What does Australia’s innovation plan mean for business and you?

Australia's innovation plan 2030

Australia now has a national innovation plan. But it’s not just guidance to government. It provides important signals to business and individuals. Action matters, but so does timing. Businesses large and small must overcome complacency to act now, adopting a deliberate approach to innovation for growth. Equally, individuals should question whether their employer and skills are fit for the very-near future.

On 30 January 2018, Mr Bill Ferris launched the much-anticipated Australia 2030: Prosperity through Innovation.

The plan sets out what Australia must achieve by 2030 – just over 10 years away – if innovation is to unlock real economic and social opportunity. Realistically, this is a short period of time and as Ferris emphasises, we need to act now.

Five imperatives are defined in the plan, illustrated below.

2030 Innovation Plan imperatives

In setting out the plan, Ferris reminds us that innovation is essential to creating more jobs and to maintaining our international competitiveness. Despite this, Australia lags behind our competitor nations in the amount invested in innovation and, perhaps more worryingly, in ambition.

Furthermore, while concerns exist that artificial intelligence and automation will eradicate jobs, Ferris notes the real challenge is unlikely to be a shortage of jobs. Rather, it might be a shortage of workers appropriately skilled to fill those jobs. This is due to Australia’s ageing population.

So, while transport drivers and clerical administrators may need to retrain, professional and technical services are likely to flourish. The biggest opportunities will come through knowledge-intensive companies that solve problems common across the world, innovating and exporting scalable solutions.

On the skills front, inter-personal skills, entrepreneurialism and hypothesis-based problem solving will be key. And to sustain employment, people must keep learning.

What does it mean for business?

Leaders of businesses that rely on STEM skills and innovation – like mining companies, power and water authorities, manufacturers, and professional services firms – might reasonably ask “How does this plan apply to us? What does it mean for us in a strategic sense? Is it just a plan that speaks to government policy makers?”

The reality is that all five imperatives pose direct challenges to corporations, public and private:

  • Do your business leaders genuinely foster and support innovation?
  • Do your people have the required skills to innovate?
  • Are you ready to respond to government’s call for innovative service solutions?
  • Are you ready to operate in a more competitive market, responding to both local and global customers and competitors?
  • Are you driving a strategy-aligned portfolio of innovation initiatives, tapping into our best research and development?
Where does the innovation burden (and opportunity) fall?

It’s also interesting to read the national innovation plan asking the question “Who has to do the heavy-lifting to substantially lift Australia’s innovation ambition and achievement?”

The answer seems to be younger professionals, entrepreneurs and small business leaders, including skilled and motivated immigrants. Why? Results to date suggest that – on average – older business leaders are less motivated and equipped to drive innovation, while those at the mid-point of their careers in larger organisations are often overwhelmed by day-to-day operational imperatives, tending to young families and paying off mortgages. Hence, between now and 2030, the cohort that Australia needs to set the innovation standard includes school leavers and early-stage professionals.

Taking practical action now

There are some practical things that all businesses, large and small, can and should do now. The opportunities, often overlooked, are enormous and available to those with the ambition and insight to focus effort and investment effectively.

Here’s five initiatives to work on today:

2030 Innov Plan business actions

Implications for individuals

What does it mean for you as an individual? Be discerning in your choices – about skills to build, and who to work with and for. Ask yourself, are you being sufficiently challenged? Are you experiencing a business commitment to innovate? Are you gaining professional development to better solve business problems and innovate? Are you focused on your customers’ unmet needs? You genuinely want to be answering “yes” to these questions. If not, there’s a real risk your organisation is falling behind the pack, and your skills are becoming less valuable.

So, are you working with an organisation that’s good for your career?