THINK, ACT, BOOM!
How the knowledge economy can save Australia
The world economy is in a time of decisive change – we are witnessing the rise of a global knowledge economy. The good news is that Australia is now much more aware of the centrality of science, knowledge and innovation to our nation’s future prosperity. We have reason to be proud of our achievements in creating new knowledge in science and technology within our research community. However, all businesses and operations will need to be much more focused on new ways of doing things, trial and error, and creating new products and services based on knowledge.
This will make new demands on our existing workforce. This is an area to which the National Innovation and Science Agenda is yet to draw attention – how do we prepare the existing workforce for the digital, economic and structural changes ahead?
The technological transformation that is now well under way will make dramatic demands on people who are now in the workforce. Many of our executives, managers and teams will need to develop new skills and capabilities. We are moving to a world where engaging the power of computers – software, cognitive computing, data analysis – will be part of the job of many Australian workers who have no training in science, maths or technology.
To succeed, we will have to find ways to strengthen these skills in our workplaces. The rise of digitisation, globalisation, platform economics and personalisation all rely on software, cloud computing, data analytics and enhanced communication.
This process of automation and digitisation will happen whether we like it or not, so the sooner we get started the better. Retooling will require new collaborations between companies, universities, entrepreneurs and government. We must look toward a national strategy to transform our national digital and technological capability.
This strategy must equip Australians with the abilities they need to prosper in a globalised economy driven by software. New forms of education and training will be required – ones that are flexible and responsive to the unpredictable course of the technological transformation we are facing. In an uncertain world, adaptability and resilience will be key, both at the individual and the institutional levels. This requires nothing less than the establishment of a culture of innovation that encourages and rewards investment in new knowledge and skills.
David Thodey is chairman of CSIRO and former CEO of Telstra
At Rio Tinto we are rapidly automating and the use of robots is at the heart of our operations. We are discovering a great deal about the skills and talents we need.
We work with the largest fleet of driverless trucks in the world and are quickly learning about the spectrum of skills that are required in our broader automation context, for both the human-to-machine interface, and that of one machine talking to another.
Heavy machines haven’t yet learnt to repair themselves, which has implications for the skilled people we need: highly dexterous technicians to keep things moving and regular on-the-job training. The environment and its demands are rapidly and constantly changing.
Finding people with just the right mix of skills is challenging – many of the required skills aren’t readily taught at university. The problem solving takes place in remote locations where people must understand the control systems and have the skills to use advanced tools. They need to be able to open up the back of the machine and fix it.
Then there are skills required to work with data – lots of it. Autonomous machines generate enormous amounts of data that we use to both increase their efficiency and our overall processes.
Rio's driverless trucks, for example, are continually improving in their performance and capacity. The data they generate can be used to better design the pits, generating significantly better yields and more value from individual pits. Or the crusher can signal to the autonomous truck when it needs more ore without the need for human interaction.
This process is continuing – and we can use the data it generates to keep improving performance. All of this requires examining data, and understanding it so that improvements can be made. It is an iterative process and we rely on people who are skilled interprete rs of data.
Working in these environments with multidisciplinary teams, we also find our workforce needs to understand the diverse backgrounds and perspectives of the different engineering disciplines, industries and trades, that work in our operations. Because each discipline has its own dialect we must allow the time for a common language to develop.
People who can drive value creation out of investigating and improving every single process are the type of people we need. Again, it’s an aptitude, it comes from experience – it’s about constant iteration, adaptation and evolution.
Rio was one of the first companies to bring such complex automation to the heart of our business. Many Australian businesses will travel this path and need the right workforce with the right skills to make this journey.
People who can drive value creation out of investigating and improving every single process are the type of people we need ... it’s about constant iteration, adaptation and evolution.
Kellie Parker is Rio Tinto’s managing director, Pilbara assets and development, iron ore
David Thodey and Danny Gilligan