Economic complexity? We will need a cultural change for this
As final preparations are made for the Jobs and Skills Summit this week in Canberra, it is worth reflecting on what it will really take to transform Australia’s economy into one that embeds prosperity for future generations, in a world of increasingly affected by climate change, geopolitical shifts and uncertainty.
We need to ask ourselves: what kind of jobs and careers do we want to create for future generations? Our economy has become less and less complex over the past few decades.
Harvard University’s Atlas of Economic Complexity ranked Australia 91st in the world in 2020. We were 55 in 1995. That’s a hell of a drop. This means that the type of jobs – and therefore the talent we develop and attract – is limited.
We know we have a great lifestyle, but in the intense global competition for talent, that’s not enough. Think of the career opportunities for bright young people in the top ranked countries of Japan, Switzerland and Germany.
If you have a great PhD, maybe even an industry-focused PhD, you want an interesting career that uses the skills you’ve developed, builds on them, and maybe gives you the opportunity to create something new and big.
Industry and Science Minister Ed Husic has been very clear that he is fully aware of our ranking on the Economic Complexity Scale and his ambition to improve this ranking.
If we want greater economic complexity and all the benefits that brings us, we need to figure out what we do well and what we can scale quickly, and we need to change.
We do a lot of research in Australia. It may not fit national myths about ourselves, but we do it very well. From the fundamental level. We can translate our research into products, processes and ideas that change our world and our lives.
We all know the list – WiFi, cochlear implant, vaporized skin, silicone hydrogel contact lenses, Google Maps, polymer banknotes and so on.
But too often the translation of research and the highly skilled people who can translate great ideas are lost on us.
They are heading to countries that have the capacity to move quickly and where the ingenuity and value of a research-trained workforce is well understood and appreciated by industry.
If we are to attract, retain and retain highly skilled workers – those with research skills such as research masters and doctoral graduates – then we need to make big cultural changes.
We need to figure out how to build ecosystems that support the translation of research to support industrial transformation.
It means understanding how all the – currently disconnected – parts of our system could and should interact with each other and ensure that they do. The boundaries of wallets and states are just breaks on our potential.
We need to figure out how to facilitate collaboration between our research institutes, our national critical research infrastructures, our centers of excellence, our cooperative research centers, our industrial growth centers, the entrepreneur program, the state incubators and the myriad pockets of excellence, capital and government investment.
In a relatively small system, this competition rather than collaboration and coordination undermines our national interest.
Let’s recognize that innovation is messy and non-linear, and let’s build ecosystems that enable this by creating mechanisms that allow movement across and between programs.
We need to bust some myths about the value of research qualifications. Too many Australians and too many potential Australians think there is no place for a PhD here. That a doctorate makes you less employable.
Too many companies fail to capture the potential of talent that they can tap into by employing research-skilled staff and investing in collaboration with research institutes.
A higher research degree can prepare you for a spectacularly interesting and curiosity-driven academic career. It can also prepare for an equally exciting career creating new businesses, modifying existing ones, bringing new products and processes to market, and inventing things that change lives for the better.
Building a workforce that will support a more complex economy in the real world requires some investment. We need to provide incentives and evidence to companies on the value of qualified research personnel.
We need stipends and scholarships for research training no less than what you can earn working in a fast food restaurant. It is a disincentive that prevents diversity by excluding those who cannot afford to take the time to pursue higher education through research and discourages talented mid-career individuals who are often the real drivers of diversity. application of research.
We need fast tracks to permanent residency and citizenship for qualified researchers. We need to recognise, celebrate, value and support talent as an investment in Australia’s future prosperity.
Jane O’Dwyer is CEO of Cooperative Research Australia, which represents Australia’s industry-research collaboration community.
Do you know more? Contact James Riley by email.