally-based hubs, but could also potentially go towards metro providers, while the Labor Party would also work to build awareness in the communities of the services on offer.
The hubs will focus on closing the digital divide in Australia, and target older Australians, Indigenous Australians, people living with a disability, newly arrived migrants, people who speak English as a second language and the long-term unemployed.
“Given how much of the world is moving online, especially via businesses and government, it’s surprising to know how many people are shut out from accessing services because they’re not familiar with technology. That type of digital divide needs to close up and that’s part of the thinking behind this investment,” Mr Husic said.
“But there’s also breadth in our funding announcement to help existing workers retrain or for others to use technology as part of a plan to open their own business”
The location of the hubs will be based on existing research, including the Australian Digital Inclusion Index and existing infrastructure, future projects that impact workforce requirements and other factors.
The Labor policy would work in cooperation with governments at all levels across Australia, Mr Husic said.
“In some states they’re now thinking about how to best use TAFE in local communities and where states are open to this we are keen to work with them to have TAFE be a delivery provider,” he said.
The Opposition has also flagged its plan to work with major government technology suppliers to ensure that one in 10 of their employees working on a government project are digital apprentices or trainees if it wins the 18 May election.
It follows on from its already announced policy that firms working on Commonwealth Priority Infrastructure Projects would need to have one in 10 of their employees working on it be apprentices.
“We have a commitment to work with them and to talk with the sector about how to make this happen. We have a powerful platform to drive this incentive, given the amount of money government spends on technology each year,” Mr Husic said.
It would not be a mandatory requirement, with Labor instead planning to work closely with the IT suppliers to improve the ratio of young apprentices on the projects.
“On big projects we want to see how we can open up training opportunities, not just for young Australians but for workers transitioning mid-career. It’s always been my view to deal with digital skills shortages in practical ways and this is one way to drive that,” he said.
“Again we are putting industry on notice that this is our ambition. We don’t want to impose, we want to work with eager and willing partners, and based on our initial discussions our plans have been well received as a signal of our serious intent to lift skills development across the industry.”
The policy will apply to contracts worth more than $5 million running for at least one year.
It follows Mr Husic’s speech earlier this year where he flagged a crackdown on “digital poachers” – large vendors that continually steal talented digital staff from the public service.
Labor has pledged further scrutiny for these vendors, and said that they risk being penalised when the time comes to review contracts.
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