Preparing Australians for a Future with Technology
The project reported at a time when Australia’s traditional surplus on export and import of goods had disappeared and its foreign debt had grown to historically high levels. In 1988 the Senate Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology had issued a report on Manufacturing Industry Revitalisation, which carried the subtitle “Making it together.” It said:
“There is an overwhelming need for action to reverse the declining trend in Australia’s manufacturing industries. In order to bring about such a reversal, long‑held beliefs of government, of management, of trade unions and of the community at large must be critically examined and, where necessary, changed. Without these changes in attitudes, no attempts at manufacturing sector revitalisation will succeed.”
RAISING TECHNOLOGY AWARENESS
The Future Directions in Engineering project aimed to address two major issues, namely to:
- Improve the use of technology by Australian industry
- Improve the community’s understanding of, and competence in, technology.
Fittingly for the implications of these tasks, it adopted a much broader and more social scope than previous Warren Centre projects. This is because it wanted to:
- Equip people to make better use of technology
- Acquaint people with the logic and the processes which linked creativity and productivity and would lead to a more prosperous society
- Help reverse the decline in Australia’s relative prosperity.
TASK GROUPS TACKLED BROADEST ISSUES
The key activities of the project were carried out by a team of thirty-five Project Fellows working in four task groups.
- The Attitudes task group investigated current perceptions about technology and what constituted a productive society. From survey responses of nearly 400 members of the general public (adult and young people) and 150 parliamentarians, it developed hypotheses for the other three task groups.
- The Education task group looked at the benefits and practicality of introducing the study of technology into Australian general education.
- The Engineering task group examined the medium term outlook for the Australian economy, incorporating current trends in engineering productivity, and relating them to aspects of engineering training. The group also considered industry approaches to engineering training, and ways in which industry training could be expanded and funded.
- The Marketing task group was formed to promote the project’s findings.
Sir Bruce Williams, who had recently chaired a review of engineering education, chaired an inaugural seminar, and a number of seminars and intensive working sessions ensued.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR A BETTER TECHNICAL FUTURE
The project report made five major recommendations:
- That technology studies should be added to the essential subject core of school curricula
- That education departments implement the project’s recommended elective studies
- That a technology centre should be established in each school
- That the entire structure and philosophy of engineering should be reconsidered with a view to maximising its interaction and integration with all other related disciplines
- That centres of excellence to promote industry university interaction should be developed.
Implementing these last two recommendations, would release potential synergies, bring great benefits to the community at large and engender mutual understanding and appreciation between the engineering profession and the community.
MAJOR IMPACT ON THE ROLE OF TECHNOLOGY
The Future Directions in engineering project had, and continues to have, a major impact on the role of technology in Australian society:
- Technology has become a fundamental part of the school curriculum from kindergarten to Year 12 in New South Wales
- There are now more technology-andinnovation-based elective subjects at secondary school level in New South Wales
- The Australian Technology Park (ATP) at Eveleigh in Sydney, established in 1995 as a result of this project and the continued enthusiasm of Professor John Glastonbury and Professor Trevor Cole, has been a major catalyst for wealth creation from technology
- The concept of centres of excellence has expanded Australia-wide, encompassing many disciplines other than engineering
- The project influenced Government to establish the cooperative research centres (CRCs) program. CRCs have proliferated since 1990.
There is no doubt that the consequences of this project have contributed, amongst many others, to the fact that in 2002 Australia had one of the most robust economies in the world