An AI Action Plan for all Australians discussion paper released by the Australian Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources in 2020 was a starting point in shaping a vision for Artificial Intelligence and the potential for its widespread application and use.
In June 2021 an action plan based on the discussion paper was released.
So, what’s AI?
CSIRO define it as:
“a collection of interrelated technologies used to solve problems autonomously, and perform tasks to achieve defined objectives, in some cases without explicit guidance from a human being.”
OK, this seems complex, but the paper proposes that AI will have profound social and economic outcomes for Australians. It also suggests that:
“AI technologies will provide an opportunity for innovative Australian businesses to develop new revenue streams by building next generation products and services, and novel business models. For established businesses, these technologies will help to increase productivity through safer and more efficient workplaces.”
Realising the vision
Budget measures and allocations are presented as part of the action plan and have looked to invest through the JobMaker Digital Business Plan to enable businesses to take advantage of digital technologies, to grow their business and create jobs as part of our economic recovery. In addition, there are further commitments through the Modern Manufacturing Strategy. Helpfully, there is a one-page summary of the action plan available on the relevant website.
The discussion paper saw a role for:
“Supporting younger Australians to prepare for the digitally-enabled future through Commonwealth supported higher education, increasing the number of apprenticeships and traineeships and the businesses that employ them.”
Thus, there are proposed solutions focused through higher education, but crucially also in VET.
Developing AI skills and capabilities in the workforce requires government, business and individuals to adopt a flexible and multi-faceted approach, the discussion paper suggests. It notes that:
“experience from past industry and workforce transitions suggests that Australia’s capability will be strengthened when it is underpinned by: industry-led training, [and] promoting a culture of lifelong learning, which encourages individuals to continually develop skills throughout their career and also includes re-skilling workers from industries where there is decreasing demand for workers to meet labour market skill gaps.”
The discussion paper also suggests that:
“Supporting this are the significant investments that the Australian Government continues to make in the vocational education and training (VET) sector. These investments increase the VET sector’s capacity to respond to emerging job opportunities and provide Australian industries with access to a skilled workforce. For example, the Australian Government has partnered with states and territories to establish the $1 billion JobTrainer Fund to rapidly provide more Australians with access to free, or low cost, training places in areas of identified skills need, including in advanced digital skills.”
The discussion paper pointed out that the Digital Skills Organisation (DSO) pilot was established in mid 2020 to develop innovative approaches to training and employing people in digital skills as well as providing industry-led development of national digital training products.
Businesses are looking at a range of approaches to develop AI skills and capabilities, including building capability in existing workers, building capability in future workers by “having tertiary education and training systems … remain responsive and flexible to the current and future needs of industry” and finally by attracting foreign talent.