Saturday, July 07, 2012

Australian Workforce Must Meet NBN Competition

The impact of the NBN on Australian business will be similar to the removal of tariff barriers in the 1990s. The greengrocer will be less effected, as it is difficult to transmit zucchinis online, but book-stores are already disappearing and knowledge based service industries will be under intense competition via broadband.

The impact will be greatest in service industries with national and global standards. The local accountant, lawyer and teacher will find they have Australian and international online competition. Even services which require some face-to-face component, such as real-estate and medicine, will have part of the function online and thus subject to global competition.

This change has already happened in large corporations, where computer programming and accounting are outsourced to overseas locations. The NBN will enable the individual and the small business to also outsource their services.

Currently Australian vocational and higher education is moving online, with the help of funding from the Australian Government. This will see some satellite campuses close, as is happening with Swinburne University's Lilydale campus closure. While media discussion has been about Swinburne students having to travel to other campuses, they already offer online courses. The online courses are convenient for the students, and also for the institution, but require a difficult transition for staff. Online education allows permanent local staff to be replaced with remote casuals, located anywhere in the world.

The solution to the threat of online competition is not to scrap the NBN and raise virtual tariff barriers to protect Australian jobs. Australia needs to ensure that its service industry personnel are trained in how to work well online, so they can compete. Some low value jobs will be lost in the service industries and we need to move up to higher skilled, higher paid parts of the industry.

In addition, there will be a need for some government programs to aid the transition, with many jobs lost in urban and regional Australia, as a result of the NBN. Programs can help the businesses and individuals find new areas of work.

Australian state and federal governments are providing some funding for the move to the online world of work. The National VET e-Learning Strategy helps both government TAFEs and non-government Registered Training Organizations (RTOs) with how to teach online. In the Higher Education sector, the Office for Learning an Teaching provides small grants for researching how to use eBook, eLearning and ePortfolios. There is also the NBN-enabled Education and Skills Services program. However, these are very small programs, compared to the billions of dollars spent each year on education and the potential loss of this industry to overseas competition.

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