Australia risks losing economic ground to China unless its education and business sectors adapt faster to the globalization of the economy, according to Glen Boreham, CEO and managing director of IBM Australia and New Zealand.
Boreham fears Australia is failing to adapt quickly enough to the profound changes under way as enterprises become ever more globally integrated and individuals become enterprising, calling on the government to move faster in its provision of broadband services to serve an increasingly fluid and mobile workforce.
In addition, the education system needs to shift its focus to "the skills of the future": a mesh of IT, science, engineering, mathematics and business skills, Boreham said in an address to the National Press Club in Canberra.
"The country that produces the best equipped talent pool to work in the global economy will receive the cream of the world's work," Boreham said. "While no country is as yet ideally equipped to produce these workers, he counsels that "the window of opportunity to be that country is closing fast. The question business and government must consider is how do we get work to flow to Australia."
According to Boreham, Australian educational institutions still too often teach skills in a vacuum, so while Australia produces highly-skilled engineers, it doesn't produce engineers who understand how to manage projects in India.
Likewise, too many educational institutions still concentrate on teaching European languages, which are becoming less relevant to Australian businesses as economic power and prosperity moves south towards the Asia-Pacific region.
"Why don't more schools have Mandarin or Hindi on their curriculum? My son is learning German in year five. Which is fine, but shouldn't he also be learning a language relevant to the region in which we live?" Boreham said.
In addition to changes to Australia's education system, the government needs to "invest in infrastructure that enables a fluid and mobile workforce", such as broadband infrastructure, Boreham said.
Ultimately, the country best-suited to succeed in the global economy of the future is one which prepares its workforce for the new realities created by globalization, he said, adding one such new reality is outsourcing.
"There's nothing we can do to stop low-value work from moving out of Australia," Boreham said. "However, it is our job - in business and government - to make sure high-value work flows in to replace it. The very nature of work is changing [and] the 20th century organization may literally be history."
While 10 years ago, working a 9 to 5 job in a bricks-and-mortar office was the norm, a more flexible environment exists today.
Boreham said nearly all of IBM Australia's 10,000 employees now work from home at least one day a week.
Similarly, although 10 years ago corporations' strategies were to set up mini-versions of themselves in hundreds of countries, advancements in connectivity and technology may render this strategy obsolete. Instead, corporations are striving to become globally integrated enterprises.
According to Boreham, more and more people are realizing that they don't need to be part of a company to succeed.
"In fact, innovation discussions actually suggested that, in addition to companies like IBM, the future might consist of a billion one-person enterprises operating globally," Boreham said, adding Australian educational institutions must prepare students for these changes.
"We have an amazing, high-quality workforce. As a nation we punch above our weight [and] we need to leverage this sort of talent. We need to give our workforce skills for the future," Boreham said.