A year in review - 2022
29 January 2023
We are already a month into 2023 and I have been remiss in sharing my annual review. That is because I have been blissfully distracted by this cheeky monkey on the right – my granddaughter, Arabella. Not to mention the countdown to the birth of this little man on the left, my brand spanking new grandson, Cash. While many have justifiable qualms about marking the 26th of January, I had an excellent reason for celebration. COVID restrictions meant Arabella was three months old before I could give her a cuddle. A cuddle I will always remember, not merely because it made front page news and featured on all the television channels. The birth of this gorgeous wee bub is a reminder of just how far we have come. I have been able to snuggle and cuddle him from day one. I am so very proud of their Mum and Dad.
This has been the best of pauses after the end of year flood of work and ahead of exciting opportunities just around the corner in 2023.
I do not have a million clients and, as a soletrader, nor do I want a million clients. I just have the best clients. I continue to be grateful for the trust they place in me, their wise counsel, deep expertise, generous sharing of their time, experiences and ideas, and for their friendship. It has been so wonderful to reconnect with many in person, including meeting some for the first time, in the physical world, after having to operate exclusively in the virtual world for so long.
The following is a quick whip through some of the projects and initiatives that I was fortunate to be a part of in 2022.
Vocational Education and Training (VET)
In previous years I have shared a little of my work on, and my views regarding, schooling and higher education. An important focus of 2022 was VET skills for the future of work.
It is a mistake to assert that the future of work has arrived. Certainly, a state that is different from the past has. The future of work is not a fixed point in time. It is always ahead of us. And, if COVID-19 has taught us anything, there is a multiverse of alternative futures where a disruption, like a pandemic, may have the power to change or accelerate trajectories.
A VET system where the elements of training products are prescribed and the process of change is many layered and slow is ill-suited to this future. So too is a system where employers have little to base their assessment of the relevance and quality of graduates from different providers.
I was privileged to assist in developing a discussion paper on reform opportunities designed to unencumber Australia’s system of VET and empower quality providers, all the while providing an authoritative and independent basis for assessing graduate quality and relevancy. Independent assessment is being trialed in Victoria. The opportunity is to roll it out across all training and Australia.
Jobs and skills
Equipping Australia with the right skills for a prosperous future is not just the job of VET. VET is just one player in Australia’s skills ecosystem. There are other education and training providers. And there are assessors, policymakers, regulators, employers, professional and industry bodies, and sources of talent, both homegrown and migrant. All have a part to play.
The Jobs and Skills summit, and the Treasury issues paper that followed, provided an opportunity to advise reforms on all elements of this ecosystem. I relished the opportunity to feed into and inform the positions taken by a couple of clients.
Two key outcomes I am particularly thrilled about and discuss further below are paid parental leave and skilled migration.
Paid Parental Leave
At the Economics Society’s annual conference in July, I urged that Paid Parental Leave needs to be put back on to the table. Not just because enhancements are good for mums. They are. But they are much more than that. They are good for dads and employers. I explain why in an article shared here.
Post the Jobs and Skills summit, parents’ entitlements are progressively being extended. This, of course, is good news. Particularly given the gulf between the leave provisions of other countries and Australia. But it is not what I consider to be the biggest win. That award goes to the greater flexibility of parents to decide how to split paid leave entitlements between them. Previously the presumption was that mums and not dads would take leave beyond just a couple of weeks. The changes support mums’ choices to return to work and dads keen to have more quality time caring for their newborns.
Knocking on two years of border closures and nationwide skill shortages have loosened the jaws of politicians about the merits of skilled migration, and made for more amenable media coverage. Previously politicians have been reticent to draw attention to skilled migration, let alone do more to attract global talent, fearing that either would be politically unpalatable. And, in the past, the media did much to stoke their fears.
The public, however, are more on board than politicians and commentators have given them credit for. The latest Social Cohesion report from the Scanlon Foundation finds that the already strong support for migration surged to new heights in 2022.
At the Jobs and Skills summit the Government committed to an increased migration intake, particularly for skilled migrants. This is essential for not only addressing skill shortages, but to inviting talent that adds to Australia’s human capital and growth.
However, it will take more than just invitations to attract the global talent necessary to realise Australia’s growth potential. Closed borders and other restrictions did much damage to Australia’s reputation. I had the opportunity to interview recent international graduates and hear their stories. They included tales of their frustrations and anxieties as they navigated the processing complexities of Australia’s system of migration and of enduring months and sometimes years of not knowing the status of their applications. Prospective migrants based offshore shared with me that they were contemplating their alternatives. Of those stuck onshore, unable to return home, some had to sit and pay for again English language tests despite being immersed in the Australian environment. Many struggled financially, as they lost jobs and were not entitled to access welfare support for themselves and their families.
The steps taken to address the visa processing backlog are a great start to rebuilding Australia’s reputation and attracting back the talent needed to address shortages and fuel growth. But they are just first steps. More needs to be done to provide greater certainty to applicants and improve their experiences of the process and of Australia.
Another Jobs and Skills summit undertaking was to review Australia’s approach to migration. The review is in process with the review team expected to report back in February. This is an opportunity to adopt these and other process improvements. It is also an opportunity to contemplate changes more focused on attracting quality migrants than restricting quantities. That is, global talent with skills relevant to a continuously evolving future. This necessitates taking into account all things that evidence those skills. Which means looking at and beyond traditional qualifications, to micro-credentials and skills gain through prior work experience. These and other reform opportunities featured in the submissions of a couple of clients. Australia’s approach to migration is regarded by many as at the cutting edge. The challenge is to continue to operate at that edge by adopting reforms that future proof it.
To make best use of global talent requires reforms that include and go beyond inviting and attracting the best and the brightest. Tales of highly qualified migrants driving taxis is not a reason for restricting migrant entry. Particularly when employers are struggling to fill roles. But they do suggest the need to, and good sense in, assisting their readiness for the Australian workplace.
The professional year programs for international graduates of Australian programs of accounting, engineering and IT are excellent examples of how this can be done through training and internships. Those who complete these programs typically go on to enjoy employment outcomes at least as good as domestic graduands. I know this because of work in relation to two of these programs undertaken over the course of 2022. The potential is to offer similar programs to international graduates of other fields of education, prospective migrants who are not recent graduates, and to recent migrants. All stand to gain. Not just the migrants, but employers and economy.
Over the past couple of years circumstance meant that I had to quickly adapt to hosting strategy days for clients in the virtual world. I have to admit to being ever so quietly proud of myself for making good use of online tools to achieve outcomes that all involved owned.
As COVID restrictions eased, I was thrilled for the opportunities to facilitate face-to-face sessions for the Board of one client and the staff of another. However, rather than revert to approaches used pre-pandemic, I was conscious about walking the talk and not forgetting lessons more recently learned. Blending some of the techniques and new understandings prompted by the online environment made for more interactive and engaging sessions.
Last year I said that I was looking forward to reconnecting in the real world. I have done that. Time with family including my granddaughter and now my grandson have been a real treat. On the work front, while I continue to be the biggest tart when it comes to opportunities to learn and engage in webinars and other online fora, I have been struck anew by the power and the pleasure of face-to-face seminars, conferences, meetings and coffees.
What I look forward to over the coming year is the opportunity to work with others. The benefit of being a soletrader is the agility to either pull together or join teams tailor made to the tasks in hand. A big project to kick off 2023 with, where I have done exactly that, is on attracting the next generation of accounting professionals. Another that I have just put my hat in the ring for is on nature positive investment. Two very different projects, drawing on the talents of people best suited to each task.
“Apes together strong.” (Caesar, Rise of the Planet of the Apes 2011)
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