by Colin Jowell

Recently there has been a lot of commentary about job losses and prospective job losses.  From SPC Ardmona to Holden and now Qantas, the very real prospect of unemployment looms large for many.

The industry commentators, government and others have proclaimed that we need to become a more innovative economy. And while I could not agree more, that’s generally as insightful as saying, “We have a problem, what we really need now is a solution”.

The real question is, “what kind of innovation do we require?” Because when we know the brief, the answers become so much clearer to find. And the parameters of that brief are really staring right at us - we need to predict what resources we will have a surplus of, and find a way to capitalise on that.

Of course, I am not talking about natural resources, I am talking about human ones.  The ones that are about to be cast aside due to these, soon to be, seismic structural shifts.  

There are going to be two core skills that we will have an obvious abundance of:

  • Manufacturing - though we have to accept the fact that we will need to invest in equipping these people with the skills to manufacture things that are a little more distinct, differentiated and therefore competitive. That would arguably be a far better usage of public money than industry bail-outs.
  • Service - say what you like about Australian service standards, the people involved in failing sectors like retail and airlines are literate, well trained and highly capable. Arguably they just need environments that are less hostile, under threat and where they feel less thin on the ground.

So, what's the brief?

When people say innovation, they say technology. But technology alone is not enough. Most technology now can be backwards engineered in a heartbeat - much like what happened to the Auto industry in the middle of the last century. Pure technology plays in time will become just as antiquated.

But if we take advantage of our two abundant resources - skilled manufacturing and service staff, Australian innovation could become globally competitive by adding two elements to the mix:

  • We need to make things, complicated things that can’t just be 3D printed, that carry design integrity and authenticity. We have seen time and time again that people will pay for that.
  • We need to service those things - virtual service is already becoming more face to face, with “chat” the first clunky iteration of it, seamless video service is really not that far off. And in that environment, our laid back, charming, “she’ll be right” style will find a profitable home in the world of automatons.

So that’s the brief - bring on the ideas!