Securing Australia’s digital future

Securing Australia's digital future

Australia is falling behind when it comes to digital transformation, according to a new report. Now, scientists are calling on industry and researchers to work together to help position Australia as a “forward-thinking digital nation”.

The Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering and the Australian Academy of Science launched their plan, Preparing for Australia’s Digital Future, last Wednesday to help best place Australia to realise and capitalise on opportunities in digital technology.

While the plan recognises Australia’s success stories in digital technology, such as Atlassian, Technology One, Vitalcare, VPI Photonics and Aconex, it concedes that digital technology research investment is only a “tiny fraction” of its potential contribution to Australia’s future prosperity.

Academy of Technology and Engineering Fellow and co-chair of the steering committee that drew up the plan, Professor Glenn Wightwick FTSE, said: “Digital transformations are continuously and rapidly evolving, driven by aggressive technology progress and accelerating uptake — and Australia is not driving.

“It is essential that, through strategic actions outlined in this plan, we are able to chart our own course.”

NBN Co Chairman and RMIT University Chancellor Dr Ziggy Switkowski AO FAA FTSE is optimistic about the plan’s ability to help the country do just that.

“I’m confident this plan can position Australia as a successful, forward-thinking digital nation — one with an enhanced ability to translate our public and private sector ICT research into skills, innovation, public benefit, careers and jobs, and commercial success.”

The plan includes 32 recommendations grouped under five priority areas: encouraging digital leadership in industry; fostering research and industry partnerships for our digital future; safeguarding and strengthening our digital workforce and capability pipeline; ensuring whole-of-government action for our digital future; and delivering research sector reforms.

Primary recommendations include: industry identification of and leadership in key digital transformation opportunities, with industry initiating strategies for collaboration with appropriate research agencies; increased visibility of publicly funded research; shifting university and publicly funded research agencies’ culture to put higher emphasis on industry experience, placements and collaborations in hiring, promoting and research funding; completion of a national future-readiness review for Australian digital research sectors and development of a position statement on intellectual property (IP) across Australian universities and publicly funded agencies to remove IP as a barrier to research update by industry.

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Ai Group welcomes focus on VET to drive economy

“Senator Michaelia Cash has today drawn a welcome line in the sand in placing vocational education and training on the same footing as higher education,” Ai Group Chief Executive, Innes Willox, said today.

“Australian industry is acutely aware that our transforming economy needs workers with the skills and capabilities developed through both sectors if we are to compete globally.

“Senator Cash’s speech at the National Vocational Education and Training Research Conference recognises that the VET system is critical to ensuring industry has the skilled workforce it needs to grow and to compete internationally. It provides the technicians, the tradespeople, the supervisors and the para-professionals that are needed in an Australian workforce adapting to new technologies and higher-level skills and capabilities.

“Digitalisation is transforming the economy and disrupting skill needs. Employers are facing significant skills shortages, particularly for technicians and trades with STEM capabilities, reflecting the changing tasks and jobs being created as new technologies enter all industry sectors. As with higher education, VET is under pressure to develop people with higher order STEM skills and broad enterprise skills for the digital economy. At the same time, it must develop the workers for occupations with innate people skills, such as the growing Community and Personal Services sector.

“Equally welcome is Senator Cash’s call for the VET system to better connect with industry and to have clear, consistent funding. Ai Group maintains that industry must have a stronger role at all levels to work through the current challenges dogging the system. We have previously highlighted that the funding of the VET system is inadequate, in terms of both the level and composition and its resourcing relative to both the higher education and school sectors.

“Ai Group has welcomed the recommendations of the Joyce Review, notably the implementation of a National Skills Commission, the National Careers Institute, apprenticeship reform and the pilot Skills Organisations. All these reforms strengthen VET, ensuring that industry is at the heart of the system that will be vital to develop skills for our future workforce.

“While we welcome the Government’s $525 million skills and training package, seeking amongst other measures to create up to 80,000 new apprentices, Ai Group is keen to work with the Government to implement broader reform. More can and must be done to:

  • align skills from education and training outcomes with industry needs through improved skills forecasting;
  • address critical workforce STEM skills shortages through education and skills training and funding for initiatives that enhance the VET sector’s role in filling these gaps, such as Ai Group’s Industry 4.0 Higher Apprenticeships;
  • review apprenticeship incentives, placing greater priority on high-skill occupations that will play key roles in the digital economy. In particular we call on the Government to extend the doubling of Commonwealth Employers Incentives to the engineering trades to ensure adequate trade skill development for the large defence procurement and ship building program and the supply chain;
  • support industry to develop workforce plans around their digital strategies, assess existing workers’ capabilities and train when necessary;
  • improve the foundational language, literacy, numeracy and digital skills of entrants to the workforce;
  • increase work-based and work integrated learning models underpinned by closer partnerships between industry and the education and training sector.

“Many of the challenges facing the VET sector are equally those that higher education faces. Ai Group believes there can be greater coherence between VET and higher education which would benefit the nation. Ai Group’s position paper, Realising Potential: solving Australia’s tertiary education, identifies the challenges and makes recommendations for post-secondary education in Australia.

“If the Australian economy is to continue to prosper and remain internationally competitive, it is vital to have access to a highly skilled and qualified workforce. With the rapid advance of technology and digitalisation, a higher level of skills for the workforce is more important than ever,” Mr Willox said.

/Public Release. View in full here.

Australia is using AI to ‘catch up’ rather than to get ahead: Deloitte

New report says 49% of Australian businesses that are early adopters of the tech have indicated a ‘major to extreme AI skills gap’ in the country.

Deloitte has released a report on the state of artificial intelligence (AI) around the world, indicating that Australian businesses are primarily using AI to “catch up” to competitors rather than to “leapfrog ahead”.

The report, titled State of AI in the Enterprise, surveyed 1,900 IT executives that have already implemented or prototyped AI solutions for their companies to better understand how early adopters of AI are using the technology.

The top challenges faced by early adopter IT executives include integrating AI into roles and functions, data issues, implementation struggles, cost, and measuring the value of AI implementations.

“AI success depends on getting the execution right. Organisations often must excel at a wide range of practices to ensure AI success, including developing a strategy, pursuing the right use cases, building a data foundation, and cultivating a strong ability to experiment,” Deloitte said.

According to the survey, 41% of Australian executives reported that their company either completely lacks an AI strategy or has only disparate departmental strategies, compared to 30% of executives globally.

In addition, 49% of executives in Australia believe there is a “major to extreme AI skills gap” in the country, more than any other country surveyed, with the top three roles that require filling being AI researchers, business leaders, and software developers.

This is despite the growing realisation of AI’s ability to provide a competitive advantage or improve work conditions, with 57% of executives globally believing that AI will substantially transform their respective companies within the next three years.

Executives believe industry will be slower to adopt AI, however, with only 38% of executives globally reporting that AI would provide the same impact for industry during the same time frame. The perceived slower industry shift, Deloitte said, represents a window of opportunity for early adopters of AI to get ahead of competitors before the use of AI becomes an industry norm.

Among early adopters of AI from Australia, 56% of executives believe the use of AI is critically important to the current success of a company, with that figure rising to 79% when asked about AI’s importance within two years’ time.

Yet 50% of Australian executives reported that AI is only being used to “catch up” or “keep on par” with competition rather than to establish a distinct advantage, which is the highest rate of all the countries surveyed.

(Image: Deloitte Insights)

The report also said 17% of Australian companies that have already implemented AI solutions are “seasoned” users of the technology, which is a lower rate than the United States, which had the highest figure of 24%.

According to a report [PDF] published in 2018 by AustCyber, Australia is set to lose around AU$400 million in revenue and wages due to the skills shortage. The report also said that 17,600 additional cybersecurity professionals would be needed by 2026 to fulfill the nation’s cybersecurity needs.

AI investment, meanwhile, is set to increase around the world, as 51% of early adopters globally expect to increase their AI investment by at least 10% over the next fiscal year. The primary benefits of investing in AI, according to surveyed executives, are that it improves products and services, and optimises internal business operations.

On the risk front, executives around the world have flagged having major or extreme concerns about cybersecurity vulnerabilities, with 49% of them labelling it as a top-three concern. This was followed by the risk of making the wrong decisions based on AI recommendations, at 44%.

While there is not yet a dedicated national AI strategy, the Australian government has promised a National Skills Commission, if elected, to oversee the AU$2.8 billion annual investment in Vocational Education and Training (VET). The commission would drive “research and analysis of future skills needs across industry to ensure the VET system addresses national labour market priorities including those arising from developing technologies such as automation and artificial intelligence”.

The federal opposition, meanwhile, announced that it would create a AU$3 million National Centre of Artificial Intelligence (AI) Excellence in Melbourne, a AU$2 million cybersecurity training centre, and a human eye over any Commonwealth data-matching activity in the lead up to the federal election.

The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) last month also highlighted a need for development of AI in Australia to be wrapped with a sufficient framework to ensure nothing is set onto citizens without appropriate ethical consideration.

“Australia’s colloquial motto is a ‘fair go’ for all. Ensuring fairness across the many different groups in Australian society will be challenging, but this cuts right to the heart of ethical AI,” CSIRO wrote.