The ACS urges all political parties to place a stronger emphasis on digital economy issues in the remaining two weeks of the NSW State election campaign.
We live in a digital world where information and communications technology (ICT) sits at the heart of most of the products and services we now consume. Digital technologies are critical drivers of productivity growth, innovation, and higher standards of living. Successful economies need Governments that place a high priority on developing and sustaining a digital eco-system that ensures an adequate supply of ICT skills, a digitally-literate workforce, and ongoing collaboration between academia, industry, government and the community.
ACS urges the incoming NSW Government to aspire to making this State the leading digital economy in our nation. To achieve this, ACS recommends a focus on four key areas.
1 The Startup Sector
According to a 2013 report by PwC on the “The startup economy”, “the Australian technology startup sector has the potential to contribute $109 billion or 4% of GDP to the Australian economy and 540,000 jobs by 2033….” Further, PwC estimates that 64% of Australia’s startups are based in NSW. So with the right policy settings the NSW economy could grow by over $50 billion off the back of this critical sector. What then are the priority policy issues for an incoming NSW Government?
A critical success factor will be more graduates with computing science qualifications. The PwC report found that the single most important skill for startups is computing science. PwC analysis shows 29% of startup founders had a computing science degree, with a further 4% having computing science skills from their engineering qualifications. Yet as noted by PwC, “only 2% of domestic graduates each year have a computing science qualification.” The incoming NSW Government must therefore place a high priority on initiatives that will encourage more schools students to pursue ICT and computing science studies. This must involve a mix of initiatives. Key amongst them is the need to mandate a Digital Technologies curriculum from Foundation to Year 10. If NSW, and indeed the nation, does not change the curriculum in this way it will damage long term competitiveness, growth and standards of living.
To complement this core initiative, the next NSW Government should work with teachers to help train them to deliver the new curriculum, as well as supporting programs like Digital Careers and Code Club which introduce students to computational thinking and help them understand the exciting career opportunities that open up when they hold ICT qualifications.
2 Digital Economy Ministry & Digital Ministerial Advisory Council
To help build a world-leading digital economy, ACS urges an incoming NSW Government to establish a dedicated Digital Economy Ministry headed by a Cabinet Minister. Further, to assist that Minister in this role, the Government should establish a Digital Ministerial Advisory Council. The Council would provide the Minister with access to the relevant expertise, experience and insights from stakeholders in the ICT eco-system.
ACS suggests the remit of the Council be to provide advice on issues and initiatives related to:
· the demand and supply for appropriate ICT skills;
· digital literacy of the workforce generally, but particularly Small to Medium Enterprises (SMEs) and Not-for-Profits (NFPs); and
· workforce development planning with a particular focus on researching the ICT skills and qualifications NSW is likely to need in the next 5-10 years given the “disruption” being created by rapidly-advancing technologies.
· promoting the very considerable startup sector which exists in NSW as outlined in (1) above.
Membership of the Council should include representatives from ACS, the ICT industry, broader employer representative groups, the education sector, the startup sector and relevant community groups.
3 Digital Skills
To help ensure NSW has an adequate supply of the skilled ICT professionals, the next Government needs to ensure there is a far stronger emphasis on learning and using digital technologies in the education system. Specifically the ACS recommends:
· As noted in (1) above, Including a Digital Technologies subject as a mandatory element of the Foundation to Year 10 school curriculum;
· working with VET providers to encourage a greater focus on preparing VET students for a job market where ICT competencies will be a foundation skill. This, in part, means ensuring all students are required to attain some minimum level of ICT skills and competencies; and
· establishing a process for Government, industry, employer and education stakeholders to work collaboratively and ensure ICT students (tertiary and VET) have greater exposure to work-integrated learning. The objective is to make graduates more work-ready by ensuring they possess the important ‘soft skills’ like project management, problem solving, stakeholder management, and strategic and creative thinking.
4 Digital Literacy of Small to Medium Enterprises (SMEs) & Micro Businesses
SMEs, including the important and growing micro business sector, represent the vast majority of businesses in the State economy. Driving higher economic growth therefore requires Governments to create an environment where these businesses can thrive. In today’s world business success for SMEs and micro businesses will be built on a foundation of digitally competency and literacy and understanding the opportunities that can be created by smart application of new technologies.
However the findings of a PayPal Research project in 2013 on small business digital literacy indicates 3 in 5 SMEs claim low levels of digital literacy are preventing them from running their business more efficiently, and 4 in 5 suggest there should be more help and guidance to assist them embrace the digital economy.
To address this issue, ACS recommends the incoming NSW Government move beyond the usual education and awareness type campaigns Governments have typically pursued. ACS instead suggests a “hands on” program which works with individual businesses to benchmark their digital literacy and identify their specific areas of weakness and then, based on the benchmarking results, help build relationships between the businesses and relevant “best in breed” ICT suppliers and ICT professionals.
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