A finance expert has taken aim at the Federal Government for its approach to economic recovery that favours “shovel-ready” construction projects over building digital skills for young people.
Macquarie University applied finance senior lecturer Dr Lurion De Mello criticised the Government’s investment in infrastructure projects as imbalanced and said Australia was “missing out” on the digital economy.
“We’re still under this cloud of ‘construct and build ourselves out of the recession’,” he told Yahoo Finance.
“We are still kind of living in the era of the tradie-type, hard yakka-type career, rather than moving on with the times and ensuring that the future workforce is digitally capable.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has so far committed at least $8 billion to funding infrastructure projects at the state and federal level including major rail projects and the Western Sydney Airport.
Morrison’s fourth stimulus package, the $688 HomeBuilder scheme that offers $25,000 grants to Aussies building or renovating their home if they meet certain criteria, has reportedly received less than 250 applications around the country.
And while Australians needed infrastructure, road projects, world class facilities and more housing, these projects will end at some point – and Australia could even be left with an oversupply of housing, De Mello said.
“That might just take care of the physical infrastructure type economy. But we need to also look at the digital side of things,” he said.
“Do we have enough school students coming up with skills that will be beneficial for the future?”
De Mello acknowledged that the Government has committed $1 billion to the JobTrainer package – but also pointed out that this only goes to school leavers and to the vocational education training (VET) sector.
“We need to be careful that we ensure universities are funded, because anything very specialised [such as high end manufacturing, healthcare or engineering] requires expertise from universities,” he said.
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Digital skills require education overhaul
Under Australia’s current education system, school curriculums vary state by state. But De Mello believes building these digital skills would have to start as early as primary school, and would require a streamlined national curriculum.
“Students should be provided free online training and learn about designing apps,” he said.
“This stuff should be made free and provided rather than companies charging a lot of money to send their kids to coding schools.”
Ultimately, Australia would need workers with specialised technical skills that have learnt how to solve problems.
“[We are] trying to get students to think around business cases around digital capability.”
Students of the future would have to become familiar with artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, learn about the ways devices communicate with each other, and learn how to build apps.
“Everything will be on your phone or on some device. So I think getting young kids acquainted with tech and getting them to think with a technolog[ical] mind is going to be important.”
In turn, teachers would need to be specifically trained to teach digital skills and have access to resources where students can learn about programming and computers, he added.
“If teachers are equipped with the right tools you can bring the best out in them.”
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