Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Big Skills '09 Conference - Innovation is the new black!

Yesterday I attended the Big Skills '09 conference in Sydney, hosted by the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations. The conference set out to stimulate discussion on skills and training at a strategic level.

My big take-aways:
  • The Global Financial Crisis (GFC) changes everything - including our skills strategy
  • The jobs that are being lost from our economy as a result of the GFC probably won't return even after our economy recovers
  • People are losing their jobs now who only a few years ago would never have considered themselves vulnerable and in need of re-skilling
  • Australian enterprises need to treat the GFC as an opportunity to restructure and invest in human capital
  • Some industries need to face up to the reality that they won't be around in ten years time
  • It is important to develop not only the workforce but also the workplace itself by using collaboration, teams and technology
  • We must be careful to not just develop people's skills according to short term need, but ensure people's capacity for learning is boosted - the new skills of adaptability & agility

The other big theme from the conference was the importance of leaders having strong management skills in order to boost and strengthen organisations' ability to innovate. Roy Green, Dean of Business at UTS described how innovation is critical to improving productivity, growth, social inclusivity and environmental sustainability.

It certainly drove home to me the importance of not only the management skills training which I am involved with in ensuring our organisations are productive and innovative but also the innovation programs which we have been rolling out at Management Consultancy International over the last year and a half, including LEGO Serious Play.

Here are my notes from the panel discussion:

Panel: Why Are Skills And Training Important In The Current Economic Climate?

Tony Jones’ Introduction:
  • Japanese trade has plummeted nearly 50%, their GDP has also plummeted
  • Japan is beginning to look more like its in depression rather than just in recession
  • Moving from 'Global Financial Crisis' (GFC) to a 'crisis of globalisation'
  • Governments must prepare for large-scale job losses
  • In Sydney today we lost 100 or more apprentices - like canaries in mineshaft
  • National skills base was in crisis before the GFC!
David Finegold - Dean School of Management and Labor Relations at Rutgers University
  • Lowered opportunity costs for investing into training
  • Example of Toyota – used opportunities of recessions to improve their workforce and processes so that when demand picks up again
  • Develop long term capability
  • Green jobs will be more important
  • Philip Bullock – Skills Australia
  • Govt needs to be thinking how they can make opportunities for businesses to invest
  • Businesses which are looking for niche areas
Roy Green – Dean of Faculty of Business, UTS
  • In Australia we have moved from periods of complacency to adversity!
  • The key priority is a national recognition is that our competitive advantage is our knowledge and ingenuity – this must be put into policy; into a 'skills eco-system'
  • Investment / commitment to the innovative capability
  • It’s good to have an elegant innovation system instituted but it is what happens in business which is critical – that’s where the rubber meets the road.
  • When labour market does pick up again
Mmantsetsa Marope – Senior Education Specialist, World Bank
  • Africa's experience is that we must balance the basic skills with a capacity to take up unknown opportunities
  • Thinking outside the box to define skills as a specific capacity
  • The effects of the GFC - the poor and young will become more marginalised
  • Growth with equity is particularly important – mitigating the vulnerability of the potentially weak.
  • People who are losing their jobs now would have not thought themselves as vulnerable two years ago!
  • Fragility of life and the mercurial nature of planning
David Finegold
  • Jobs lost today are likely not going to return once the recession is over
  • It is important for our training organisations to be NIMBLE
  • Eg – ppl retrenched from recreational vehicle industry being retrained for orthapedic industry where there is long term demand in Indiana, USA
  • Singaporean model of creating a skill eco-system
  • City-state is more conducive because of geographic concentration
  • Government has been far more interventionist
  • The balance between the government being a fast-follower and innovator must be found clearly
  • The unique thing about this recession is that until we have some sense of faith in the financial system we won’t be able to implement some sort of solution
  • Major restructuring of executive re-compensation would have been off the agenda six months ago but it is now part of the agenda
  • WA – as mining boom goes down
  • Generation y has had it pretty easy – but now it is going to have it rough
  • Example is of apprentices in mining industry who were being paid 58k now being offered 18k outside of the industry
The UK's system of “Foundation Degrees”
  • Equivalent to the first 2 years of a 3 year full-time degree that leads to honours
  • England only at the moment – embedded in educational system
  • Set up to facilitate high level skills
  • Set up in response to skills shortage
  • Many people who never thought that they would be capable of being a part of tertiary education have participated and gone on to completing honours degrees.
Robyn Shreeve – Principle Westminster College London
  • UK – large infra-structure projects have been approved in order to counterbalance the reliance on the financial services sector
  • UK govt has guaranteed apprenticeships to everyone that wants one
  • The Rudd Government, despite their talks of having an education revolution scrapped the innovation program ‘Commercial ready’ – which was designed for companies which were having trouble accessing venture capital.
Patricia Neden - Innovation & Business Skills Australia
  • Focus needs to be on promoting companies that are entrepreneurial and innovative which will be emerging in the future
  • Emerging ‘Green Economy’ – the great hope for the future?
Debra Rowe - US Partnership For Education For Sustainable Development
  • Stop waiting to emerge from the recession/depression and instead use our capacity to recreate global financial systems that work in a way that is good for humanity
  • “Economics as if people really matter”
  • Make use of research about what quality of life is all about – not just growth
  • How do we measure success?
  • Not just green jobs – eg solar installers
  • All jobs - with new knowledge, skills – for example how to be an “effective change agent”
Is Obama administration serious about the Green Economy?
David Finegold
  • Social entrepreneurship – a whole new sector who want to make a difference – find ways which we can help these people make a difference.
  • Eg: using franchise systems to combine non-profits & for-profits to distribute medicinal drugs in Africa
New Zealand – National Skills Strategy
  • Didn’t just want another supply-side strategy
  • Demand side approach – because were not able to make changes to the tertiary educational system
  • It is important to get industry to be more intelligent about how they voice what their skills development needs – in a longer term manner
  • Some industries need to face up to the reality that they won’t be around in ten years time

What are your thoughts? How will the GFC affect your organisation's skills strategy?

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