The slow and steady demise of manufacturing in Australia has sparked interesting debate in recent times over competitiveness in a global economy. I was interested in the discussion following on from Toyota’s recent announcement and whether workplace arrangements had jeopardised the big car manufacturers presence in Australia.
The need for contemporary practices impacts also on the education sector. It seems these discussions have always been framed around productivity and performance but I think we are still looking at the problem through the wrong lens.
Daniel Pink proposes an interesting theory of 20th century motivation vs 21st century motivation and the changing nature of work in a knowledge age. The knowledge economy requires a new mindset and skillset. Innovation is key and key to innovation is human capital.
I heard Professor Bill Harley from the University of Melbourne talking recently about the need for workplace innovation in Australia. He said research around the world shows that there are three things that make productive workplaces:
- Employees have appropriate skillset (teachers up-skilling and re-skilling)
- Approaches that allow people to collaborate and solve problems (de-privatised practice)
- Motivated workforce at every level (managing and rewarding performance)
Professor Harley reflected on the fact that a strategic approach to implementing these practices has been absent from Australian workplaces.
The practices that have prevailed in education over the past century are obstructions to innovation. We need to change our practices by changing culture. The three points Professor Harley refers to demonstrate the shift from industrial to knowledge, from convention to evidence.
Ironically, Toyota is one of the companies recognised for its innovative culture. There are numerous case studies on what drives Toyota’s success but it comes down to investment in its people (skillset) and organisational capabilities (problem-solving and intrinsic motivators).
Listening to Professor Harley made me think about education in terms of our manufacturing industry. Only for us, it will be our students not car manufacturers who will walk away in search of something more relevant and rewarding.