• The Global Supply Chain Program aims to increase the number of Australian SMEs embedded in the supply chains of eight multinational contractors. (Thinkstock)
    The Global Supply Chain Program aims to increase the number of Australian SMEs embedded in the supply chains of eight multinational contractors. (Thinkstock)

The recent Workforce Development Needs Survey Report 2018 conducted by the Australian Industry Group (AIG) raised a significant red flag about the lack of digital skills within the current Australian workforce.

The AIG stressed that it was the first time that its annual survey had highlighted a shortage of skills in this area, specifically around ‘skills in business automation, Big Data and artificial intelligence solutions’.

In reality, many Australian employees do have excellent digital skills, but those skills are too specific to one particular industry and not easily adaptable. As the face of manufacturing in Australia continues to evolve rapidly, particularly through technologies like additive manufacturing, it is imperative that our digital skills become more broad and agile.

Pundits now tell us that the average employee will change careers five to seven times during their working life.  Therefore, training future Australian workforce with agile skills that are transferable across numerous industries is crucial.

The South Korean digital experience is one worth noting. Given a limited domestic market, South Korea relies on an export-driven knowledge economy. The South Korean government created a Ministry of Knowledge Economy and has invested heavily in supporting the development of digital skills through tertiary and university education. South Korea University’s School of Mechanical Engineering (KUME), for example, has developed specific, industry-based digital curriculums.

The link between education initiatives and developing an agile workforce in South Korea is now paying dividends. This was evident in 2015 when the price of oil declined. Thanks to this commitment to building digital skills, South Korea was in a position to diversify into ‘horizontal’ industries and effectively minimise the fallout, shifting focus to wind power, offshore platforms, power plans, and subsea oil production facilities.

Australia can look to replicate South Korea’s success on the higher education stage. Many university leaders are beginning to realise the benefits of developing digital skills plans, often with the active participation of small businesses.

Placing a strong focus on digital skills now by all industries is vital for business growth and remaining globally competitive. And the opportunity doesn’t just belong to large industries or organisations.

For example, in SA, the Virtual Shipyard training program is a current example of practical forward thinking. The program is positioning SA’s supply-chain to take advantage of the wealth of Defence shipbuilding opportunities that will become available from 2020, including the Future Frigates and Future Submarines.

Fourteen local companies are currently being supported in developing the digital capabilities used worldwide to test construction, manage the entire lifecycle of projects, and link companies into the supply chains of prime contractors.

Australia is in position to be a front-runner when it comes to upskilling our digital workforce. We are uniquely positioned to serve both the demands of a promising – if limited - domestic market, whilst also looking at building our international reach and capabilities. We must focus now on driving our sustainable knowledge economy and fully utilising the opportunity and the appetite for digital transformation for our existing and future workforces.

Otherwise, we risk the Australian workforce being left behind and other global players stepping in to take up the slack.

Note: Narayan Sreenivasan is Dassault Systemes’ Business Transformation Leader, Asia Pacific South.

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