How do we develop the skills for a diverse economy?

With an endless supply of buzzwords describing what we must do to succeed, where will we find the answers to how we will succeed? 

‘Innovation’ and a ‘transitioning economy’ are buzz words that have been thrown around a lot in recent years with Governments even using them as the foundation stones of their policy decisions. There is community concern and business scepticism about what the buzzwords actually mean in real terms. How does a region as a whole innovate and what exactly is a transitioning economy? Perhaps the question for the Cairns region should be, what do we transition to?

Is it enough to just work harder or is time we worked smarter?

A major finding from the recent Our Cairns survey identified the communities concerns that North Queensland has a one pillar economy and the success of the region is too reliant on the tourism industry. At the release of the preliminary survey results, Cr Terry James acknowledged these concerns and highlighted the need for investment in education and training and diversification of the Cairns economy.

CQUniviersity in partnership with CCIQ has last week released a report that warns Queensland will be “left behind” if we do not embrace progressive reforms in education and training. The report is particularly relevant to Cairns with youth unemployment trending towards 40% over the coming year and overall unemployment at 10%, well above the national average figure, despite the continued success of the tourism sector in North Queensland.

The report entitled, Transitioning Queensland’s Workforce: Developing the skills needed to power our future economy sets out six key priorities for preparing future workforces.
They include:

  • Setting strong foundations to develop 21st century skills
  • The right structure for career development and mentoring
  • Leveraging the workforce through lifelong learning
  • Leveraging STEM skills to drive the digital workforce
  • Building regional capacity for entrepreneurship
  • Industry engagement to drive sustainable growth

Queensland is facing significant challenges following the slow-down of the construction and mining boom, falling commodity prices, and an ageing population that will see workforce participation decline in the coming decade.

CCIQ Policy Advisor Catherine Pham said that Queenslanders need to start planning for the future in order to maintain our current living standards and income growth. “Queensland and Queenslanders, will essentially need to produce more with less, utilising our skills and intellectual resources more efficiently,” Ms Pham said. “We believe 21st century’ skills, beyond just literacy, numeracy and digital literacy, will be required by individuals in order to succeed in this current business environment - these skills include collaboration, creativity, problem-solving, persistence, curiosity and initiative,” she continued.

Professor Lee Di Milia, Dean of CQUniversity’s School of Business and Law echoed this sentiment by saying that schools, universities and training providers have an important role to play in ensuring future workforce participants acquire these skills and understand how to apply them in real-life. “From a university prospective we need to equip our students with entrepreneurial values and skills, and ensure individuals are adaptable to change and innovation.” Professor Di Milia said.

With this report now released and with time for industry leaders to consider the findings, CQUniversity is hosting the regions first Indaba. An Indaba is a meeting or ‘important assembly’ that has come to mean a gathering of a community’s most important and influential individuals. The event aims to bring together community leaders, professionals, educators, government officers, company directors and business owners to workshop ideas and voice their concerns about the challenges and opportunities currently facing the North Queensland workforce.

The fact that our universities and peak bodies are actively seeking the answers to all the questions posed above is an indictment on our regions commitment to forge our economy forward, to invest in our young people's future and to diversify the workforce beyond just tourism.

Tropic Now will report on the success of the October 10 Indaba.