“We need, a post-secondary plan that puts them on equal footing."
Business Council chief executive Jennifer Westacott
Employers and workers across Western Sydney are set to get a tailwind from the Western Sydney Airport when it opens in 2026, with hundreds of thousands of jobs planned for the region, which is expected to generate up to a $15.6 billion economic boom over three decades.
“The reality is our airport, as an example, is designed to be a catalyst for growth in the region. To attract the private sector. To attract companies that will invest and companies, whether that be in the medical field, whether that be in the aerospace, defence, tourism, agribusiness, whatever the case may be,” Western Sydney Airport chief executive Graham Millett told the Strong Australia forum in Penrith.
“Those companies will bring a different sort of job to Western Sydney. As an example, they'll bring high value knowledge type jobs. With those high value knowledge type jobs, clearly you have higher wages in implicitly. With those knowledge jobs, also, you should be experiencing higher levels of productivity.
Supercharging the aerospace industry and agribusinesses around the airport is part of a plan to create 200,000 knowledge jobs during the next two decades, opening up export opportunities for business of all sizes across the region.
“We have I reckon, 400 jobs just in this immediate area in the number of suppliers who are providing things like electrical goods, valves, pipes, and so on that ultimately go into the capital investments that we’re making all over Australia,” BHP chief executive Andrew Mackenzie told the forum.
The airport is expected to help drive trade between small, medium and large businesses which is worth about $500 billion to the Australian economy each year.
Eight Western Sydney councils have signed a 20-year City Deal with the state and federal governments to deliver the ‘Western Parkland City’, and Western Sydney University assistant vice-chancellor professor Andy Marks, says the region is “latching” on to the government’s jobs target.
“This 200,000 knowledge jobs promised for Western Sydney is the one thing that I think the region's latching on to, to achieve both the wages growth, but also very importantly the productivity gains that my colleagues have been talking about. You need to do both,” he said.
When the airport opens, it will also provide 20,000 direct and indirect jobs, and is expected to support almost 28,000 direct and indirect jobs within five years of it opening.
The Strong Australia panel, made up of energy, education and infrastructure experts, agreed that the challenge for Western Sydney was to continue to attract investment, which will in turn increase productivity, create jobs, and grow the economy and wages.
“One of the ways to get investment in those sectors is to remember that they’re servicing something, that knowledge is for a purpose. We have to protect these great value creating industries in Australia and not take them for granted,” Business Council president Grant King said.
“We need the right policies. We need Andrew [BHP] to keep investing in Australia. It's profoundly important to us that BHP keeps investing in Australia because what sits below the knowledge jobs. The investment that will occur there if we have these world class industries and take those opportunities.”
“You have to be competitive internationally for capital, you have to have the courage to attract and invest in infrastructure, and then you have to create the skills that are here so that when people invest here, they know that they have the people who can work.”
BHP chief executive Andrew Mackenzie
Mr Millett said there was about $80 billion worth of state and federal government investment occurring across NSW.
“Providing the right level of infrastructure is critical for the private sector to be confident they can then proceed with their investment and it will pay off,” he said.
Mr Mackenzie commended the NSW and federal governments for putting an emphasis on infrastructure in the region, saying it was “spot on”.
“In time with the right incentives you could attract more of the corporate sector balance sheets to invest in infrastructure,” he said.
But, he said, giving people new skills was “paramount”.
“The world of work is changing and a lot of people are worried that it's going to mean less jobs and more automation, and that might be the consequences of allowing wages to rise too quickly,” he said.
“But on the other hand, if you bring it towards you, we're so insatiable as human beings for new products, new ideas, I'm convinced it'll create more work than it will destroy, but as long as you're able to be part of that work by having the skills to use it and build the demand. So, I think you have to stay right at the forefront.
“You have to be competitive internationally for capital, you have to have the courage to attract and invest in infrastructure, and then you have to create the skills that are here so that when people invest here, they know that they have the people who can work. They will then, of course, create new demand and they'll use the new skills.”
The Business Council of Australia released its blueprint for reform of the post-secondary system in 2018 – the proposal is a vision for a future post-secondary education and skills system that puts the learner at the centre.
“We need a national plan for the post-secondary system, and by that I mean putting TAFE and universities on an equal footing,” Business Council chief executive Jennifer Westacott told the forum.
“Not having this situation where I think kids who go to TAFE are seen as the kids who couldn't get into university. That's not the role of TAFE. The role of TAFE is around quite specialised technical schools.
“We need, a post-secondary plan that puts them on equal footing.
“The thing I'd like to see is what I call a lifelong skills account. In places like Western Sydney, what you want is for people living here to get access to those knowledge jobs and you want them to be able to up-skill quickly.
“They can't go back and do a computer science degree, so what we're proposing at the Business Council is that every Australian gets a lifelong skills account and they're able to buy a module from TAFE, a module from the university and that becomes a set of credentials that they can trade, like a passport if you will, and that gives them access to jobs across all kinds of the economy.
“That's crucial for people, who live here and go to work every day. What you want is those 200,000 jobs to be taken by local people living here.”
Professor Marks said the policy settings needed to be right to achieve the government’s 200,000 knowledge jobs target by 2036.
“We’ve been I think quite successful in the sense that we've got those commitments out of the City Deal. But that's the urgency. You can't just address the skills issue, but then without addressing the jobs density issue. And all the jobs density now is in the east,” he said.
“The difficulty is though that those that do have qualifications, generally are compelled to get out of the region, 73 per cent of them on average, every day, leave for example Penrith.
“Twenty-two per cent of Aussie's over 15 have a uni degree, right. In places like Penrith that level is more like 13 per cent. In some places like Fairfield and Campbelltown, south western Sydney, it's less than 12 per cent.
“You've got this incredible gap, not just in capacity but in the skill level that exists in the current market. You also have a jobs density issue. This plays out in every major city in Australia, in the outer suburbs. There aren't enough quality jobs, or knowledge jobs, within Western Sydney to hit those targets the government mentioned.
“One of the best things I think the state government's done, this has had a bipartisan support under the Deal, is to sign up big ticket internationals. You've got Northrop Grumman, you've got Mitsubishi, you've got Mitsui. A lot of very large, international firms. Some of them with incredible turnover, bigger than the state of NSW for sure.
“But I think that's how you send confidence into the market. That's how you set a skills agenda.
“If you want to create a skilled economy, don't put higher education funding on freeze. For TAFE, unis, the works.”