Remember Turnbull’s 2015 ‘ideas boom’? We’re still only part way there


File 20180531 69517 i1g2ba.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Freelancing and hot-desking are already common in work places – and will continue to rise.
from http://www.shutterstock.com

Sean Gallagher, Swinburne University of Technology; Beth Webster, Swinburne University of Technology, and Sarah Maddison, Swinburne University of Technology

In 2015, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull welcomed us to the “ideas boom”, launching a National Innovation and Science Agenda to

drive smart ideas that create business growth, local jobs and global success.

In January 2018 the specially-created independent statutory board Innovation and Science Australia (ISA) released its report Australia 2030: Prosperity through Innovation. It’s a document that has been described not as a roadmap for action, but “more of a sketch with detours, dead ends, and red lights which should be green.”

The federal government’s May 2018 response to this report adds further disappointment. The response fails to seize the opportunity to deliver a properly funded and connected education, research and innovation system.

Australia is left with a series of well-meaning but disparate programs that only get us part way to ensuing that Australia thrives in the global innovation race.




Read more:
No clear target in Australia’s 2030 national innovation report


Action is required

Today, we sit at the dawn of the fourth industrial revolution where virtual, physical and biological worlds are merging. Sophisticated cognitive and automation technologies will transform our world in ways difficult to imagine. These technologies are increasingly able to perform human tasks better, faster, and more cheaply.

A snapshot of Australia’s STEM workforce CLICK ON IMAGE TO ZOOM
Office of the Chief Scientist

But it is the emergence of vast, expanding digital platforms and the ecosystems they support that will have a more profound impact on the future of work. Their ever-increasing complexity and accelerating change means constant disruption is the new business as usual.

If we are to respond to the changing nature of future work, we need to build a world-beating national innovation ecosystem, especially by equipping Australians with skills and experience relevant to 2030. As we transition into the digital economy, that means technical, digital and STEM skills are vital. (STEM refers to science, technology, engineering and maths.)

Growth in STEM jobs is 1.5 times that of non-STEM since 2005, yet we continue to produce non-STEM graduates at higher rates than those in STEM. The performance of our kids at school – particularly in maths and science – has declined against international benchmarks.

Clearly, strategic intervention is needed: this is where ISA should come in.




Read more:
PISA results don’t look good, but before we panic let’s look at what we can learn from the latest test


Nothing new on education

The ISA report recommendations on education cover:

  • better training for teachers, particularly STEM teachers
  • preparing students for STEM degrees and jobs
  • improving student achievement in literacy and numeracy
  • interventions to reduce educational inequality
  • improving our vocational education and training (VET) system.

Yet none of these education recommendations were directly supported by the government: only “in principle” or “noted” support was offered in the response document.

While school education in Australia is the constitutional responsibility of the states and territories, the Australian government never shies away from using the funding carrot to leverage school policy outcomes for the betterment of the country.

For instance, full marks go to the federal government supporting STEM education through the Education Council’s National STEM School Education Strategy 2016-2026, and for funding several excellent STEM education projects and initiatives. So why not fund increased numbers and quality of STEM teachers?

Likewise, the urgent need to support the Vocational Education and Training (VET) sector to help it drive innovation, automation and new technologies, and provide businesses with requisite skills training is absent. The Skilling Australians Fund – the government’s main VET policy instrument and a welcome apprenticeship initiative – does little to transition the existing workforce through VET.

Funding for R&D is unclear

Turning to research and development (R&D), the government supports the ISA recommendation to enhance AI and machine learning capabilities – absolutely essential in the digital economy. However, there was no additional funding in the 2018 federal budget beyond existing digital technologies program.

At face value, the raft of funding commitments in the budget for R&D looks promising. But are the funds in addition to existing commitments, or a re-labelling of existing funds?

A persistent criticism from industry of government support is the continual chopping and changing of policies and programs, both in name and content.

ISA recommended extending export support programs, which is sensible given the solid evidence that they work. However, in its response the government merely said they are supported in principle, with no further funds forthcoming.




Read more:
What was missing in Australia’s $1.9 billion infrastructure announcement


What about the future of work?

Agile approaches, exponential organisations, freelance economy, and Industry 4.0 are rewriting the rules of how economic value is created.

The ISA report aims to provide comfort about how to create employment opportunities towards 2030, but it speaks more to the past than to the future. Knowledge work – a main focus of the report – will increasingly be performed less by people and more by machines, creating vast workforce transformation challenges for industry.

The closer we get to 2030, the less the ISA view of the future will be true. Emerging evidence already contraindicates this view.

For work done by people, data from the United States and Australia already show enormous growth of freelancers, including operating from co-working spaces. Modelling suggests this trend will continue.

In parallel, business are becoming more agile. ANZ is completely restructuring itself to look more like 150 start-ups, and downsizing in the process. NAB is sacking 6,000 staff – including many knowledge workers – and replacing them with 2,000 technology specialists and digital workers. All large companies are expected to follow.

Dissociating ‘work’ from ‘jobs’

In the emerging freelance economy, work is increasingly being dissociated from jobs on digital platforms like Upwork. And as more companies go agile, they will have fewer employees but have a larger workforce, leveraging the freelance economy through these platforms.

The upshot? People will increasingly need to create their own work opportunities rather than expect to get a traditional job.

Developing digital skills is essential, and the ISA report rightly focuses on them. But in the highly disruptive and dynamic environment of digital platforms, the core worker skill set will be competent risk taking. Diversity of experience combined with continuous learning are essential ingredients.

Alongside investments in teaching, we should be investing in opportunities where students – from secondary to tertiary education – can “learn-by-doing” in emerging futures of work.

It is for others to discuss the merits of whether these disruptive changes to the economy and employment should be allowed happen or not. But New York Times columnist Tom Friedman sums up the certainty of the approaching tech disruption perfectly:

Whatever can be done, will be done. The only question is, “Will it be done by you or to you?” but it will be done.

The inexorable and exponential rise of sophisticated technologies in the digital economy – the Australian economy – will impact all work and change all jobs. We need to be investing in this future for our children.

The ConversationAnd we need the government to support and fund a well-integrated innovation ecosystem to incorporates education, research, industry and government.

Sean Gallagher, Director, Centre for the New Workforce, Swinburne University of Technology; Beth Webster, Director, Centre for Transformative Innovation, Swinburne University of Technology, and Sarah Maddison, Pro-Vice Chancellor (Academic Innovation & Change), Professor of Astrophysics, Swinburne University of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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2015 in review


The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here's an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 13,000 times in 2015. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 5 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Odds keep rising for a big El Niño in 2015


Jaci Brown, CSIRO; Andrew B. Watkins, Australian Bureau of Meteorology, and Madeleine Cahill, CSIRO

El Niño has arrived, it’s getting stronger, and it’s not about to go away soon. And already there are rumblings that this could be a big one. El Niño in Australia means warmer temperatures, and sometimes, but not always, drier conditions.

In 2014, some climatologists thought a big El Niño might have been on the cards. Ultimately, after some vigorous early warming in the Pacific, conditions only touched on El Niño thresholds. This year, with an event already established, climatologists are suggesting the odds are rising of an El Niño rivalling the record events of 1982 and 1997.

So what’s all the fuss about, and how are conditions different from last year?

Tropical Pacific Ocean temperatures are still rising

El Niño events are identified by equatorial Pacific Ocean temperatures. At the ocean surface, an El Niño is when these are sustained at about 0.8°C warmer than average. As we speak, temperature anomalies are exceeding twice that value.

In fact, we have just experienced twelve consecutive weeks with temperatures more than 1°C above average in all five of the key El Niño monitoring areas. The record was previously held by the 1997 El Niño, when this widespread warming lasted eight consecutive weeks.

But no two El Nino’s are exactly the same. Despite this warming in the tropical Pacific Ocean, in the Indian Ocean temperatures are far warmer than they were in 1997 (or 1982), which may mean different impacts for Australia. But more about that later.

Sea surface temperature differences from normal, June 1997

Sea surface temperature differences from normal June 2015

Sea levels are dropping north of Australia

When sea surface temperatures in the central equatorial Pacific get warm enough, the atmospheric circulation shifts and the usually strong trade winds reduce, sometimes even reversing.

The direct consequence of the changing wind pattern is that the sea level in the western equatorial Pacific is no longer “piled up” by the trade winds. Low sea levels north of New Guinea (shown boxed) are strongly correlated with Nino3.4, which is the index that relates best to Australian climate.

Sea level difference in height from the 1993-2000 normal for July 2015. Exceptionally low sea level to the north of Australia as expected with El Niño events.

Changes to sea level anomalies (relative to the 1993-2000 average) in the western equatorial Pacific (pink box in the previous image). This year is shaping up to be a lot like the El Niño of 1997. Also note the clear fall in western Pacific sea level in the El Niño events of 1994/95, 2002/03, 2006/07, and 2009/10.

At the peak (December) of the 1997 El Niño, the sea level in the western Pacific dropped nearly 30 cm. It is only August and already the sea level is nearly 25 cm below normal to the north of Australia.

Likewise, in the eastern Pacific, sea levels have risen by similar amounts as the weakened trades allow water to shift east. This half-metre difference in the normal sea level between the east and west is a classic strong El Niño signature.

A drop in sea level often means less water flows past Indonesia and down Australia’s west coast — weakening the Leeuwin Current and reducing the likelihood of coral bleaching in Western Australia.

Computer models are predicting a strong event

Climate forecast centres around the world are keenly monitoring the development of this year’s El Niño. Why? Because for some time, all the top dynamical (i.e., physics based) climate models have agreed that there is more warming of the tropical Pacific Ocean to come.

The current (late July) average forecast is for continued warming peaking at a Niño 3.4 value of +2.7°C by December. Such a value would put 2015 alongside the big El Niño events in 1982 (+2.8°C) and 1997 (+2.7°C).

The atmosphere is kicking the El Niño along

Reinforcement by the atmosphere is an essential part of El Niño development – as you can see in our Understanding ENSO video.

Last year the ocean began generating an El Niño but the atmosphere wouldn’t come to the party. This year the atmosphere is clearly responding.

Two exceptionally large westerly wind events have already occurred in the western equatorial Pacific this year, giving this El Niño a significant boost. Another wind event is forecast for August to kick the system along even further and add to the strength of this El Niño.

What does this mean for Australia?

Of the 26 El Niño events since 1900, 17 have brought widespread drought to Australia. In the big El Niño of 1982, drought devastated the eastern half of Australia and drove the devastating Ash Wednesday bushfires.

In contrast, the even stronger El Niño of 1997–98 brought more localised drought, with key rains in May and September meaning winter crops did reasonably well in most areas. Other years, such as 2002 and 1996, when weaker El Niño’s occurred, the drought was more severe.

For Australia, it’s not the size of El Niño that matters, it’s how it interacts with other rainfall drivers – such as sea surface temperatures around the continent and in the Indian and Southern Oceans, as well as random ‘weather noise’ – that governs the eventual rainfall over the continent.

Rainfall deciles for the strong El Niño of 1982
bom.gov.au

Rainfall deciles for the strong El Niño of 1997
bom.gov.au

Rainfall deciles for the weak to moderate El Niño of 2002
bom.gov.au

What can we expect?

A significant El Niño event is currently underway, and there’s a chance it could rival the big events of 1982 and 1997. While this may increase the chance of drought and higher temperatures in eastern Australia, many other factors influence potential impacts.

Typical El Niño impacts for Australia
bom.gov.au

We are already seeing that in the August–October Bureau of Meteorology seasonal outlooks, with the warmest June ocean temperatures on record in the southern Indian Ocean keeping the strengthening El Niño at bay by putting more moisture into the mid-levels of the atmosphere and changing weather patterns.

So what’s the final 2015 El Niño prediction?

The 2015 El Niño is already significant, and a big El Niño certainly remains a possibility. Widespread strong impacts haven’t (yet) raised their head for Australia and indeed, such as in 1997, may never do.

But managing El Niño is all about managing risk. The southern spring is the time when dry weather, frosts and heatwaves can hurt farmers and many others the most. And that’s when El Niño events, which raise the odds of these impacts, like to bite hardest.


The authors will be one hand for an Author Q&A between 12:30pm and 1:30 pm on Tuesday, August 11. Post your questions in the comments section below.

The Conversation

Jaci Brown is Senior Research Scientist at CSIRO.
Andrew B. Watkins is Manager of Climate Prediction Services at Australian Bureau of Meteorology.
Madeleine Cahill is Oceanographer at CSIRO.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Australian Politics: 1 February 2015 – Lessons Learnt?