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2013 Election: Five ways to a stronger digital economy

Tuesday, 30 Jul 2013

The Australian Computer Society (ACS) has called on the major political parties to address five key issues holding the Australian economy back.

These five issues have been identified by ACS in consultation with more than 20,000 Australian ICT professionals, ICT industry leaders, national education and training providers, key users of ICT, and through our own annual statistical research.

More than 550,000 Australians now work in ICT and the digital economy contributes more to GDP than mining. While the focus in recent years on improved digital infrastructure is welcome, it is time to now focus more on how we best use that infrastructure. The ACS believes that if these five key issues are not addressed as priorities, there is a real danger that the digital economy will suffer, and the health of the broader Australian economy with it.

1. Support for ICT Skills:

· Urgently seek to reverse the declining trend of people choosing to study ICT.

· This will require a mix of changing the misconceptions and attitudes as to what a career as an ICT professional can offer, plus greater collaboration between the training & education sectors, employers, and the professional body to ensure our ICT skills base matches economy needs

· Acknowledge that ICT is a profession that must be underpinned by minimum professional standards and ongoing learning, and must be seen in terms of its value creation as well as the risk of poor ICT management.

· Support the following key initiatives

o Governments and industry to work with the profession to ensure minimum required standards, certification and ongoing professional development is a prerequisite for ICT employment. ICT is embedded in virtually everything we do and experience - so quality is essential. Flawed ICT work can result in cost blow outs, significant economic loss and human tragedy. 

o Significant reform of the school curriculum in relation to ICT as a subject and as a learning tool

o Greater training support in ICT for teachers

o Ongoing Government support for the recently announced Digital Careers program aimed at inspiring school students about the opportunities for ICT professionals

o A stronger focus on ICT training and support for displaced workers, particularly those of a mature age.

2. Improve Digital Literacy

· ICT is embedded in virtually everything we do and experience – so minimum levels of digital literacy in our communities are essential.

· There needs to be a particular focus on SMEs and NFPs who have perhaps the most to gain from ICT but generally understand it the least.

· ACS advocates an important first step is education & awareness programs and business diagnostic services delivered through multiple channels

o Industry, NFP and community sector representative bodies

o Professional bodies 

o Targeted Government programs – Federal and State

· ACS, through its 20,000 plus membership, its national footprint, its suite of training programs and its ICT expertise can play an active role in this process.

3. Quality Advice to Government

· ICT is pervasive, fast moving and critical to driving productivity – so high quality advice in the national interest is essential

· ACS proposes an ICT Ministerial Advisory Council comprised of groups and individuals who represent both suppliers and users of ICT skills, together with the professional body for ICT

o Demand side issues should drive the agenda

o Key issues will include skills needs, education & training, quality standards, digital literacy amongst SMEs and NFPs professional development, and mutual recognition globally of ICT qualifications. 

o ACS suggests an important early project for the Council should be an audit of existing Federal and State Government ICT related assistance programs to identify where there is overlap, where there are gaps and which programs are working best. 

· ACS also proposes an industry and government exchange program for key staff to develop better mutual understanding of challenges and opportunities. 

4. Better Data on the Digital Economy

· Accurate, relevant and comprehensive data is a critical element of planning and decision making in any field, and ICT is no different.

· Collecting data on the ICT economy is challenging because it is fast moving, pervasive, and is the new driver of economic growth and prosperity.

· ACS proposes a collaborative project with the ABS and other industry stakeholders to conduct a comprehensive review of current ICT data categories and methods. 

5. Open Data

· Governments around the world are committing to open data. The release of government data sets to the public, wherever possible, is fast becoming a standard of ethical excellence in Government.

· Whilst open data promotes transparency, the real “sleeper” is that it is also provides a platform for innovation. It enables smart ICT professionals to develop new products and services which deliver better outcomes for our communities.

· ACS urges the Federal Government to step up its commitment to open data as an arm of its innovation agenda and promoting Australia as leading knowledge economy. 

Dr Nick Tate, President of the Australian Computer Society urged further support for ICT. “For too long Australia has believed the myth that mining and agriculture are the only paths that can continue to grow our economy. Like our regional partners, we need to recognise that the Digital Economy has become the key component of the economy, and we need Government to support this vital growth area.”

“An incoming Government needs to address the five issues the ACS has raised to help the Australian economy remain internationally competitive and grow in a sustainable manner. As the impact of technology on our work and lives continues to increase, so must Governments place a higher priority on digital literacy and, in particular, growing our national pool of skilled ICT professionals. The ICT professional workforce is now being recognised globally as the key ingredient to sustaining a prosperous, modern economy.” Dr Tate said.

Further information

Thomas Shanahan, Australian Computer Society, 0449 902 130