Monday, September 2, 2013

Re-skilling Public Servants as Private Sector Innovators and Educators

Whichever party wins the Australian federal election next Saturday, there are likely to be large scale reductions in the public service. The Coalition is assuming "natural attrition" of 12,000 jobs by September 2015. I suggest some of these people would welcome some assistance with new work and lifestyle skills, provided by the Australian higher education sector. While cutbacks will effect all of Australia, they will have disproportionately more effect in Canberra. The ACT Government I suggest, could work with Canberra educational institutions to offer provide ex-public servants new skills. By doing so this might encourage those people to stay in Canberra, to work, start a new company, or undertake volunteer work in retirement.

On Friday night I bumped into a Canberra graduate who had spent some time working on start-up companies in "Silicon Fen" around Cambridge University (England). They moved to Canberra for family reasons. This was the second time I had met them within a few weeks at a venue within the innovation precinct around ANU. We were discussing the conditions needed for attracting or starting new high-tech companies. One example is the Penang Export Hub in Malaysia, (P Athukorala, ANU, 2012). But that required considerable input by the central government. Another example is the Cambridge phenomenon (Segal, 1985, summary by T Worthington 1999).

One of the factors identified in Cambridge's success was the lack of tenure at the university. Ex-university people who liked the Cambridge lifestyle had to set up a local business just to be able to stay. The same might apply to ex-public servants in Canberra, with a little help.

Those leaving the public service but who want to stay in Canberra might be offered some re-skilling. This could include an audit of their existing skills, formal recognition of those skills and then additional courses. One possible area would be skills in communication and business to help those from the public sector transition to the private sector.

One example of a program could be in innovation. The ACT Government already sponsors an annual Innovation ACT competition, where Canberra tertiary students learn to turn an idea into a business proposal and compete for prizes.  Entry 29 provides space and activities for budding innovators.

The ANU previously ran a Graduate Certificate in Innovation and Entrepreneurship. A new program could be devised, suing some elements of that certificate, combined with the Innovation ACT and Entry 29 activities. Students would Students would keep in touch with each other and their tutors on-line and be assessed on an e-portfolio submitted. Qualifications obtained could be a combination of vocational  and higher degrees.

Another area is training and assessment. Long term public servants have considerable experience and expertise which could be of use in training new public servants, in business and in higher education. In particular these skills could be used in the APS ICT Apprenticeship and Cadetship Programs, However, they will need teaching skills. These skills can be provided by hybrid vocational and higher education learning (allowing students to receive a Certificate IV in Training and Assessment and an optional Graduate Certificate in Higher Education). Some elements of this could also be used for training entrepreneurs and other students.

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