Following the release of the National Innovation and Science Agenda, Information Age spoke to ACS CEO Andrew Johnson about his thoughts on the announcement.
What are your thoughts?
"The release has created a lot of excitement, and it hits the mark in terms of coming across as a genuine whole of government approach towards innovation. It covers a very diverse range of areas from removing barriers to raising capital for start-ups, taxation, encouraging public private sector partnerships, commercialising ideas, enhancing our research infrastructure, encouraging more kids to create and use digital technologies, encouraging more women into STEM roles. It is really impressive in terms of breadth."
"Where the excitement comes from is not just this announcement, it is also the Opposition’s focus on innovation. To undertake any transformation, you need to establish the case for change. On the back of investments in the resources sector petering out, that case has been well made. Their seems to be a consensus across the country that we need to reinvent ourselves. That creates excitement, and you can see from the amount of positive feedback that there are large numbers of stakeholders who are keen to put up their hands and be part of developing and driving new business models."
What did you like?
"From an ACS perspective, we have been advocating from a number of years about the need to improve STEM education, teacher support, and diversity within the industry. These commitments are very welcomed."
"Personally, while it is small in the context of the overall agenda, I really liked the commitment to establishing an industry-led Cyber Security Growth Centre with the intention to create business opportunities for Australia’s cyber security industry. I can’t see how you can have a strong technology sector without being a recognised leader in cyber security. When you achieve that, the infrastructure is replicable in other centres, making it a perfect export opportunity."
"The biggest area for me has been the focus on developing Australia’s human capital. For a number of years, Universities would share with us that there were losing their best and brightest before they finished their studies, even as early as first year. This was compounded by those completing post graduate study also heading overseas to advance their careers. It is well publicised about start-ups going to the US to find capital to commercialise their ideas."
"Competing for talent has been a business focus since Adam was a boy. The agenda released really feels like a line in the sand for Australia. While technology disrupts, people are a required pre-requisite in order to disrupt. It is people and talent that come up with the ideas and designs to challenge the status quo. It feels like we are going to start treating Australia as a business, that we are open for business, and we are going to invest in developing talent and attracting talent."
"A quick example, if you jump onto Seek.com today and look at the $150k jobs filter - 40% of those jobs are in technology more than six times higher than traditional professions like law and accounting. What this says to me is that Australian businesses want to transform faster but can’t find the right skills."
"Successful Australian businesses are exporting and have works teams across multiple countries. What happens if you can’t find the skills you need in Australia? You’ll find these skills wherever you can across the world. There really are very few labour mobility issues across countries. If you have skills in demand, you can generally move between countries quite easily."
"The National Innovation and Science Agenda has a number of commitments to develop local talent in STEM, however also initiatives to attract world class talent from which Australia can generate a return. These included the entrepreneur visa, and making it easier for PhD’s and Masters by research students to remain in Australia after their studies. We have a really strong higher education sector, our third largest exporter, it really make sense to me that if we develop talent using our education system, and they have skills that we need to grow our economy, not to lose them and have them return overseas to work with others companies that will compete with Australian companies. The spill over effects have got to be positive in terms of job creation."
What didn’t you like, what was missing?
"Not so much missing – it is implicit in talent development – however what wasn’t so explicit is the digital readiness of our SMEs. ACS has been a long advocator for faster internet access. It is hard to argue with as an objective. The NBN has had it challenges, but faster and equitable internet access for all Australians offers tremendous opportunity. It can’t be however a field of dreams sort of mentality – build it and they will come. We need to support our SMEs build their digital capability particularly in regional areas. We have over 2 million trading businesses in Australia, with only 4% employing twenty or more staff. So we are mostly small. Geography is not so important now. If I can order a product or service online – have confidence in the timeliness of delivery and that the quality will be as expected – online takes a whole lot of friction out of the supply side. What Alibaba has achieved broadening the go to market for Chinese SMEs is incredible, and our SMEs need to know they are now competing for customers globally."