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Viewpoint: We need to work on options to survive the post-mining boom

Last month, Dave Oliver of AMWU (Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union), had the following to say at the AiG Conference: “We have lost nearly 110,000 manufacturing jobs in the last three years. If Treasury projections about the high dollar are to be believed there is still a substantial amount pain ahead.”

This was followed by, “The Australian public are asking – what is our future and the future for our children post the mining boom? What do the jobs of the future look like? What happens when we stop digging things up and sending them overseas? What does a sustainable economy look like? The public know that to have a diverse economy that delivers long term prosperity and growth, we have to have more than a mining industry.”

And finally he said, ”Our public research over many years has shown us that Australians value manufacturing and want our country to have the capacity to make things. The public actually know that manufacturing sustains a modern economy. That it trains our tradespeople, it pays for the research and development, and it delivers innovation. The public do understand that it anchors other industries and creates jobs downstream.”

Recently the Academy of Science’s Executive Committee of Council met to discuss a $403.6 million cut to HECS support for science, mathematics and statistics students, announced in the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook 2011-2012.

“The number of young Australians studying science and maths at high school and university has been in steady decline for two decades,” Academy President, Professor Suzanne Cory said.

“We are slipping behind neighbouring countries in maths and science performance at secondary school and there are growing shortages in the workforce of young people with maths and science skills. This decline in enrolments must be addressed.

"The academy calls on the Government to respond with policies to support improved primary and high school science and mathematics education and to attract and retain university science and maths students. Australia’s robust economic future depends upon innovation. This is not the time to withdraw support for the next generation of scientists and mathematicians.”

The AMWU acknowledges that ‘the public’, and I presume the Government, are aware that manufacturing sustains a modern economy. How is it that within days of this ‘spin’ the Government announces a cut in support for the sciences and mathematics, which is the embryo of engineering and manufacturing?

The Government rationale for the cuts is that the HECS support strategy has not succeeded in encouraging more talented students into tertiary science and maths studies. My goodness, the AMWU assures us that the Government understands that we need a manufacturing industry, but then they cut financial support for the ‘brains’ behind the industry.

What is really needed is a strategy to attract more students to the engineering and manufacturing disciplines – a marketing campaign to demonstrate that sciences and mathematics are fun, that they can create wealth and security, and that they open up a raft of career opportunities.

Bring back the support (and marketing) before we perish – we need an alternative to the post-mining boom.

 [John Immelman is Director, BizBrand Solutions.]

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