Australia is not a screw-up nation

We are not facing cataclysmic failures of our public services, says Marie Johnson.

By Marie Johnson
Jan. 16, 2017

It is critical to public policy and public discourse, that the dynamics of these complex systems are understood. It is equally important to understand what has worked well and why.

The systems of society are undergoing a phase change - driven by digital technologies and pervasive intelligent computing. This phase change is throwing up unanticipated challenges and phenomenal opportunities.

What counts is understanding what we see; our readiness and creativity in response and building confidence in the future that is fair for all Australians.

The skills desperately needed by the public sector now and into the future is part of Australia's broader human capital challenge. The public sector skills deficit cannot be solved by the public sector alone. Strong industry relationships and strategic collaboration is essential.

We need to assemble capability differently - like the DARPA model, which Peter Shergold referred to as the "Hollywood" model where talent from government, industry, and research institutions coming together for intense periods to work on breakthrough challenges.

This is where the AIIA plays a really important role across industry, government and academia. The AIIA is strategically focussed on galvanising action on skills and STEM education through its collaboration with governments, other peak groups, and through its Special Interest Group network.

But the skills and imagination pipeline needs to be primed for decades. Long gone are the days when it was enough to do an IT degree or any degree, and jobs would come.

It's now about life-long learning, intentional diversity and taking personal responsibility to feed the thirst for new knowledge through platforms such as MOOCs that democratise access.

Kudos therefore to organisations such as the Department of Human Services and other public sector agencies investing in STEM graduate programmes.

Still the statistics are confronting given the challenges and that's why headlines such as "Australia is a screw-up nation" are so damaging.

We have a duty to change the story. We have a duty to tell the real story - that Australia does amazing things. For example, the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) is remarkable public policy - a world first. And this remarkable policy is driving remarkable innovation and the human potential being unlocked is almost unfathomable.

We need to tell the story to attract the best and brightest into the public sector. To be at the forefront of innovation. To be the future stewards of our complex systems.

Challenges are guaranteed and there will always be stone throwers.

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