Saturday, August 28, 2021

Flight of the wild geese – Australia’s place in the world of global talent

As the global pandemic has unfolded, I have been struck by how out of touch a large number of Australians are with Australia’s place in the world. Before the pandemic many Australians had become used to travelling overseas regularly – and spending large amounts of money while there – but we seem to think that our interaction with the global world is all about discretionary leisure travel. In contrast, increasingly many Australians were travelling – and living – overseas because their jobs required it. Whether working for multinational companies that have branches in Australia or Australian companies trying to break into global markets, Australian talent often needs to be somewhere else than here to make the most of opportunities for Australia. Not only technology, but even more importantly, talent, will be crucial to the economy of the future.

Watching the course of this global pandemic, I have been struck by how out of touch a large number of Australians are with Australia’s place in the world. While before the pandemic many Australians had become used to travelling overseas regularly – and spending large amounts of money while there – we seem to think that all our interaction with the world is about discretionary leisure travel. Australians stranded overseas during the pandemic have been abused on social media, as though they just wanted to have a holiday.

It's not only technology that fuels the new economy of the future - but talent

In contrast, increasingly many Australians were travelling – and living – overseas because their jobs required it. Whether working for multinational companies that have branches in Australia, Australian companies trying to break into global markets or companies based overseas, Australian talent often needs to be somewhere else than here. They are part of a globe-trotting aristocracy of labour, increasingly a different form of essential worker, fuelling the modern global economy and, as a result, the many national and local economies connected to it.

Transfer of wealth of talent
It reminds me of the exodus of talent from Ireland after successive defeats at the hands of the English invaders. Many soldiers who had fought defending Ireland against the English fled overseas and offered their services as mercenaries to England’s adversaries. The phenomenon became known as the flight of the wild geese. It’s interesting to speculate on what a wealth of skill and talent was lost to Ireland – and transferred to Europe – as a result. In the case of contemporary Australia, though, the talent is not military but intellectual and creative, and it has been pulled rather than pushed.

Mixture of judgement and good luck
Compared to much of the rest of the world, Australia has done relatively well during the pandemic – from a mixture of good judgement and good luck, though we seem to be switching places with other comparable countries as our vaccination levels struggle in the face of supply shortages and poor national leadership.

‘Unfortunately Australia has come to depend on involvement in the global economy – it has made us a rich nation. With the creative and cultural economy, this is equally true, possibly more so. After the old staples such as coal and iron ore, which are increasingly at risk from fragile futures, education is Australia’s largest export industry. At some stage we will have to reopen to the rest of the world. We are already seeing in crucial industries, such as education and hospitality, different kinds of shortages linked to the closure of borders – in education, students who want to gain an education, in hospitality, skilled workers.’

In a strange twist I used to think that the states were anachronistic relics from the past that should be abolished, but I’ve now realised that in times of weak and indecisive national Government, they can play a crucial role. However, the unfortunate side effect of being able to close our borders so easily is that a massive, long-running tradition of Australian xenophobia has been reinforced. 

Unfortunately Australia has come to depend on involvement in the global economy – it has made us a rich nation. With the creative and cultural economy, this is equally true, possibly more so. After the old staples such as coal and iron ore, which are increasingly at risk from fragile futures, education is Australia’s largest export industry. At some stage we will have to reopen to the rest of the world. We are already seeing in crucial industries, such as education and hospitality, different kinds of shortages linked to the closure of borders – in education, students who want to gain an education, in hospitality, skilled workers.

The global talent pool – missed opportunity for Australia
Our failure to recognise and capitalise on this involvement in the global economy have already cost us dearly in lost opportunities. When Trump was elected President in the US, most of the commentary about the change of government focused on the effect of his new policies on democratic rights there. What was less covered was the negative effect this threatened for US innovation and economic dynamism and the potential implications – both bad and good – of this for other countries, like Australia, that are tied closely to the US.

Did this create a once in a lifetime opportunity for Australia to scoop up some of this global talent pool the the US no longer wanted – if we were up to acting on it? Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald at the time, journalist Peter Hartcher argued that as revulsion against the short-sighted actions of the Trump administration makes global talent look elsewhere for a home, Australia had a unique opportunity to move to attract this talent to bolster our new industries, where jobs were being created.

Hartcher pointed out that the US ‘has been the global talent magnet for a century. It has reaped the best and brightest of the planet's scientists, entrepreneurs, sportspeople, professors, artists, chefs, traders and technicians. It has drawn many of Australia's best, too.’

‘Our failure to recognise and capitalise on this involvement in the global economy have already cost us dearly in lost opportunities. When Trump was elected President in the US…as revulsion against the short-sighted actions of the Trump administration made global talent look elsewhere for a home, Australia had a unique opportunity to move to attract this talent to bolster our new industries, where jobs were being created.’

He went on to note that ‘This has been a source of incalculable strength to America. From Silicon Valley to Wall Street to Hollywood, every one of America's great generators of wealth and influence is powered by considerable numbers of talented foreigners.’

His suggestion was that ‘universities, corporations, industry associations, sports bodies, cultural institutions and governments should step up recruitment efforts to win the attention of an entire generation of ambitious and talented people who would normally have had their sights set on the US and bring the best of them to Australia to top up our human capital.’ To do that we needed to stay open and we needed to think creatively about visa programs for such talent.

Hartcher underlined that top-quality immigrants are a great prize. He noted that according to the World Bank, of all the Nobel prizes awarded in the last third of the 20th century, 31 per cent were won by immigrants, and, of those, a third were at US institutions. He pointed out that most of America's start-up ventures valued at over $US1 billion were not founded by Americans but by foreigners.

Cultural diversity and innovation
Cultural diversity leads to innovation because where cultures intersect and different perspectives interact, new ideas and approaches are encouraged. In the new clean and clever knowledge economy of the future, with its links to our creative industries and the creativity of Australia’s arts and culture sector, talent and new ideas are critical.

The global pandemic has largely shut this down, as international movement has been frozen. As the pandemic recedes, Australia will need a comprehensive well-thought through strategy to attract this global talent, while also hand in hand fostering our home-grown talent to complement and benefit from it. Many of our researchers and innovators and entrepreneurs are already part of this global talent pool and before the pandemic interacted and co-operated successfully in the international environment. This just needs reinforcing on a massive scale as we move beyond lockdown. This means a heightened and systematic focus on education and research and creativity.

'Cultural diversity leads to innovation because where cultures intersect and different perspectives interact, new ideas and approaches are encouraged. In the new clean and clever knowledge economy of the future, with its links to our creative industries and the creativity of Australia’s arts and culture sector, talent and new ideas are critical.'

There already seem to be signs of detachment as other more vaccinated countries open up, with Australia’s vaccination effort lagging behind many comparable countries overseas, due to complacency and hubris. Some of the international cohort so important to our prosperity are choosing to return to the countries they came from, to avoid long periods of separation from their families as border open and close.

The question is whether Australia, which seems to be entering an era of small ideas in the face of factless populism, can think large enough to make this leap forward we need. Our talentless leaders offer scant cause for optimism. The alternative is to slip further and further into mediocrity and poverty as the great mining boom which fuelled our economic advances ends and as the rest of the world opens up post-pandemic.

There are already signs that some of our advantages as locations for creative production may be disappearing. During the pandemic Australia attracted many overseas screen productions because we were seen as a safe place to produce. Now both Australia and New Zealand may be affected if production companies turn back to more familiar locations where the threat of sudden lockdown is less.

No easy answers
This is fuelling the usual sterile and arid debate between those who simplistically think all economies should open up and let pandemics proceed apace and those of the more nuanced view that pandemics create economic chaos of their own accord, as the labour force becomes ill and hospitals become overcrowded. The problem for a country like Australia, that depends on hordes of casual migrant labour and international students and both attracting and exporting global talent, is that there are major dangers ahead. 

Locking down and closing both internal and external borders and limiting global movement has been very effective in quarantining us from the rest of the world, but it also throttles the very mobility and exchange that fuels some of our greatest strengths. There are no easy answers to this dilemma but a good start is recognising that not only technology, but even more importantly, talent, will be crucial to the economy of the future.

See also

‘indefinite article’ on Facebook – short arts updates and commentary
‘Short arts updates and irreverent cultural commentary about contemporary Australian society, popular culture, the creative economy and the digital and online world – life in the trenches and on the beaches of the information age’, 'indefinite article' on Facebook.

An everyday life worth living – indefinite articles for a clean, clever and creative future
‘My blog “indefinite article” is irreverent writing about contemporary Australian society, popular culture, the creative economy and the digital and online world – life in the trenches and on the beaches of the information age. Over the last ten years I have published 166 articles about creativity and culture on the blog. This is a list of all the articles I have published there, broken down into categories, with a brief summary of each article. They range from the national cultural landscape to popular culture, from artists and arts organisations to cultural institutions, cultural policy and arts funding, the cultural economy and creative industries, First Nations culture, cultural diversity, cities and regions, Australia society, government, Canberra and international issues – the whole range of contemporary Australian creativity and culture’, An everyday life worth living – indefinite articles for a clean, clever and creative future

Beyond a joke – surviving troubled times
‘We live in troubled times – but then can anyone ever say that they lived in times that weren’t troubled? For most of my life Australia has suffered mediocre politicians and politics – with the odd brief exceptions – and it seems our current times are no different. Australia has never really managed to realise its potential. As a nation it seems to be two different countries going in opposite directions – one into the future and the other into the past. It looks as though we’ll be mired in this latest stretch of mediocrity for some time and the only consolation will be creativity, gardening and humour’, Beyond a joke – surviving troubled times

Understanding the economy of the future - innovation and its place in the knowledge economy, creative economy, creative industries and cultural economy 
‘When we start to think about the economy of the future – and the clean and clever jobs that make it up – we encounter a confusing array of ideas and terms. Innovation, the knowledge economy, the creative economy, creative industries and the cultural economy are all used, often interchangeably. Over the years my own thinking about them has changed and I thought it would be useful to try to clarify how they are all related’, Understanding the economy of the future – innovation and its place in the knowledge economy, creative economy, creative industries and cultural economy.

Remaking the world we know – for better or worse
‘Given the Government cannot avoid spending enormous sums of money if it is to be in any way capable and competent, this is an unparalleled opportunity to remake Australia for the future. Usually opportunities such as this only arise in rebuilding a country and an economy after a world war. It is a perfect moment to create the sort of clean, clever and creative economy that will take us forward in the global world for the next hundred years. Unfortunately a failure of imagination and a lack of innovative ambition will probably ensure this doesn’t happen any time soon’, Remaking the world we know – for better or worse.

The old normal was abnormal – survival lessons for a new riskier world
‘When I hear the call to get back to normal, I think ‘what was normal about the old normal?’ The sudden shutdown of large sectors of the economy highlighted drastically how precarious was the situation of vast chunks of Australian society, in particular but not exclusively, the creative sector. The business models implemented by the Government to help businesses survive and employees keep their jobs didn’t work at all for those who had already been happily left at – or even deliberately pushed to – the margins of society and the economy. In good times the creative sector is flexible and fast at responding. In bad times it is a disaster, as the failure of the COVID-19 support packages for the sector shows’, The old normal was abnormal – survival lessons for a new riskier world.

Better than sport? The tricky business of valuing Australia’s arts and culture
‘Understanding, assessing and communicating the broad value of arts and culture is a major and ongoing task. There has been an immense amount of work already carried out. The challenge is to understand some of the pitfalls of research and the mechanisms and motivations that underpin it. Research and evaluation is invaluable for all organisations but it is particularly important for Government. The experience of researching arts and culture in Government is of much broader relevance, as the arts and culture sector navigates the tricky task of building a comprehensive understanding in each locality of the broader benefits of arts and culture. The latest Arts restructure makes this even more urgent.’, Better than sport? The tricky business of valuing Australia’s arts and culture.

Crossing boundaries – the unlimited landscape of creativity
‘When I was visiting Paris last year, there was one thing I wanted to do before I returned home – visit the renowned French bakery that had trained a Melbourne woman who had abandoned the high stakes of Formula One racing to become a top croissant maker. She had decided that being an engineer in the world of elite car racing was not for her, but rather that her future lay in the malleable universe of pastry. Crossing boundaries of many kinds and traversing the borders of differing countries and cultures, she built a radically different future to the one she first envisaged’, Crossing boundaries – the unlimited landscape of creativity.

After a fashion – creative industries from First Nations culture
‘When I first heard that Victorian regional gallery, Bendigo Art Gallery, was planning an exhibition about contemporary Indigenous fashion I was impressed. The Gallery has had a long history of fashion exhibitions, drawing on its own collection and in partnership with other institutions, notably the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. It is fascinating to consider how a leading regional Australian museum and an internationally renowned museum on the global stage, while in many ways so different, have so much in common. The exhibition is far more than a single event in a Victorian regional centre – it is an expression of a much broader contemporary Indigenous fashion phenomenon nation-wide. It hints at the potential of the creative economy and creative industries to build stronger communities. Both the economic importance and the community and social importance of creativity and culture are tightly interlinked because of the way in which creativity and culture are integral to everyday life and the essential activities that make it up’, After a fashion – creative industries from First Nations culture.
 
Creative and cultural futures – understanding the creative and cultural economy
‘Survival in the creative sector in a post-COVID world will require enhanced literacy in the opportunities of the new industries of the future, the clean and clever knowledge economy which is altering our world on a daily basis. Now a new short course delivered completely online in the new digital universe we are all increasingly inhabiting will look closely at the creative and cultural economy and the broader impacts of creativity and culture, both economic and social. It will outline the role of the creative sector in managing meaning and explain how telling Australian stories puts us on the international stage in an increasingly globalised world’, Creative and cultural futures – understanding the creative and cultural economy.

Making a living – building careers in creative and cultural futures
‘Making a living in the developing creative economy is no easy task. For a viable career, flexibility and creativity are crucial. For this a strategic outlook and a grasp of the major long-term forces shaping Australian creativity and culture is essential. To help foster this amongst emerging cultural sector practitioners, a new flagship course, a Master of Arts in Creative and Cultural Futures, was launched at the University of Canberra in 2019, building on earlier experiments in aligning research and analysis with real world cultural sector experience’, Making a living – building careers in creative and cultural futures.

Industries of the future help tell stories of the past – Weta at work in the shaky isles
‘After three weeks travelling round the North Island of New Zealand, I’ve had more time to reflect on the importance of the clean and clever industries of the future and the skilled knowledge workers who make them. In the capital, Wellington, instead of the traditional industries that once often dominated a town, like the railways or meatworks or the car plant or, in Tasmania, the Hydro Electricity Commission, there was Weta. It’s clear that the industries of the future can thrive in unexpected locations. Expertise, specialist skills and industry pockets can occur just about anywhere, as long as you have connectivity, talent and a framework of support that makes it possible. These skills which Weta depends on for its livelihood are also being used to tell important stories from the past’, Industries of the future help tell stories of the past – Weta at work in the shaky isles.

Designs on the future – how Australia’s designed city has global plans
‘In many ways design is a central part of the vocabulary of our time and integrally related to so many powerful social and economic forces – creative industries, popular culture, the digital transformation of society. Design is often misunderstood or overlooked and it's universal vocabulary and pervasive nature is not widely understood, especially by government. In a rapidly changing world, there is a constant tussle between the local and the national (not to mention the international). This all comes together in the vision for the future that is Design Canberra, a celebration of all things design, with preparations well underway for a month long festival this year. The ultimate vision of Craft ACT for Canberra is to add another major annual event to Floriade, Enlighten and the Multicultural Festival, filling a gap between them and complementing them all’, Designs on the future – how Australia’s designed city has global plans.

Creativity at work – economic engine for our cities
‘It is becoming abundantly clear that in our contemporary world two critical things will help shape the way we make a living – and our economy overall. The first is the central role of cities in generating wealth. The second is the knowledge economy of the future and, more particularly, the creative industries that sit at its heart. In Sydney, Australia’s largest city, both of these come together in a scattering of evolving creative clusters – concentrations of creative individuals and small businesses, clumped together in geographic proximity. This development is part of a national and world-wide trend which has profound implications’, Creativity at work – economic engine for our cities.

The immense potential of creative industries for regional revival
‘Across Australia, local communities facing major economic and social challenges have become interested in the joint potential of regional arts and local creative industries to contribute to or often lead regional revival. This has paralleled the increasing importance of our major cities as economic hubs and centres of innovation’, The immense potential of creative industries for regional revival.

Design for policy innovation – from the world of design to designing the world
‘Design and the language of design is very broad – much broader than architecture or industrial or graphic design – the forms we are most conscious of. Design is also very much about processes and the development of concepts across almost all areas of human activity. This means it also has a high relevance to the development of policy to solve pressing social challenges, moving beyond the world of design to embrace the design of the world. In a highlight of DESIGN Canberra this year, respected Dutch presenter Ingrid Van der Wacht led discussion about the relevance of design to innovative policy – from local, highly specific policy to grand strategic policy designed to change whole regions and even nations’, Design for policy innovation – from the world of design to designing the world.

The clever business of creativity: the experience of supporting Australia's industries of the future
‘The swan song of the Creative Industries Innovation Centre, ‘Creative Business in Australia’, outlines the experience of five years supporting Australia’s creative industries. Case studies and wide-ranging analysis explain the critical importance of these industries to Australia’s future. The knowledge economy of the future, with its core of creative industries and its links to our cultural landscape, is both clever and clean. Where the creative industries differ completely from other knowledge economy sectors is that, because they are based on content, they draw on, intersect with and contribute to Australia’s national and local culture’, The clever business of creativity: the experience of supporting Australia's industries of the future.

My nephew just got a job with Weta – the long road of the interconnected world
‘My nephew just got a job in Wellington New Zealand with Weta Digital, which makes the digital effects for Peter Jackson’s epics. Expertise, specialist skills and industry pockets can occur just about anywhere, as long as you have connectivity, talent and a framework of support that makes it possible. This is part of the new knowledge economy of the future, with its core of creative industries and its links to our cultural landscape. Increasingly the industries of the future are both clever and clean. At their heart are the developing creative industries which are based on the power of creativity and are a critical part of Australia’s future – innovative, in most cases centred on small business and closely linked to the profile of Australia as a clever country, both domestically and internationally. This is transforming the political landscape of Australia, challenging old political franchises and upping the stakes in the offerings department’, My nephew just got a job with Weta – the long road of the interconnected world.

Creative industries critical to vitality of Australian culture
‘The developing creative industries are a critical part of Australia’s future – clean, innovative, at their core based on small business and closely linked to the profile of Australia as a clever country, both domestically and internationally.’ Creative industries critical to vitality of Australian culture.

Applied creativity
‘I have been dealing with the issue of creativity for as long as I can remember. Recently, I have had to deal with a new concept—innovation. All too often, creativity is confused with innovation. A number of writers about innovation have made the point that innovation and creativity are different. In their view, innovation involves taking a creative idea and commercialising it. If we look more broadly, we see that innovation may not necessarily involve only commercialising ideas. Instead the core feature is application—innovation is applied creativity. Even ideas that may seem very radical can slip into the wider culture in unexpected ways’, Applied creativity.

Creative industries – applied arts and sciences
‘The nineteenth century fascination with applied arts and sciences — the economic application of nature, arts and sciences — and the intersection of these diverse areas and their role in technological innovation are as relevant today for our creative industries. From the Garden Palace, home of Australia’s first international exhibition in 1879, to the Economic Gardens in Adelaide’s Botanic Gardens these collections and exhibitions lay the basis for modern Australian industry. The vast Garden Palace building in the Sydney Botanic Gardens was the Australian version of the great Victorian-era industrial expositions, where, in huge palaces of glass, steel and timber, industry, invention, science, the arts and nature all intersected and overlapped. Despite burning to the ground, it went on to become the inspiration for what eventually became the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences — the Powerhouse Museum’, Creative Industries.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Stephen. I enjoy your observations about talent and travel. As a colonial invention were destined to march into our future while looking both forwards and over our shoulders. Generations of australians have travelled and now virtually as well as literally and inquistiveness has great virtually. The use of geese is perfect as unlike the pessimistic view which is often held by australians in reference to brain drains and why the jobs are not here....ist that the geese run/fly to a cycle. Poor buggers only get to go to Siberia whereas ours get to their mother countries and the majority then come home to pollinate. So let us embrace journyes of all types. Our objective is be the best we can so that the travellers return. Love the blog

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