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John Sheridan

John is CEO of Digital Business insights!

17.5% unemployed or underemployed. What are we waiting for?

According to the Roy Morgan poll, unemployment in Australia is now at 10.4% with underemployment at 7.1%. Which means 2.249 million Australians are now looking for work, or looking for more work.

Add the ever increasing impacts of digital job destruction, ageism, lack of leadership and swiftly shifting job requirement skillsets and those figures will soon move higher, not lower.

And quicker not slower.

Inaction by federal government is hard to understand. It’s been a year now with no meaningful action. Just lots of empty words. Even Clarke and Dawe from the ABC have now turned government inaction on our economy into a parody.

See “The importance of a strong team in sales and marketing” on the ABC website. Amusing, but far too close to the truth to be completely funny.

Why so little action?

Is the scale and scope of the “no jobs and no growth” problem just too large and wide reaching?

Is it too hard to respond to, because we can’t simply look overseas for a quick answer like we normally do – because they face the same problems themselves?

Have the federal rabbits just frozen in the headlights? Do they even have a clue?

Waiting is not an option. We have to do something. The problem will only grow. And it does so day by day.

And allied to this problem is the slowing economy, increasing household debt, near zero interest rates across the world leading to diminishing returns for investors, pensioners and those heading towards retirement.

Less work, lower wage growth, more debt and increased stress on mortgages and retirement funds.

Waiting is not an option. Action is required.

Driven by the digital revolution, we are moving from the old economy to the new economy. Like it or not.

And we have to build a supportive bridge to get us from old industries to new.

On the far side of the bridge, we have to start creating a diversified and broad productive industry base, with more exports selling higher value products and services to support more jobs and fund our future needs.

And government has to do two things. It has to support productive industries. But it also has to support the transition to these industries wisely – ie help everyone cross the bridge successfully.

It is that simple.

Which means doing something different to the “same old, same old”.

We have to stop looking wistfully backwards and start looking forwards with more insight and enthusiasm. Which is hard of course. Hindsight is 20-20. Foresight is really hard work.

But one simple truth needs to be recognised before we can move forwards at all.

Technology is replacing a lot more jobs than it is creating. And job evaporation is upon us right now…it is not coming next week or next year.

We must shift the educational demands to STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) far more quickly than our outdated teaching and training system is currently responding. Creative industry thinking matched to STEM is a far greater job catalyst than STEM alone.

Digital disruption is happening in education. It is happening in government. It is happening in professional services. It is happening everywhere. And we are just not keeping up with its impacts.

The world of work will soon offer only two options – jobs that demand few skills, little thought or job satisfaction and pay barely enough to survive, and jobs that demand key skills, creative and connected thought and pay more than enough to live comfortably.

Two roads to the future…

But no traffic control.

Leave this revolution to market forces as the federal government is doing, and we will all live in a jungle.

Manage this revolution with insight (ie leadership) and we can productively benefit from the technologies and competitive forces involved. And cultivate new options and opportunities by adding value to a wide range of productive industries. We are not without resources in this country.

But we have to invest in new infrastructure – physical, human and productive infrastructure.

And provide the options and opportunity for people to take a meaningful place in this new society without blame and shame. If we are collectively responsible for this new economic condition – and we are - then we are collectively responsible for providing a place for all.

And this is no time for ministers to point a finger and talk about bludgers.

For they are the group that led us into this “brave new world” with little or no thought given to consequences.

The unemployed are unemployed because government had no plan for the future. And that is not the fault of the unemployed.

Crossing the bridge from old world industries to new world industries is currently leaving many people behind. Look at Townsville. Look at Geelong. Look at Tasmania, SA and many other regions across Australia.

Government has two choices. It can continue to ignore these people and ultimately suffer the election losses that such inaction deserves.

Or it can invest in helping people to cross the bridge from the old world to the new.

Many will cross under their own steam. But many more won’t and government will have to pay to support these people anyway with unemployment benefits, ineffective “how to create a CV” courses and other useless endeavours.

Or it can bite the bullet and follow through on Tony Abbot’s ambition to be the “infrastructure prime minister”. Of course, he wasn’t, but it was a good idea.

Borrowing is not always bad. Not if the funds borrowed are an intelligent and considered investment in Australia’s productive future. Look at the recent US election. Trump only had to suggest an investment in infrastructure and the markets headed towards the sky.

Our politicians are frightened of their own shadows. Frightened of the ratings agencies. Frightened of the banks. Frightened of their factions.

When the country is crying out for leadership – that mythical animal hiding somewhere in the bathrooms and toilets of “C” suites across the country.

Brave in the bathroom talking to the mirror, but not in the boardroom.

Whilst transitioning between old world industries and new world industries, we need to invest in more real roads, railways, runways, tunnels, bridges and dams in all the places hit hardest by the changing world. And rather than pull funding from the RDA network, with its local input and local ideas…we should increase the funding dramatically to support the regions hit hardest by digital disruption.

The digital revolution connects people into networks. So the more “real world” connected networks we have, such as the RDAs, the better we can respond to the disruptions that beset us. Collaboratively.

Who’s going to pay? Federal government. The only entity with pockets deep enough and with a national vision wide enough.

If federal government doesn’t spend the money productively in helping people through this transition over the next ten years it will spend it anyway in increased unemployment costs, medical costs, incarceration costs and reeducation costs, not to mention the political costs of not listening to the electorate.

National debt is climbing regardless of whatever the treasurer says or does. The budget is out of control. The budgetary gear lever is not connected to the economic gearbox.

So borrowing money to invest in infrastructure that delivers breathing space, planning space, employment, and real jobs in the places that needs jobs most, plus improving hard infrastructure to support the productive industries we are building at the same time is not a misplaced investment.

And during that time, effort can be directed into the proper training and skills required in supporting our productive industries – not the nonsense “training” delivered at the moment. We should reinvest heavily in TAFE.

Action has to be related to vision. We have to invest in building a broader and more productive industry base.

And have the courage to do something, not just talk about it till the next election.

It is time for real conviction. To grow up. And wise up.

The expectation of our school children and students, and their parents is still that they will be job seekers rather than job creators.

We have to turn that expectation around in schools and wake parents up to just how much the digital revolution has changed the world of work forever.

The digital revolution takes no prisoners. There are no more jobs for life.

But we can do something about this. We must do something about it.

We can use the leverage of digital collaboration tools and platforms to intelligently transform the working society we live in, creating real jobs with meaning and high value.

One. We have to support startups.

We have begun, but we have to create lots more high value, productive businesses that can afford to employ.

Not just in ICT. But across a broad and diversified set of productive industries - adding value to agriculture, manufacturing, creative industries, education, tourism, design based professional services, METS, clean, green, medical and smart technology businesses and smart trades which will generate exports and high wages that can then pay for the services the government seems so intent on promoting.

These are the industries to focus on.

And we must add value to all these productive industries through a strategic program of design, branding, marketing and advertising. Not just ship dirt, wheat and meat out the door.

Become price setters not price takers.

Two. We have to identify and support the scaleups (roughly 4 or 5% of our businesses) – the over 5 year old, high growth businesses that generate 50% of the new jobs. We must add value to them also through a strategic program of design, branding, marketing and advertising.

We have to create things, grow things, design things, make things, brand things and market goods and services to the world.

And we have to promote and export. Hard.

If the federal government is missing in action, that throws the onus back onto us all. But collaboratively we can make a difference.

The Manufacturing Toolbox was created collaboratively to confront the idea promoted by federal government ministers that manufacturing is dead in Australia.

It isn’t. Visit http://manufacturing.digitaltoolbox.org

You will see over 5,000 of Australia’s leading manufacturers and producers on show, with more being added all the time.

The Manufacturing Toolbox now has a sister site – the Agriculture Toolbox http://agriculture.digitaltoolbox.org

And there will soon be more Toolboxes. For more sectors.


Because we have to showcase our manufacturing, innovation and producer successes not just to people here in Australia, but to potential customers for our products and services overseas.

While we are waiting for the federal government to awake, we should all push hard through our business networks and connections, letting the world know more about our manufacturing and productive industry capability.

We will soon launch the Taiwan Australia Trade Showcase. The first of many trade showcases to come.


So we can showcase Australian manufacturers directly to overseas markets 24x7, 365 days a year.

Undoubtedly, the traditional trade missions, trade shows and international expos are very important. And the major Australian trade agencies have those under control.

But the individual Export Market Trade Showcases are designed to complement standard trade activity with “shop windows” on Australian manufacturing and other productive industries.

And the more “shop windows” we have the better.

Each one will be customised to the interests of a different country. And we will keep adding export “shop windows” until we have one for each major and minor overseas market.

So that Australian businesses can promote and sell more products and services.

So we can help generate more income for Australian businesses.

So they can afford to employ more people in those businesses.

So those workers can afford to pay tax.

So they can afford to pay down debt.

And so we can build a broader and more diversified platform of productive industries to offset our historic reliance on mining.

It’s not rocket science.

What are we waiting for?

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Monday, 15 October 2018