Current Issue #488

An Asia Capable Workforce

An Asia Capable Workforce

In early September ANZ CEO Mike Smith presented the Asialink Taskforce for an Asia Capable Workforce, setting out recommendations for how Australia should build workforce capacities to take full advantage of our opportunities in the Asian Century.

In early September ANZ CEO Mike Smith presented the Asialink Taskforce for an Asia Capable Workforce, setting out recommendations for how Australia should build workforce capacities to take full advantage of our opportunities in the Asian Century.

The starting point for this report is the extraordinary rise of Asia over the past decade, particularly China, but also other major economies in Asia such as India, Indonesia and Vietnam. And of course, Japan and Korea have been major trading partners with Australia for decades.

For resource-rich, export oriented countries such as Australia, Asia’s rise has been a complete game-changer. Fundamentally, our growth is now being driven by the urbanisation and industrialisation of Asia. We’re riding a super-cycle in resources, and increasingly in agriculture and services. Despite short-term volatility, a massive opportunity exists for Australia – but it doesn’t follow that successfully seizing this prize will happen of its own accord.

In fact, how much of the opportunity we grasp really depends on the extent to which we are prepared to address a series of critical issues that are hindering our performance and holding back our growth potential. We are already seeing some of the competitive challenges we face play out in the resources sector. Another critical area we have to address is how we increase individual and organisational capabilities to maximise our participation in the Asian century and to compete more effectively for that opportunity in a globalised world.

Based on a survey of almost 400 Australian businesses, the Taskforce has identified a number of critical individual and organisational competencies that are under-developed in Australia, and that are fast becoming an impediment to fully realising the Asia opportunity. The individual skills we urgently need more of include: sophisticated knowledge of Asian markets/environments; experience operating in Asia; and the ability to adapt behaviour to Asian cultural contexts. Individuals also need to build long-term trusted Asian relationships; have a capacity to deal effectively with governments in Asia; and some basic levels of language proficiency.

Equally, if Australian businesses want to successfully work with, and in, Asia, then new organisational capabilities will be needed. These capabilities include: leadership which is committed to an Asia-focused strategy; customised Asian talent management; and tailored offerings and value propositions based on genuine Asian customer insights.

We also need to adapt organisational design to give greater emphasis to local in-country autonomy; and develop supportive processes to share Asian learnings.

Based on the six individual and five organisational capabilities that have been identified, the Asialink Taskforce has set out a strategy to develop an Asia capable workforce – a strategy primarily business led in collaboration with the government and educational sectors.

The strategy has four key elements:

First, business is going to have to take a lead and cooperate to advocate the case for developing an Asia capable workforce. For their part, governments need to ensure policy development takes into account the need to accelerate our engagement with Asia and to up-skill the workforce.

Secondly, business also needs to accelerate the development of Asia-focused strategies. Businesses need to learn how to institutionalise their successes including processes to share Asia knowledge and capability between functions and geographies.

Thirdly, we all need to invest in developing Asia capability broadly throughout the Australian workforce. We all have a responsibility here, whether through business investing in building employee skills and experiences; through government support for education, training and professional development bodies that provide programs to build Asia capabilities; or through mobilising our existing Asian talent pools.

Finally, we have to more effectively educate Australia’s future workforce for the Asian Century. This will involve business working with the education sector to provide students with Asia-focussed experiences; through the development of Asia relevant content in our universities and TAFEs; and through government funding to support this.

We are making progress. But given the size and immediacy of the opportunity, and the global competition we are facing – to be frank, we have to make faster progress.

We believe that one practical way that business, government and education providers can work on this challenge is to explore how a new lean, agile national Centre for Asia Capability might be funded, developed and operated to help drive advocacy, skills development, research and network building.

Let me say that the Taskforce also believes the government’s Australia in the Asian Century white paper (Ken Henry) provides a critical opportunity to bring the opportunity and challenge of Asia onto the national agenda and to accelerate and broaden our policy response.

This task of realising the Asian Century is the job of many – the media, politicians, business leaders, the education sector and community leaders – and I urge you to support the Taskforce’s recommendations, and to play an active role in the public conversation we need to have about how Australia fully realises the Asian opportunity.

Mike Smith OBE is Chief Executive Officer, ANZ This is an excerpt from Mike Smith’s address at the launch of the Asialink Taskforce national strategy. The strategy was developed with the assistance of the Boston Consulting Group and Asialink. For more information visit 

Photo: Patrick Boland

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