Science and research and development (R&D) are essential to Australia’s economic progress and central to a fairer, healthier, safer and greener world. Our scientists are a national asset and absolutely fundamental to building and maintaining Australia’s status as a clever country as we move from largely resource and manufacturing-driven growth toward a knowledge-based economy.

Our status as a clever country is however not a given. It requires policymakers to acknowledge that science and R&D is at the heart of any economic strategy based on innovation and productivity improvement. If we’re to compete with others in our region and globally, we need to invest in our current and future capability including the science and R&D workforce.

To do this, we need to understand emerging industries as well as both labour market demand for, and trends and patterns in the supply of, science professionals – this will be essential for informing policy. The question of skills gaps and shortages in science is a difficult one. While some argue there’s an oversupply, others argue that while there are no current shortages we need to build capacity and/or preparedness because of the long lead time required to train highly-skilled specialist professionals. There appears to be scope for research to be undertaken in partnership with industry in this area and for stakeholders to then collaborate on a workforce development plan to take science and R&D into the next decade.

Still the Clever Country?

Click below to read the survey report to Still the Clever Country?

on Issuu –

as a pdf – Still the Clever Country?

Realising Innovation Through Science and R&D

Click below to read the supplementary report to Still the Clever Country?

on Issuu –

as a pdf – Realising Innovation Through Science and R&D

An open letter to the Prime Minister of Australia, the Hon. Scott Morrison MP from Professional Scientists Australia

Dear Prime Minister,

Firstly, congratulations on the re-election of your Government in May 2019. We are keen to work with you to provide continuity in policy-making and that scientists have a voice in deciding and providing an evidence-base for the future direction of policy.

Professionals Australia represents several thousand science and technology-based professionals nationally. Our members are uniquely placed to ensure science and research and development (R&D) play the central role they should in driving the government’s economic strategy of advancing our innovative capability, improving productivity, creating jobs and investing in emerging industries as we transition to a knowledge-based economy.

We acknowledge the challenges facing our political leaders in developing policy for science and R&D to take us through to 2030 and beyond. We recognise the high rate of change in science and R&D, the number of agencies involved in science-related areas, the spread of science and R&D across a broad range of policy domains and the multitude of funding and collaborative arrangements in place for science and R&D providers internationally, across federal and state government, industry and multiple disciplines within universities.

While we acknowledge the challenges, we hold the firm view that policy should be driven by long-term strategy and see the very real dangers of under-investment in the name of fiscal responsibility.

To boost the importance of scientists in Australia, we’d like to see:

  • An increased science and R&D spend – increase R&D investment to 2.5% of GDP by 2025 and reverse the decline in government R&D funding. This would allow us to sit in the middle of the OECD table – current average is 2.38%. We should use science and R&D to kickstart growth – today’s investment in science and R&D determines the size and impact of future dividends paid back into the economy. Cuts to science are just false economy – we need a coordinated set of policies that encourages and incentives business investment in R&D so we can support emergent industries and the creation of new jobs. Properly-funded science and R&D should be central to the federal Government’s commitment to economic growth and increasing our competitiveness in the global economy.
  • Science at the centre of policy-making – we need to embed scientific advice in all government policy-making so that evidence is at the heart of the key decisions we make as a country. Ensuring a central role for evidence and expert advice in decision and policy-making is one of the greatest challenges facing the science community;
  • A workforce development plan for STEM including science that includes proper planning, career paths, funding for research, industry and government agencies. We need a national strategy that values scientists’ work and defines their place in shaping the nation’s future;
  • Skills for the modern scientist – the importance of specialised STEM skills in the workforce for sustaining economic growth cannot be overstated. The lack of up-to-date skills in science and R&D is as much a threat to economic growth and meeting future challenges as ineffective regulation or lack of access to financial resources. Equipping scientists with the right mix of technical and enterprise skills to make them effective scientists, people-managers, communicators and decision-makers is vital. Continuing professional development is vital in helping bridge the gap between a science qualification and the skills needed in the contemporary science and R&D workforce.;
  • A diverse and sustainable STEM workforce – address the obstacles to participation and retention of women and other under-represented groups in science.

In terms of business and industry …

We advocate for three main things in this area – support so scientists can develop the right mix of skills including leadership and management skills, business acumen and entrepreneurship skills, the inclusion of properly-trained scientists in decision-making roles and teams and recognition of their capacity to contribute to innovation and improved productivity. We need to not only grow our STEM skills base but for business and industry to develop their scientists to enable them to ensure competent leaders and decision-makers with a science background. We need to create rewarding career paths through skill acquisition, resist cost-cutting and deprofessionalisation and ensure organisations operate from a cost base which not only improves the bottom line but recognises the importance of professional qualifications and professional standards.

Professionals Australia looks forward to working toward the development of policy initiatives with government and industry to help build our STEM capability, and workforce strategies at both the structural and enterprise levels to foster a skilled and responsive workforce that can best support innovation and in turn productivity improvement, global competitiveness and economic growth for Australia into the future.

Chris Walton, CEO, Professionals Australia