Innovation

Opinion: about manufacturing and innovation
and a few more topics

While I am not too worried about the closure of GM’s (Holden) manufacturing plants in Australia in 2017, I am concerned as to whether manufacturing as an Australian industry and its associated innovations are not being supported. It is hard to find intelligent comment on these subjects in the Australian media.

There are good economic writers talking about the closure of GM (Holden) and that the world as we know will not cease. One national economic writer probably summed up the truth from an economic perspective on the vehicle manufacture closures — here’s his piece.  But….

While Ross Gittens said: “Employment in manufacturing has been falling since the early 1970s, during which time the workforce has doubled. Manufacturing now accounts for only about 8 per cent of total employment.

Do you really believe the remaining 92 per cent of us have phoney, inconsequential jobs? The big jobs growth has been in education, health, community and business services. Where will the jobs come from? That’s where. The same thing is happening in all the rich countries.”

My response would be that we should be working to increase the levels of manufacturing in Australia. I am not arguing for a vehicle building sector. My point is that Ross’s figures on the falling levels of manufacturing is a serious concern. Services industries do not produce the same levels of innovation as the manufacturing sector.

The manufacturing sector has provided jobs and trades for all sorts of people. Has Australia decided that the trades are no longer jobs to be nurtured and no longer to be available to students who cannot or do not want to go through university? Apprenticeships when structures correctly are part of younger people’s entry to the life of work. Have we decided to reduce the availability of such employment paths?

This is not just a matter of whether government monies are thrown at programs. I witnessed many wasted opportunities in the 1990s when lots of superficial employment programs were exploited by the business community. There were indeed many innovative apprenticeship programs, but there were loads of duds simply structures to make money for the employers. One example spoken of at the time was the cleaning group that simply converted all their part-time workers to apprenticeships to gain the training subsidies for all their workers they would have employed anyway. It made the apprenticeship figures look good and so no one blinked.

The country should be discussing what sort of programs will keep manufacturing alive and to encourage innovative and what sort of education and training programs need to be structured to see younger people encouraged to enter trades.

I did find an interesting article on this very topic. Vaclav Smil writing in Wired magazine touches on the lack of manufacturing in the United States.  While I do not agree with everything he says, I agree with his basic doubts on the current state of how our economies and industry sectors are being guided and managed by the current crop of politicians and how innovation is being stifled.

Here’s Vaclav Smil’s article: it links to Wired – click here.

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