For industry to have job-ready employees available they also need to work closely with universities and education providers to create opportunities to develop job-based skills as part of degree and certificate level training. Highly innovative enterprises are active players in this space.
Putting individuals with a mix of skills or even different skills in the same workplace and expecting them to innovate is not enough. Innovative enterprises invest in their managers and leaders to make skill mixing work.
A consistent finding in the research over the last couple of decades – as far back as the Karpin report in the mid 90s – shows many Australian businesses simply do not have the management and leadership capability to harness employee skills and talents to create innovative enterprises.
This is most recently confirmed in the Study of Australian Leadership released this year.
Skill mixing does not imply we need to train everyone to do all things. Nor does it imply organisations need to create or even employ all the skills they need to cover all aspects of their innovation activities from technical invention to commercialisation.
But they do need to be prepared to do what experts refer to as ‘third-generation innovation thinking’ – they need to think about how their own enterprise fits within a broader ‘innovation ecosystem’ in which they “car share” and collaborate with other businesses that have complementary skills and capabilities that will enable both of them to become more innovative.
While a highly competitive environment would suggest many of these suggestions are difficult or even counter-intuitive, the international evidence suggests not doing so can lead to only one outcome: less innovation.
Without some change on this front, Australian industry - and our national economy – will face a continued pattern which has plagued our past: entrepreneurs with the creative spirit to come up with world-beating ideas but too many Australian businesses which simply do not have the skills and capabilities to turn them into world class products and services.
Max Theilacker is a Research Project Manager at the Centre for Workplace Leadership, University of Melbourne.
Professor Peter Gahan is Professor of Management and Director of the Centre for Workplace Leadership at the University of Melbourne.