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Australia facing skills crisis

15 November 20171 comment


Innes Willox, whose organisation represents 60,000 businesses which employ a million Australians, says access to skills for the future is posing a real and immediate challenge.

“We are going to run off the cliff very soon when it comes to skills and skills development. And that gets down to the basics of reading, writing and mathematics, as well as the development of STEM and STEAM skills,” Mr Willox told a recent business forum.

“Business is starting to really identify shortfalls around capability in mathematics, science and languages. They are abundantly clear to business and will impede our innovation ability for years to come unless there is some pretty urgent attention,” Mr Willox said.

“That will take time because we are going to be making up for a couple of decades of neglect quite frankly,” he said.

Mr Willox said the reworking of legislation government skilled work visas was not making things easier.

He said the changes, particularly to the 457 visa, had affected confidence among businesses and made potential overseas applicants hesitant to relocate to Australia.

But Mr Willox said there was hope of compromise and sensible change.

“It’s like the government is throwing out a fishing line and starting to reel it in, and we are seeing greater understanding of the impact of what’s proposed.

“It has been particularly difficult for universities, and big four service companies, which have found it hard to get in highly qualified skills,” Mr Willox said.

He said that while the 457 scheme helps identify skills gaps in Australia there was still insufficient training to fill those gaps locally.

Mr Willox however said that recent reports which predict massive job losses as a result of increased automation are “alarmist”.

“There is a lot of concern about the disconnect in conversations between older and younger people. For younger people automation is just part of their life, and it’s also creating opportunity. These transitions demand different skills, different ways of doing jobs,” he said.

“There is a lot to be excited about – and an enormous amount of jobs will be created as these technologies evolve. We couldn’t predict ten years ago where we are now – if you try to predict ten years ahead you get exponential change.”

He said one of AI Group’s priorities is preparing itself and its members for that shifting future.

“We are a connector and facilitator and problem solver and a provider for our member companies across a whole range of business needs,” said Mr Willox.

“We deal both at factory floor level and at conceptual thinking level for businesses, we are involved in training and part of our job is to try to provide for members pathways to make it easier and better for them to do business.”

Mr Willox says the transformation taking place across industry means companies no longer operate in the box they once did.

“The traditional lines between industries are blurring as companies move up and down the production line or becoming more service oriented,” he said.

“Innovation is seen as crucial and increasingly vital to a business’s success or failure, and that is innovation in processes, products, in techniques, in distribution.

“There is growing recognition that every business has the opportunity to operate way beyond its immediate geographic limit, and in every business there is now increasing focus on customisation,” Mr Willox said.

Mr Willox was speaking in the wake of the closure of Australia’s car manufacturing industry.

But he said there were still 20,000 jobs in the automotive supply chain in Australia, while a further 30,000 people worked in related sectors that design, make and repair ships, boats, trains trams and aircraft.

Manufacturing remains a subject of debate in Australian politics.

Currently, manufacturing contributes six per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), exports $96.1 billion of goods and employs 856,000 people.

But this has fallen from a high in 1995, when it contributed 14 per cent of GDP and employed more than a million people.


Laurie Nowell
AMES Australia Senior Journalist