Skills Summit: Training and diversity needed for future industries push

Joseph Brookes
Senior Reporter

Taking full advantage of the industries of the future will require action now on training and diversity, Industry minister Ed Husic said Thursday, flagging action on both areas coming out of the government’s Jobs and Skills Summit.

In an afternoon session in Parliament’s Great Hall on ‘maximising the potential of our industries’, Mr Husic led a panel discussion shared equally with contributions from the 142 member invite- only audience.

Comments ranged from the massive opportunities decarbonisation presents Australia and the urgent need to scale the nation’s deep technologies and manufacturing capabilities to the aged care crisis and multinational tax avoidance.

Industry and Science minister Ed Husic led the Summits future industries talk Image: Facebook

The panellists to kick off the future industries discussion were aged care researcher Professor Sue Gordon, agtech investor Matthew Pryor, deeptech accelerator Sally-Ann Williams, and manufacturing expert Dr Jens Goennemann.

Dr Goennemann, who runs the Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre, stressed the need to consider manufacturing as a capability not a sector, and one which has not received the support warranted for something that underpins so many areas.

“To make complex things is the most important economic capability a nation can possess in its own right. Therefore manufacturing is the most promising capability to transform a lucky country into a smart country,” Dr Goennemann said.

“Yet for a capability which has so much promise we fail to consequently invest into our future luck. We may be the 11th richest nation for the time being, but we are the least complex of all OECD countries.”

Ms Williams, the chief executive of Cicada Innovations, also urged support of her deep tech sector and called for the crowd of business leaders, unions and state and federal politicians to take personal accountability for diversifying their workforces.

“Let’s invest in scale ups, and not just our digital tech scale ups, but our deep tech scale ups and grow them. Because those companies will reinvest, typically between 15 to 20 per cent of their revenue in further R&D for the entire lifecycle of their existence, and I’d love to see more of those,” Ms Williams said.

“And let’s do one other thing. Let’s all take personal accountability about how we make this more inclusive society and the businesses that we all want to see.”

Premiers, supermarket bosses, unions, the chief scientist and tech giants all got a say too, with brief statements.

Australia’s chief scientist Dr Cathy Foley said Australia needs to face up to the “mind boggling” scale of what will be needed to become a true global player in the high potential areas like digital technologies, clean energy and critical minerals.

She said Australia simply is not educating enough students in the STEM, particularly women.

“To get the scale that means we do have to work out how to have more women in science, technology, engineering and maths. At the moment, we’ve got over 260 programs trying to encourage girls in there. I’ve been looking at this for nearly 40 years and we failed miserably,” she said.

“So, Mr. Husic, I’m putting it to you; maybe we should be reviewing that and seeing how can we actually do better work out what’s working and what’s not.”

She also called for a consideration of a technology apprenticeship program that demonstrates where the “jobs of the future” are to young Australians.

“At the moment, I think most kids wouldn’t realise that there’s lots of potential in areas which are maybe not even invented yet. And so therefore, they go down those traditional pathways,” Dr Foley said.

Finally the nation’s chief scientist put a spotlight on job insecurity in the tertiary sector, saying it was now effectively a “gig economy” for some of its workers.

“In actual fact, the tertiary sector is one of the worst when it comes to [being a] gig economy. For example, we have nine-year trained PhDs having three-month jobs on a rotating basis. And guess what they leave, and that is something which we can’t condone.”

Western Australia Premier Mark McGowan said the state’s resource sector will remain a significant contributor to economic prosperity and should also be used to transplant the skills it has cultivated in it highly automated and digitised operations to other sectors like advanced manufacturing, agriculture and food manufacturing.

“Those are Australians who are trained in these [resource] industries. So how do we leverage that sort of skill base and people who have that experience and ensure that other industries can take advantage of that, and therefore become internationally competitive as well,” Mr McGowan said.

Atlassian co-founder Scott Farquhar said his technology industry should serve as an example of for changing and future industries, pointing to better than average diversity, pay and attrition rates.

“These are the jobs that everyone wants,” Mr Farquhar said. “All that’s missing is a photo op in a high vis vest, which I’m sure we can fix at some stage.”

He called for more effort on developing Australia’s technology workforce to meet the new government and Tech Council’s 2030 target.

“We’re currently 186,000 jobs short of the 1.2 million technology jobs we need in 2030. So, for the future prosperity of all Australians, we need to find a way to bridge that gap.”

Mr Husic said Australia’s skilled workforce needs to be more diverse.

“We need to call up talent and skill from a broader pool of people. We must do better. make up 50 per cent of the population yet only make up 16 per cent of people who possess STEM qualifications,” Mr Husic said. “For First Nations people [it’s] only half a percent of STEM qualifications. Widening the skills pipeline is a huge priority,” Mr Husic said.

He concluded the day one session by saying the government’s long-term focus is on the need to invest in skills development to turn technologies and new ways of working into secure jobs, and on widening the talent pipeline by diversifying a higher skilled work force.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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