National Manufacturing Week 2014 opened this morning, with keynote speaker Professor Ian Chubb reminding the event of the industry’s dependence on science skills.
Chubb, the nation’s chief scientist since 2011, noted that manufacturing trade shows had a long history, citing the Great Exhibition in 1851 at London’s Crystal Palace.
“And there were 6 million people at that time,” said Chubb. “They went to see the best of what manufacturers across the world can produce. There were useful inventions, such as the steam engine and the hydraulic press.
“Then there were the innovations that time forgot,” said Chubb. “One of which was the collapsible purse. And probably more intriguingly there was the folding piano.”
His point was that times had changed and would always do so, and manufacturers had to also adapt or see what they do become irrelevant.
“But what hasn’t changed has been the inseparable link between manufacturing and the state of the science. Manufacturing is a business with innovation and progress at its core. It demands advanced capabilities and it fosters them in turn. And it moves with the speed of human invention.”
The nexus between STEM (science, technology, education and mathematics) and manufacturing is frequently pointed out. Applied research is the bread and butter of the industry, which contributes roughly a quarter to the entire R&D spend by businesses in Australia.
The usefulness of STEM in the general workforce is also acknowledged. Chubb mentioned soon-to-be-published research commissioned by his office, surveying 1,000 firms representing 450,000 workers.
Of these firms, over 82 per put forward that workers with STEM qualifications were valuable in the workplace, even if their background wasn’t directly applicable to their role.
According to Chubb, a focus on skills and innovation was critical to remaining relevant.
“If we’re serious about our commitment to a strong manufacturing sector in Australia, as we should be, we need to be serious in our commitment to STEM,” he said.
“Change in manufacturing is a constant, and the winners stay ahead of it. Otherwise you’ll be left with a folding piano.”