Jobs of the Future

When you go to Silicon Valley you meet some extraordinary people. When I was there last year I met an extraordinary Australian.

Her name is Tan Le.

Tan Le came to Australia as a Vietnamese refugee at the age of four. By the age of 16 she was at university. By the age of 21 she was Young Australian of the Year. By 22, she was a barrister, and by 26 she had set up her first company.

She now lives in San Francisco.

She is the co-founder of a company called Emotiv. They are a neuro-engineering company.

They make devices that read brain signals and can interpret facial expressions. You wear the device on your head. It can be used for everything from gaming—where, instead of a joystick, you can think it and see it on the screen—through to something else which is truly extraordinary. It can be used by quadriplegics to move their wheelchairs. It has the potential to change people’s lives all around the world.

I asked her why she had set up this business in the United States and not here, at home, in Australia.

The answer she gave me is telling – She said because that’s where the money is and that’s where the experience and the skills are.

That story is instructive.

We are a special country where incredible things, incredible stories, like this can happen.

But we are a small part of an ever-increasingly more competitive world.

And we are falling behind.

Harvard Business Review published a report the other day that looked at the digital economies of countries around the world.

They said that Australia is “stalling out”.

Here is why – Remember what Tan told me about money and skills?


If you are a start-up with a great idea like Tan’s and you want to get access to capital in Australia, it is not as easy as it is in other countries.

Our venture-capital industry is small.

We spend more on the Melbourne Cup every year than we do on new start-up businesses every year.

In other countries you can raise money through crowd funding.

The United States introduced crowd-funding laws three years ago.

New Zealand did it two years ago.

But here in Australia we are still talking about it.

In 2013 CAMAC, the Corporations and Markets Advisory Committee, was asked by the former Labor government to develop a plan to introduce crowd funding.

The government has had that plan on its desk for a year.

It was given to them in May last year.

What has happened in the last 12 months? Nothing – or no evidence that anything has happened. No legislation. We are still waiting for laws to be introduced into this parliament.

When the Minister for Communications was asked about this—when he was at Fishburners, only a week ago—when he was asked by start-up entrepreneurs why it was taking so long to introduce crowd-funding laws in Australia, his answer was:

‘Well, government is quite hard, actually.’

That is the excuse. That is what it said in a newspaper, and I have not heard a personal explanation denying it.

He went on and blamed the culture of the bureaucracy in Treasury.

They have introduced crowd funding in the United States. They have done it in New Zealand, they have done it in the UK, France, Canada, Italy and even Kenya.

But we are still waiting for it here. Apparently, government is a bit hard.


We can fix these problems and you can do it quickly if this government introduces legislation into the parliament.

What is harder to fix is the skills problem, the skills challenge – the lack of STEM skills – that we have in Australia.

Here is the challenge. We are seeing an increasing drop in the number of low-skilled jobs available in Australia and, in contrast, an increase in the number of high-skilled jobs. Most of those are jobs that require STEM skills: science, technology, engineering and maths.

Seventy-five per cent of the fastest-growing jobs in Australia today require STEM skills, and we are not producing enough people with those skills. Let me give you an example.

In 2003 about 9,000 people graduated in Australia with ICT degrees. Ten years later that was reduced to 3,446.

In other words, the number of people graduating with an ICT degree in Australia, in the last 10 years, has dropped by two-thirds.

We have a similar problem at high school when it comes to maths. The number of people studying maths at an intermediate or advanced level, at high school, has dropped by about 35 per cent in the last 20 years.

How do we compare with the rest of the world?

Sixteen per cent of Australians graduate from university with STEM degrees.

South Korea is about double that. In China 41 per cent of students graduate with a STEM degree. In Singapore it is nearly 50 per cent.

These are the countries that Australia is competing with.

We are already falling behind and making it more expensive to go to university. Introducing $100,000 university degrees is only going to make it harder.

Already, employers are finding it hard to get employees with the necessary STEM skills.

The Chief Scientist put out a report two or three weeks ago where he had done a survey of employers.

He asked them what they were looking for from employees and how they were able to get employees with STEM skills.

They surveyed hundreds of employers. They found that a third of employers could not find the employees they needed with STEM skills, STEM graduates.

I was at Google last week. I asked the same question. They have the same problem. Google employs about 1,000 people Australia-wide. About half of them are computer programmers—and half of those come from overseas. The reason for that is they cannot find the workers they need with the skills they need.

That is why what Bill Shorten announced, what the Leader of the Opposition announced, only two weeks ago is so important. A plan to build the skills that we need for the jobs of the future

Everything from coding in primary school through to training more teachers through to writing off the HECS debts of 100,000 university STEM graduates. That is just the start.

If we are going to do this properly we cannot just do it at university or at high school, it has to start at primary school.

Last year, in the United Kingdom, they introduced coding in kindergarten. Other countries are doing exactly the same thing: Vietnam, Canada and Singapore. Finland is starting it next year. The United States is trialling it in 30 school districts, right across the country, including Chicago and New York.

Why are they doing this?

They are doing it because they understand that coding is the literacy of the 21st century.

Malcolm Turnbull understands this as well because he has said much the same thing.

He understands—like we understand—that students in this century will need to understand coding like we needed to understand English and maths in the last century.

It does not mean that everybody is going to become a computer programmer. Of course, that is not going to happen. Not everybody who studies maths becomes a mathematician either, but we use it every day. It is exactly the same here.

That is why what we announced in our budget reply is so important.

We need our kids not just to be able to use technology but to be able to create technology, not just to be able to play the game but to be able to make the game.

The Business Council of Australia has called for this.

The start-up sector has called for this.

Malcolm Turnbull has called for this. The day after the budget reply, he said:
“If we want to succeed, and continue to succeed as a prosperous first-world economy … we need to be leaner, faster, more imaginative, more innovative, more technologically sophisticated, and the key tool for that is coding.”
He is right, and Bill Shorten is right. We need to make it happen.

The problem is Christopher Pyne took it out of the draft curriculum. That is the problem.

Government is apparently too hard.

We have not got crowdfunding legislation yet.

We still do not have coding in the curriculum, even though some people on the other side understand how important this is.

It is not happening because government is a bit too hard.

Let me go back to the story of Tan Le. I remember her telling me that when she landed in Australia her mum told her to touch the ground because this is a very special place.

The little girl bent down and she touched the ground and she looked up and she said to her mum, ‘It doesn’t feel very special.’

Her mum looked back to her and said, ‘You’ve got to make it special with your mind.’

That is what the little girl did, and that is what we need to do—to make sure that we build the skills we need for the future.

The problem is: this government is not doing it.

It is going to take a Bill Shorten led Labor government to get the job done.