Australia is blessed with natural resources that make us the envy of the world.

But by far our greatest resource is our people.

If we are smart, we will invest in our people’s skills to increase their potential to get good, secure jobs and to supercharge growth of the Australian economy.

Investment in skills will be a major focus if Labor is successful at the May 21 federal election.

After nearly a decade of the Morrison-Joyce Government running down skills training, Labor would rebuild the sector with TAFE at its heart.

One of the big lessons from the COVID pandemic is that we rely too heavily on overseas labour. Right across the economy, labour shortages are forcing employers to hire overseas workers on temporary visas.

The closure of international borders put an immediate stop to the entry of overseas workers. That shone a spotlight on the labour shortage, particularly in areas like tourism and hospitality, nursing, aged care and childcare, but also in traditional blue-collar trades.

Now that borders have reopened, Australia employers will continue to rely upon overseas migrants to fill these shortages and reboot economic growth.

Temporary migration to fill urgent demands will be important, but the long-term answer to our skills crisis is to increase investment in local skills training.

A Labor Government will provide 465,000 fee-free TAFE courses in areas of skills shortages and 20,000 new university places.

We’ll train up the next generation of electricians, builders and plumbers and boost training in the caring sector, ensuring our nation has enough nurses, aged care workers and childcare workers to meet community needs.

The Morrison-Joyce Government has taken a hands-off approach to skills training. They seem to believe that if governments would just get out of the way, somehow the market will fix everything.

But that doesn’t work. If it did work, we wouldn’t have a skills crisis right now.

By contrast, Labor regards skills training as a central role for government, just like investing in education or health.

We see skills investment as good for the individual but also good for Australia, because it lifts our national capacity.

Our approach is to work with employers, unions, training providers and other levels of government to ensure our training sector meets the needs of industry.

To drive this collaboration, we’d create Jobs and Skills Australia, an independent organisation which will take an evidence-based approach to assessing what skills should be taught for today’s workforce as well as those that will be needed in the future.

It’s not enough to look backwards at the workforce as it has been in the past. We must understand how the work landscape will look in the future and teach Australians the skills needed to help our businesses flourish in that future environment.

For example, we know the world is moving toward greater use of renewable energy and that this will drive huge demand for batteries to store energy produced by solar and wind power.

Australia has all the materials required to make batteries, including the key ingredient, lithium.

We face a choice. We can ship our lithium overseas in bulk so others can add value by making batteries; or we can develop a home-grown battery industry, which would provide increased export income and, more importantly, create jobs for Australians in Australia.

But to make that happen we need to ensure local workers are properly skilled. Otherwise employers will once again be forced to look offshore for workers.

The same principal applies across the board. Whether it is advanced manufacturing, the caring sector, health or education, we owe it to ourselves to train locals to meet our workforce needs.

It’s not just about ensuring our businesses can find workers. It’s also about providing opportunity for Australians to find good jobs that give them the security they need to raise families and get ahead.

This includes young Australians commencing careers as well as older Australians needing to reskill because their jobs have been eliminated by change.

When I was at high school, young people looking for good careers in future growth sectors were encouraged to think about studying computer science.

That was good advice. Just ask Bill Gates.

In 2022, we must think ahead to the industries that will dominate the 21st century. And we must be ready to make those industries our own.

Anthony Albanese is the Leader of the Australian Labor Party.