Innovating workplaces

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:

  1. Employees have appropriate skillset (teachers up-skilling and re-skilling)
  2. Approaches that allow people to collaborate and solve problems (de-privatised practice)
  3. 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.


4 thoughts on “Innovating workplaces

  1. It would appear that our national politicians and their educational policies are focused on maintaining our existing educational values rather than promoting creative thinking skills which are essential to the world we live in. We have to be more introspective than we have in the past. We have to think in radically new ways if we’re going to be able to feed ourselves, house ourselves and reverse global warming and climate change. The active promotion of innovation in education is therefore critical but not genuinely valued in society and government. We marvel over the latest technologies but our educational structures still cling onto traditions that perpetuate our current structures such as ABCDE reporting, the HSC and University ATARS. We demand the fruits of innovation but do not want to formally value and teach creativity and original ideas in education. National and global change needs a shift in values and new ways of thinking. Today’s systems can’t solve tomorrow’s problems. Our job as educators should be to bring new ideas, new ways where talent can blossom and bloom in a different way. That’s the only solution for global change. Could this have saved Toyota or Holden? It’s too late now but it’s not too late for education.

  2. Greg, I think some challenging thoughts here particularly today when Qantas announced another 5000 jobs lost. All of the workers and their families are I think devastated when long term jobs are lost. Simply put we all know businesses must make a financial profit to keep going. Of course its how and on what businesses choose to invest in that creates future profits.

    I’m not into drawing the analogue of business and education too far here but our profits are in healthy, resilient, creative, collaborative and successful young people. So why might people feel so devastated they need to walk away from institutions like schools that strive to support families in educating their children? Thats the question.

    1. Thanks for the comment Mark. The question of how we can ensure schooling is relevant especially in today’s world is one that needs to be at the forefront of our minds. The future facing Qantas and other institutions reminds us that no organisation is immune to the changing nature of a global economy.

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