Australia well placed to miss knowledge boat

AUSTRALIA is uniquely placed to take advantage of the explosion of work in so-called knowledge industries but lags rival economies’ growth in this key area, particularly when it comes to exports.

Dubbed expert business services, professions such as the law, accounting and engineering as well as industries like financial services and software development, have more than twice as many people working for them than they did 15 years ago.

But even with this pace of expansion, Australia is behind comparable economies and should have earned at least $2 billion more from exports of such services, according to a report commissioned by the Federal Department of Industry Science and Resources’ emerging industries division.

The World Wide Work report’s findings support concerns by many in the science and technology fields that Australia is failing to take advantage of its potential to be a world leader in new industries being created by forces of globalisation.

Distance is seen as the key impediment for Australian business for a nation which is well endowed with a well-educated workforce suited to adapting to global demands.

Report author Peter Morris, of Fremantle-based Telesis Communications, said Australian workers in these fast growing fields were being “snapped up” by companies around the world.

“They are highly prized for their knowledge, their mobility and their expertise, the challenge now is to convert that strong foundation into growth for Australian companies in these booming sectors,” Mr Morris said.

He said the key to driving growth was to reduce the impact of distance and disadvantages of small business which typically employed many of those in knowledge-based industries.

Mr Morris said the solution did not necessarily lie simply with technology, a finding backed up by Perth-based Working Systems chief executive officer John Wreford.

Mr Wreford said Australia’s infrastructure was already in step or ahead of most OECD countries but the growth in our use of technology like the Internet for business purposes was beginning to slow.

“Statistics would indicate that on an infrastructure basis we are relatively well served in our urban centres,” he said.

“We are above the OECD average in almost every area.”

“But in usage and growth in usage we are beginning to fall behind.”

“There probably needs to be a more considered focus by government and business to utilise opportunities.”

“Government has the capacity to play a role in that in terms of everyday interaction with citizens and businesses.”

World Wide Work’s found distance was compounded as a issue for this sector because telecommunications deregulation had mainly worked in favour of bigger businesses which had the buying power to take advantage of this change.

“For the expert business services sector, with its preponderance of small to medium enterprises, this has meant that the full benefits of competition are still to be felt by many companies,” the report states.

The report said rising Internet access and further downward pressure on telecommunications prices should favour knowledge industries.

“Australia’s goal should be to develop the world’s best practice in the management of distant relationships,” the report concluded.

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