Wednesday 15th October, 2014
The Australian Computer Society (ACS) today welcomed the focus on technology skills in Australian Government’s National Industry Investment and Competitiveness Agenda, and its commitment to increased innovation as a significant step forward. However, the ACS has renewed its calls for increased digital literacy programs for SMEs and a broader commitment from Government towards mandating computer coding as a foundation skill in education.
ACS CEO Alan Patterson said the Competitiveness report reinforces the clear link between a digitally skilled workforce and Australia’s global economic success, and features three key reforms that are critical to the development of such a workforce:
- The promotion of STEM subjects in schools
- The introduction of a ‘Coding across the curriculum’ programme to enhance computer programming skills across the curriculum
- The Government’s focus on the VET system on meeting industry needs
Mr Patterson applauded the report but said it lacks focus on digital literacy for small and medium enterprises, which the ACS has been calling for to help improve our economic performance.
“SMEs are the backbone of our economy and key to many of our future global endeavours,” he said. “Small and medium businesses need practical advice and assistance to understand both their workforce needs, particularly around ICT skills, as well as understanding what digital technologies can do for business growth and productivity and how they can build these technologies into their businesses.
“As recommended in our Innovation submission, SMEs need to embrace ICT products and services as critical elements of the business that drives innovation and builds competitive advantage. We would like to see Government to help increase this awareness with more facilitative programs to educate SMEs about ICT tools and the importance of having an online presence. We need a vastly improved national broadband infrastructure capable of supporting SME growth.
“SME leaders and entrepreneurs, including high-growth start-up CEO’s also need to have ‘work ready’ tech skills – in other words, they need to be able to walk into a meeting and give a presentation, or deal face to face with a client on a technical topic with a working understanding of that topic.
“The Government’s focus on VET is incredibly important to ensuring we have an appropriately skilled workforce. However, we need more focus on skills and competencies, particularly ICT competencies, rather than just a traditional focus on qualifications and occupations.
“We commend Government for their focus on STEM in schools but the ACS would like to see more focus on technology. Whilst mathematics is hugely important, particularly for coding, we also need to think about the here and now. We need more people to better understand technology and how to apply it in the short term,” he said.
Whilst commending the coding in schools initiative, the ACS also called for further attention to digital literacy programs for teachers as well as students.
“The $3.5m funding initiative for coding is most welcome, it’s a powerful step in the right direction, however much more needs to be done,” Mr Patterson said. “We must recognise basic coding as a foundation skill and build it into the national curriculum. This needs to start at a young age, so that our students are better prepared and equipped to compete globally, as other countries such as the UK have these programs in place.
“With a focus on technology for students in schools means we need better professional development for teachers in the technology space. The ACS argued for this in our submission to the review, and stands ready to assist the Government in providing this additional training.
“The ACS is a firm supporter of Australia’s need for employee share option regulations to encourage start-ups, as the UK does. We need to redeploy inefficient innovation funding models with tax incentives for angel investment in Australian start-ups and Australian intellectual property creation (with benefits contingent on IP remaining in Australia).
“ICT is uniquely dynamic – and will remain that way for the foreseeable future.Many of today’s young people will work in jobs nobody has even heard of today.This requires a lifelong approach to skills and education in the technology area. Reskilling and retraining may be important for those who are seeking new opportunities at home or abroad.
“To provide an appropriate pipeline of skilled workers, we urgently need 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 and education sectors, employers, and the professional body to ensure our ICT skills base matches economy needs.
“In the longer term we must develop a long-term employment plan for Australia, which maps our human capital and the extent to which it matches our economic and skills needs.
“The ACS applauds Government for identifying innovation as a key ambition but we maintain the appointment of a Chief Innovator is key to our achievements in this area. As highlighted in our Innovation Submission, having an empowered role dedicated solely to innovation – similar to that of the Chief Scientist – would allow for the comprehensive development of an Innovation System and the successful implementation of many recommendations in the report. This would need to be based on joined-up and cohesive policies and programs, which are properly resourced and targeted. It needs to be someone who is not shackled by bureaucratic processes and can make recommendations directly to the Prime Minister.
“The ACS also welcomes the roundtable discussions being initiated by the Government on the Competitiveness agenda and we look forward to participating in them,” said Mr Patterson.