Companies increasingly turn to existing workers to meet their skills needs

An Australian Industry Group Report launched in Canberra yesterday (Dec 8th) by the Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard has focused on the growing trend for companies to turn to their existing workforces to meet their skilling needs.

An Australian Industry Group Report launched in Canberra yesterday (Dec 8th) by the Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard has focused on the growing trend for companies to turn to their existing workforces to meet their skilling needs.

The report, Skilling the Existing Workforce, highlights the changing nature of workplace training and makes recommendations for Government policies to support business training efforts.

Australian Industry Group Chief Executive, Heather Ridout, said, “We began this work two years ago in an economic climate characterised by sustained growth and endemic skills shortages.

“Two years on, this report is being released into a different and very uncertain environment; the economy is contracting and there is extreme pressure on budgets, particularly training budgets.

“We mustn’t repeat the mistakes of the past on training. Skills will remain central to competitiveness and it is vitally important to underpin our investment in skills so that we can survive the economic crisis and emerge to be more productive in the future.

“This makes today’s report release particularly timely.

“There is now a recognition in Government policy of the importance of continuing to encourage and support the skills development of existing workers, which is considered the most effective method of meeting skills needs.

“The economic crisis has also necessitated the need for the Government to take action to help companies to shore up their investment in training,” Ridout said.

The project identified that workplaces are becoming increasingly important sites of learning. Companies are using their own resources or working in partnership with education and training providers, workplace trainers, facilitators, and through change management and continuous improvement processes.

Skilling the existing workforce has become a major priority across industry. Workforce Skills Development effectiveness is significantly improved when certain preconditions are met including where there is a clear linkage between Workforce Skills Development and the broader enterprise business goals and an adequacy of employees’ English language literacy skills.

Enterprises need independent, quality advice to underpin skilling decisions. Low levels of workforce literacy limit workforce effectiveness and hamper future skilling efforts. Registered Training Organisations need to build their capacity and capabilities. Informal workplace skilling efforts need to be better supported. Industry competency standards continue to be important as benchmarks for skills assessment, recognition of current competence, quality assurance and consistency.


1) Develop a Workforce Skills Development Advisory Network in which independent advisors would work with enterprises including to:

Provide advice to enterprises to link Workforce Skills Development to broader business and HR strategies;

Develop tools to assist return on investment;

Undertake initial analysis of skills needs;

Develop strategies to encourage and support employee participation;

Assist in the development of enterprise and individual learning plans; and

Help companies to access the right training for their needs.

2) Establish a Workforce Skills Development Fund.

A Workforce Skills Development Fund is required to address identified enterprise needs with the assistance of the Network.

The Development Fund would be activated and flexibly applied in direct response to the enterprise needs including:

Building the capacity of enterprises to upskill and reskill their workforces by developing coaches and mentors;

Improving the skills of nominated workers to provide formal, non-formal and informal skilling through nationally recognised training and assessment units and qualifications;

Developing a skilling plan to support the organisation’s strategic plan; and

Conducting a comprehensive skills audit.

3) Establish a National Workforce Literacy Strategy.

The importance of the core enabling skills of language, literacy and numeracy to underpin the skills required for the existing workforce emerged consistently throughout the trial sites and case studies which were part of this report.

The absence of a national literacy strategy seriously undermines strategies to skill the existing worker.

A national strategy is needed to refocus, enhance and expand the current language, literacy and numeracy programs and to provide opportunities for industry to provide advice on expectations and funding allocation.

4) Build Understanding and Capability in Registered Training Organisations (RTOs) of Workforce Skills Development.

Effective responses by RTOs to enterprise needs in relation to existing workers need to be assisted by:

RTOs taking a more systematic approach through professional development;

RTOs forming and/or extending industry partnerships to facilitate the placement of teachers and trainers in enterprises; and

RTOs participating in the Workforce Skills Development Fund.

5) Increase Priority for Investment in Workplace and Organisational Learning Programs.

There is a need to increase investment in programs that build the capability of enterprises to deliver skilling programs.

6) Continue to Advocate and Support Flexible, Demand and Outcomes Based Funding.

To respond to identified skills needs, the current policy direction for demand and outcomes based funding must be maintained and translated into major and sustained change.

The project: To fully explore the issue Ai Group, with the support of the Commonwealth Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, undertook the Skilling the Existing Workforce Project which included the development of a major background research report on skilling the existing workforce; a national consultation process and trials of, and case studies, into enterprise experiences with skilling the existing workforce.

Reports prepared for the phases of the project are available through the Australian Industry Group website

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