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Is entrepreneurship something that can be taught? Listen below to well-known Melbourne alumna, entrepreneur and Shark, Naomi Simson in conversation with up and coming furniture designer Ivan Lim on how success comes with the ability to balance instinct with evidence.
There's more to being an entrepreneur than being a business owner and I think people often meld the two. Entrepreneurship is about taking risk and reward and ultimately, it's about doing something that hasn't really been done before. It's about finding a problem and really solving it. Entrepreneurship is an energy.
GAY ALCORN: Hello my name is Gay Alcorn and welcome to a University of Melbourne podcast on the brave new world of work a series about the future and the skills and the outlook needed to make the most of it.
Today, entrepreneurs who balance instinct with evidence. Just what will it take for the next generation to successfully drive business and innovation in Australia? To explore this, I'm joined by Naomi Simson, founder of Red Balloon, a well-known online experience gift retailer. Hi Naomi.
NAOMI SIMSON - Hello Gay, how are you?
GAY ALCORN: Very well.
NAOMI SIMSON: That's good.
GAY ALCORN: And joining Naomi is Ivan Lim, the CEO and co-founder of Brosa furniture, which delivers designer furniture and homewares direct to customers. Hi Ivan.
IVAN LIM: Hi Gay. Thanks for having me.
GAY ALCORN: So, let's start with this word entrepreneur to both of you. What does it mean beyond someone who starts a business?
IVAN LIM: There's a lot of problems in this world, right? And there's different sort of social issues. And I think entrepreneurs are the innovative problem solvers who go out there and figure out how do we solve these problems. But, they're looking for repeatable, scalable ways to do this in order to make the maximum amount of impact. And that's a constant journey of problem solving and testing new things out - testing assumptions and finding solutions. So, it's a continuous sort of journey. It's a mindset, but it's very different from just being a small business - of which there is nothing wrong.
GAY ALCORN: Well let's go back to when you both began as entrepreneurs. Was there a moment or an event where you thought I'm going to jump in? I'm going to take this risk, I'm going to be an entrepreneur. What happened in both your cases?
IVAN LIM: It started when I was really young. I mean I grew up in a business family. And so, we sat around the dinner table and - I kid you not - my mother who is a businessperson would sit around the table and we were like 10 or 11, and say "so who has the $100,000 business idea and who is going to buy a house first? It wasn't like, "how was soccer practice or how was drama practice?"
So, you know I kind of grew up in this environment where being a business owner was somewhat expected of you from the very beginning. But, we started Brosa really because I bought my own place here in Melbourne and I brought my mom around. And the business my mom is in is property and interior design. And so she went, "Ivan, I love you. You're not allowed to go to IKEA."
And I went, "oh gosh what does this mean?" And so, I ended up going down to Church Street, which is where all the designer furniture stores are. And one weekend became four weekends and I was in all these showrooms and meeting all these salespeople. I thought, if I've graduated from IKEA, and I don't want that same sofa that all my friends have, but I don't want to spend $15-20,000 on a designer sofa that looks beautiful.
Where do I go in this dearth of opportunity? I realised that there was a real opportunity to bring accessible designer pieces in a painless fashion to customers - right? And so that's when we decided we could meld the best of furniture with the best of technology to make that a really seamless process.
NAOMI SIMSON: Now my journey to entrepreneurship was actually very, very different. In fact, I always saw my job as that I was going to be a corporate girl.
You know when I graduated from the University of Melbourne, off I went on my career journey and joined big corporations - IBM, KPMG, Ansett (which was an airline). And so that's how I saw myself and it wasn't until I had children that I wanted a different sort of a life. I wanted to be available for my children, but also keep working and keep using my grey matter.
And so, I was looking for something else, so I actually became a freelance marketer and this was last century, and it was actually really difficult to find clients and it was either feast or famine. The problem that I saw was that as a freelance marketer, you couldn't scale a business. Everybody wanted to be with you. It was fee for service. If you didn't want to work you couldn't go on holidays.
And so I thought, what is another way of delivering marketing to small businesses who desperately need it but can't afford it? So that's where the whole notion of aggregating the industry came from, giving it a brand, and instead of pay - you know - paying a fee of service for hours served, it was like: "no, I will just deliver you customers and you give me a clip of the ticket."
People think Red Balloon is a wonderful gifting solution - amazing experiences. But, it's actually a marketing company and all we do is deliver customers, 3.8 million customers, to other small businesses. That's what we do.
GAY ALCORN: You've both moved on from your beginnings but what is it like now? Do you get people asking for advice?
NAOMI SIMSON: It's such responsibility when people see you notionally as successful, then they think you're going to understand every business - which you don't. And so, I literally have people coming up to me in the street. My kids get pitched and their friends are saying: "ask your mum what she thinks of this idea." And it's such a responsibility.
So, I had to - I had to be responsible about that, so I wrote [a book]. Are you meant to be an entrepreneur? It's a very emotional journey of which most people don't talk about. Are you meant to be a leader? Are you a business owner or do you want to licence whatever you have? And then I talk about cash. What's it like to be poor. You know to have all the idea, all your money in the business.
I remember Adrian Giles, who was on the rich list, didn't have two cents to rub together but his business was valued at X. Because - of course - we put everything into our businesses, so I talk about that, because it's very important that people make powerful choices. They don't just fall into entrepreneurship, especially with this notion that it's going to be interesting and exciting. It is a long hard journey. It really, really is. And exits are 1% of what happens in entrepreneurship.
IVAN LIM: Naomi really hits the nail on the head. I think if there was something that I tell entrepreneurs is you need grit. There's an amazing book written by Angela Duckworth about this concept of grit, of intentional practice, of working through really difficult things. And that might be one of the key indicators of success.
And so Naomi is right. I think it's an incredibly emotional journey. Like you know, even when I go out and do different things, people are like, "Ivan, it must be exciting running your own business." I'm like, I know I have like 10 issues sitting my inbox right now that I need to attend to and it's like, if I don't put out that fire, this thing will happen and this thing will happen.
But, you know if you're very mission oriented and you believe in what you want to do and you're driven by that and you enjoy that process, that's going to help you get further. So, I think - you know - one, people need to have that tenacity. But two, to really build something, they need to believe in it and they want to dedicate their time to it, right? Because, I think there are easier ways to make money. Honestly. That's my opinion. Easier ways to make money!
NAOMI SIMSON: And getting a job is one of them.
IVAN LIM: Absolutely, absolutely! Way, way easier! Less stressful, better for your family, better for your friends, and so on.
GAY ALCORN: But then why do it, both of you?
IVAN LIM: Yeah. Well, because I think entrepreneurs are just wired very differently. Like they're just naturally always working on new things.
NAOMI SIMSON: And if it wasn't this, it would be something else. Like when I worked inside corporate, I was a pain in the neck. I was never a very good employee, because I always kept asking why? Why we do it that way? That doesn't make any sense. Why don't we do it this way? I was deeply curious. And so, therefore in some ways it was a natural progression for me to be an entrepreneur. Working inside corporate for me was absolutely constraining, because I couldn't understand why they did it that way.
And also, especially the bigger businesses - the lack of customer focus. I couldn't stop it. But shouldn't we talk to the customers? Couldn't we talk to the customers? They were like "no, no, no. The unions want to do it this way." But the customers are the ones that are important and they were like, "you go worry your pretty little head about something else."
I was never going to. So I was an agitator. Always so. And you know actually it made sense for me with my personality to have my own show.
GAY ALCORN: So, can entrepreneurship be taught then? I mean, what's the role of universities or training in this? Or is it very much an instinct? Is there something you can be taught?
NAOMI SIMSON: Nature versus nurture? Look, I would argue that the role of the university or the role of education is to give the foundations. The foundations of business. But, you cannot teach somebody to have a crack. They either feel it or they don't feel it. And entrepreneurship is energy.
But too I see too many businesses failing, particularly those coming on Shark Tank. Interestingly enough, sitting on the board of the Faculty of Business and Economics, they said, "how many of those Shark Tank businesses have got a business degree?" I said zero. And therefore I'm really working hard with them to understand the fundamentals. So, I think the role for education is materially important if you ever want to scale your business.
And the number of people that I have seen, who go in to business, who don't even understand the fundamentals of: what is cash flow forecasts? What do you mean? It says I've made a profit, why haven't I got any cash? They don't understand those fundamentals and I also think there's a lot of kind of modelling and understanding of the commercial acumen that is absolutely required through education.
And I think that that's paramount in the role, but in terms of the energy, the energy usually comes from the problem that's being solved. If you really see this as your calling, you can't stop it. But that can't be taught.
IVAN LIM: Yeah, you get agitated every time you see it. You just say, "that is so annoying. Like that is really, really annoying," and you just think about it all the time. It's almost like something hounds you and you can't escape it.
Naomi is right - it is a sort of energy. So, I agree. Like, I think education plays a part in giving you a lot of the tools and the basic foundations that you need, but it doesn't take you all the way there. It's an important part, but it's not everything. And there are certain traits in in an entrepreneur which I don't think you're necessarily born with per se. I think it can be nurtured over time, but you need those traits, right? It's not because you walk into a lecture and you go through a certain course and a unit and you pass that, means OK you're qualified to be an entrepreneur, because that's just not how it happens.
NAOMI SIMSON: I also think it's who you hang out with. So, you know, you growing up in your family, it was that was how business is run. My parents were both in businesses. My mother worked for Lindsey Catermole, who's one of Australia's great entrepreneurs and my father had his own business. So, seeing the possibility of what entrepreneurship looks like I think is really important as well.
Another part of the role of university when it comes to education, is like-minded people hanging out and creating networks. If I look back to my university days, a very long time ago (LAUGHS) those people are still my friends. Those people are my networks, those people are my go to. So, equally important as the education program, is the networks you create. And you never know if that person is going to end up an investment banker, that person is going to end up a senior partner in a law firm or an accounting firm, and you've got your networks.
I think that that is a very important role that universities play - the cohort that you create and it is a concern that I have in working with the university is a lot of people come to university and don't necessarily connect. They don't actually build a cohort around them. And to me they're massively missing out, you know, because they can actually do a lot of the program online.
GAY ALCORN: Ivan, you've been involved with the Melbourne University Accelerator Program. What do you get out of that? How did that help?
IVAN LIM: I think, look, the accelerator program is helpful. What it is is a six-month program. The university decides to invest a small amount of money into promising sort of start-ups that have potential to grow and provide mentorship and a working space.
But I think it is very much this sort of cohort effect, which is you immerse yourself in an environment where everyone's pursuing a similar sort of goal, right? Which is to build a repeatable, scalable business out of something that's temporary right now, unless you find this repeatable scalable business model. And so I think what you get out of it is a lot of great connections. You get a community of people who have all this learning who are willing to share and support you, and I think that's one of the great things about the start-up community that's growing in Australia. It is a very generous community that spends a lot of time giving back and I personally feel the responsibility as a founder to be able to give back because, I think the ecosystem only grows if we're all in it together. And there are many different parts of the ecosystem; whether that's funding, whether there's other great entrepreneurs, whether it's talent - but we all need to be able to contribute to that, because the longer-term growth of the ecosystem means a healthier viable industry for all of us trying to build things.
NAOMI SIMSON: And it is the backbone and growth of our country. That's where the growth comes from. That's where employment is coming from. So, the ecosystem is very, very important and not something that was around when I started my business, because it was such a long time ago. I think if there's one thing I note is that really there is a lot of generosity in the start-up community.
GAY ALCORN: So, this is also important for Australia in its future. I was just interested, Naomi in - has government got a role? Have we got the policy setting rights to help, or is it is it just get out of the way really for governments to let you go on with it? How do we compare with what other countries are doing in this area?
NAOMI SIMSON: Look, there are lots of countries - some are doing it well, some are not doing it well. I would say Israel is doing it incredibly well. I think that we're neither in nor out. When it comes to our government, they put lip service to it on occasions.
But you know, on the whole, most founders that I know are successful despite the environment in which we operate. I just don't think that we've really done it well in terms of, you know, workers. I mean, what did they just do with 457 visas? I mean, really you know, I had - we are always looking for tech developers. More than a third of our workforce are either developers, UX designers, testers, QA, all of these people, they're almost impossible to find and terribly expensive.
Some people choose to come to Australia for a lifestyle. And it has always been a great way for us to grow our business and grow the economy, because we're paying people, they pay their taxes, and then they go and spend money in our economy - and everybody wins.
IVAN LIM: Well, I echo Naomi, right because I myself am an immigrant. You know, I was born in the UK. But I grew up in a country called Brunei. And then I moved here, when I was probably 17 or 18, so I've been here for 15 or so years. Whatever it is.
And the reality is, that immigration is an important part of developing any economy. I think, when you look at the really successful ecosystems out there in the world, like in Silicon Valley some of the most successful CEOs of some of the most highly valued companies are immigrants. Right? And they came in, and immigrants are - you know - hungry. They are innovative, they look for new ways in order to create a better life for themselves.
And I think you know it's important to recognize that. And in coming as an immigrant myself, I've lived over half my life away from home. It's not necessarily a threat. I think there's a lot of opportunity that comes from great people with great skills coming into an economy wanting to contribute and build up the local economy here. So, I totally agree.
We struggle for talent. One of the hardest things for any start up is finding great talent. And it's not just going to be solved by immigration, it's also an investment into educational institutions to make sure that we have the most qualified people in order to build this new knowledge economy. But an important element is bringing in great talent into the economy.
GAY ALCORN: You have quite a high public profile. I just was interested in in this era of social media here of branding everything, how important is that being an influencer as part of your business?
IVAN LIM: Well, I'm going to let Naomi take this one, as she is far more of an influencer than I am.
NAOMI SIMSON: It actually comes back to very, very early days of Red Balloon when somebody called me and they said, "I'm on your website and about to make a purchase. How do I know if you're real?" And I said, "Well of course I'm a real, I'm the CEO." And she said, "well, how do I know you're not the janitor?" Well, of course I was working from home, and I was the janitor as well as the CEO, but what I realised at that moment was - I needed to build trust.
I needed to build trust for what I stood for, because people were spending their hard-earned cash on the hope that, you know, the jet boat ride or whatever was going to be there down the tracks. I needed to build trust in the person behind the brand. And, as a marketer, it's the kind of the easier way to go when you have no money to build relationships and so forth. But I launched Red Ballon way before social media. So, the way that I did it was, I went to networking events and I did speaking engagements, and I just met people to build trust and that's why I started doing it. But as it went further on, it became increasingly important to be a role model for others. And when I was asked to do the TV show Shark Tank, I said to them, I said, "I'm not going to do it if I am a token female."
I said, "unless there is another woman. It's very, very important. Because having both Janine and I - and we never agree on anything. And I think that's really important, because we're not just saying, "oh half of our community, which is women, they all think that. Oh that's just girls' business. Blah, blah, blah. One of the things I love about Steve Baxter - not that I said that out loud - because we clearly fight like children the whole time. But, he doesn't see gender when he does his investments. Nor, does he think that is a girl's business. And, he invested in a photographic business when the founder was seven months pregnant, and the only question he said was: "do you believe in the future of your business and the role you're gonna play in it?" She said absolutely. And that was all that was important to him.
And I think, I think it's really important when we can take gender out of the conversation and we only get gender balance when I get to lead men, as well as women. And that for me is what I'm pushing for. But, if I'm not prepared to stand on a stage, sit on a set and be that for others then I can't say well why haven't we got a balanced voice - because I didn't stand up.
GAY ALCORN: Is gender still a discussion? Are most entrepreneurs' men? Is it still a discussion within people who are entrepreneurs?
NAOMI SIMSON: It depends where you look. Silicon Valley is a disgrace. It is an absolute disgrace and also how they treat their female founders. I don't think that's the circumstance in Australia, because we also have far more support and infrastructure to support both genders here in Australia. And I think the other thing is that we know that your market is at least 50 percent women.
IVAN LIM: Way more than 50 percent!
NAOMI SIMSON: So, if you've not got the right talent on your team that represents your audience, you've got a really missing conversation.
IVAN LIM: It's still an issue, I mean obviously. I think it's very important. I grew up in a family of very strong women. So, I think, it still astounds me how there can be such gender biases. So, I think definitely Australia is doing better than Silicon Valley. But I think there is a lot more that can be done and the fact that it's still something that needs to be emphasised shows that it's a problem.
Because this shouldn't be something that we're having to make a big fuss about. You should be something that people shouldn't see gender and think, well female or male, there are discrepancies between the two.
In terms of my own personal profile, I come from a business perspective, so similar to Naomi. I think trust is important, but also, for hiring talent. I think we live in an economy right now where millennials move jobs very, very often. You know if you get them for two years, you're lucky. And so, you know, I think people are really very mission driven. They want to work and contribute in a business or an organisation where they're making something meaningful.
And if being in the public and being an influencer, I think, is a big part of us attracting talent. Because, you know, you go into a business not so much for what the business does, but also for the people that you're working with. And I think that's really, really important. And I think also from a very personal level as well, I really do believe in building a knowledge economy and what we're doing in the future here in Australia. And, I think if I can lend a voice, in order to be a considered opinion around how we go about building the future of Australia's economy, I think that's really important as well.
GAY ALCORN: So, what's the one biggest challenge facing your business now, Ivan?
IVAN LIM: Scaling. Scaling is very, very challenging. I remember when Naomi and I first exchanged emails, she mentioned Verne Harnish and scale up. We spent a lot of time looking through it, it's an amazing sort of like methodology around, how do you scale a business right.
Because it's one thing to kind of get from - oh you've got some initial customers and things are exciting. But taking a business from, you know, that sort of small stage into a really big business is a very different mindset, a very different set of skills and a lot of rigour and discipline and focus. Focus is incredibly important. And I think being entrepreneurs ourselves means we have no lack of good ideas. We don't have a problem finding good ideas. There's an idea a minute. You have lunch, and you've got a whole list.
The problem is going - what are the most important things and what are the best things to do? And being willing to give up good opportunities for the best opportunities. I think that has been a process for me, but that's also been a process for me to instil into the team, to help the team understand this and be able to influence them so strategically we're all singing from the same songbook. Moving in the right sort of direction, so that's my biggest challenge right now.
NAOMI SIMSON: Verne says it's what you say no to, that will make you successful. Because there's no shortage of opportunities and ideas, and that's why for us in strategy, we have to have just our three pillars. And if it doesn't fall within one of those pillars we're not doing it, because it's about focus, but it is also the ability to execute well. And if you don't execute well, you will never scale your business.
GAY ALCORN: Naomi, you've restructured and bought into an artificial intelligence product from Israel to help your business. Why?
NAOMI SIMSON: Look, you know, we always want more customers. And so, the reason for bringing in Albert AI was because the cost to acquire a customer has skyrocketed and it's unsustainable.
So, whereby one used to spend money with Fairfax and News or the networks and now it all goes to Google and Facebook. So, when I started playing with AdWords a long time ago, 2003, when it first launched, it cost us five cents to get a customer. That went up to $50. We cannot make money. It's not scalable. So therefore, we had to say, well how can we do it better? And with lots of people, lots of experts - very expensive - we managed to get it down to $28. That's still unsustainable, because my cost to service is still so great. So then we said there has to be another way.
And that's why we found Albert AI in Israel - out of the military intelligence there. It's been around since 2010 finetuning the product and, you know the first month we put it in, I think we got an acquisition rate of $16. Then it went down to $12 and last time I looked, it was $7. I've got an absolute sustainable business that I can then scale on other businesses, if I can find customers that cheap.
So, it is about, you know, marketing is so not about the idea anymore. In fact, it's very, very hard to get cut through. It's about living in your customers' shoes, but knowing where they hang out, and how they want to engage with you. And that is a relentless task and they shift like the sand.
GAY ALCORN: So, is it even possible to look ahead in 10 years' time, and say what are the skills that the entrepreneur of the future is going to need? I mean obviously we still need the passion, they'll still need the drive and the risk mindset. But are things changing so quickly, it's almost impossible to know what different skills might be required if we look ahead?
NAOMI SIMSON: Skills versus behaviours and talents, I think are two different things. And if I look at all of the things that will completely disappear, it's all the things that are transactional or compliance based. So, you know, at the moment being in small business you must be across all sorts of compliance and governance issues. You have a responsibility as a director and often those things are things that will undo a founder - whether it's just making sure they do their GST return, or whatever it is (and I have had businesses go out of business, because they've forgot to pay their tax and they didn't have any cash to pay their tax, and it's very hard to raise money to pay tax).
So, you know, I would say it's that level of compliance and governance that will just disappear. It will be almost automated, it will be absolutely transparent. You know they say that Watson is the cleverest lawyer on the planet, and you know those sorts of transactions versus the negotiations.
So where is it the art versus the science? And I think that that will be the real difference. Relationships is what makes an entrepreneur, how they build relationships, how they build reputation - that will remain very important in an entrepreneur's success.
IVAN LIM: I very much agree. I think you know we still live in a world where there's human interaction. I think there's still human sort of relationships that you need to build. And I think, I wouldn't be presumptuous to say that I know what the future will hold in 10 years' time. I think there's definitely different skills that will probably be in demand, but that will shift in the ten years further from that.
I think we live in a world where things move very quickly, but we also live in a human world. And you know entrepreneurs are builders, you know, they're constantly looking for ways to build new things. And so, having the relationships and the skillsets and so on, combining those things to build the right things will be important - no matter what age we're in.
GAY ALCORN: Thank you to both of you. That was absolutely fascinating and quite inspiring. So thank you very much.
NAOMI SIMSON: Thank you for having us.
IVAN LIM: Thanks.
GAY ALCORN: You're welcome.
GAY ALCORN: You've been listening to a University of Melbourne discussion between Naomi Simpson, Ivan Lim and me, Gay Alcorn. In the changing world of work, the Melbourne Model is preparing students for the future beyond their degree. To find out more, visit unimelb.edu.au and look for Melbourne talent.
We live in interesting political times. Listen to the Honourable John Brumby, former Premier of Victoria and Professor Gillian Triggs, former President of the Australian Human Rights Commission in a frank discussion on what our policy makers can learn from the past and what skills the next generation will need to succeed.
I would like to see a reform of parliamentary processes. I think it's very distressing that so much that happens by people of goodwill and good faith in parliament is lost in the polemic ideological debate. But I'd like to see our leaders standing up for evidence based decision making.
ALI MOORE - Hello my name is ALI MOORE, and welcome to a University of Melbourne podcast on 'the brave new world of work' - a series about the future and the skills and the outlook needed to make the most of it. Today, policy makers who learn from the past. At a time when political discourse is arguably more polarised than ever, what can we learn from the past and what might the policymakers of the future learn from us?
To explore this, I'm joined by Professor Gillian Triggs, former President of the Human Rights Commission, and current Vice-Chancellor's Fellow at the University of Melbourne and the Right Honourable John Brumby, former Premier of Victoria, and a man who holds a number of appointments, including National President and Chairman of the Australia China Business Council and Chair of the Melbourne School of Government Advisory Board. Welcome to both of you.
GILLIAN TRIGGS - Thank you very much.
JOHN BRUMBY - Thank you.
ALI MOORE - John Brumby, let's start with you. You've had many years in government policy making positions and you still are very involved at various levels. What about today? How do you rate the policy makers of today?
JOHN BRUMBY - Oh, I think that that's a difficult question. I'm often asked about it and I'm not critical of the policymakers of today, but I think they are presented with bigger and deeper challenges than we probably had in the last 10 or 20 years.
So, you think of all of the wicked policy problems which we're talking about, which can range from climate change problems where the solutions are long-term - and it's difficult, because many of the changes that you have to make have a short-term impact - right through to what we do about terrorism, right through to what we do about, you know, this terrible problem the world faces at the moment with more than 60 million people who are homeless refugees around the world. So, these are all extremely difficult policy problems.
And I think our institutions, which were really set with rules and frameworks established 100, 200 or more years ago, are really struggling to keep pace with the need for more agile decision making and more consensus-based decision making.
ALI MOORE - Gillian Triggs what about you? How do you rate the policy makers of today and it doesn't just have to be in the political sphere?
GILLIAN TRIGGS - I rate them very poorly and I think one of the problems has been this phenomenon in recent language of the post-Truth world, where we have always been subject to propaganda, to spin, to misinformation.
There's an odd phenomenon that appears to be emerging at the moment, which is that there is an intolerance for expert opinions for reports; for inquiries; for facts; and evidence. And a growing need to satisfy ideology and or subjective views - partly reflecting the sheer volume of information that's available.
But I think on the major policy issues that John has quite correctly raised, we've actually had really good science, evidence, reports, data collection. All sorts of serious minds going to resolve major policy issues - whether it's a mass movement of peoples across the world, managing global trade, the digital economy, particularly obviously climate change. I think, in Australia, we have not been able to turn that information into the agility that John quite correctly says we need. We've lost that ability to respond and we've moved into highly polarised political positions.
And I think that's a real problem for the future and something we have to learn from.
ALI MOORE - By its very nature though, isn't policy making going to be politicised?
GILLIAN TRIGGS - By its very nature political decisions have to be made, but those political decisions need to be made on an informed evidence base. And I think, in the past, in this 20th century, emphasis on science and evidence and facts that inform policy to a higher degree perhaps meant greater trusted public officials.
Now we find that, although there's always a political element to policy and politics, this is where you've got to make a decision. You've got different balances and you've got to come up with an answer. But my concern is not with that. My concern is that the policies are being developed are almost rejecting fundamental expert advice. I mean the Finkel report is an example, but we've seen it on climate change, we see it on refugee policy. We see it on domestic violence, on crime. So many of the issues that are relevant. They've become far more politicised than they should, when we've really got to solve the problems.
ALI MOORE - So what's the motivation? It would appear if we look at the topic that we're talking about today, policymakers who learn from the past, from what you're saying, policymakers of today are actually ignoring the past.
JOHN BRUMBY - You know when we talk about it at Melbourne University, it's about evidence-based policy. And I'm a big believer of public service - an independent, impartial public service - that's highly skilled, that gives advice to governments without fear or favour. That's the best public service. And that's what it should aspire to.
And the best policy will be evidence-based policy. So, I don't think it's that there's a shortage of people in the public service, or amongst department secretaries, that don't believe in evidence-based policy. They do. It is just that, you know, in the world around us - the world in which our political and business and community leaders operate - this distortion has occurred about what's truth and what's not truth, what's fact, and what's not fact. The post-truth era. And that, for many voters, the people who decide who make and break governments, for many of them, they're having trouble, you know, distinguishing between what is fact and what's not.
And then if you've got that interaction between meddling in the facts on social media and political systems, then you get a parliament on the issue of climate change for example, which has just been a - you know - horrific mess in Australia, really for what now, the best part of a decade since Kevin Rudd should have called the double dissolution election on climate change. Since the Greens voted down the climate change bill, and it's just been a mess - aggravated particularly by Tony Abbott, by former Prime Minister Abbott - and there's just been a mess since.
And you can't get a consensus. Why can't you get a consensus? Because there are elements that the extremes on both sides that can't agree on a single course forward. That's what's happening. And I don't think it's a lack of commitment between the mainstream of the Labor Party and the mainstream of the Liberal Party. I think it's a fracturing of our system on extreme left and extreme right.
GILLIAN TRIGGS - Perhaps I can say to John that I think it is a leadership problem. I think we have not had the courageous leadership to stand up against these extreme views, whether from the left or the right. And we see very able people, well-educated, like our leaders Mr Shorten and Mr Turnbull, being pulled into areas and issues that they will perhaps not otherwise be comfortable with.
And that comes back to something that I think has become very important, and that is the question of authenticity of leadership. And I think that's something that Mr Trump was able to achieve in America, because he's reached back to the people we've left behind. And we're missing that authenticity in our own leaders in Australia, because we sense that they're actually being driven by political concerns from extreme aspects of their parties. That's actually driving them down pathways that we know, as Australians, they don't actually believe in.
JOHN BRUMBY - I think you know that our institutions haven't kept pace with the world that is changing around us. And I'm talking particularly about our parliamentary systems and the way we do question time - it's still a very adversarial system and it's not the best way to solve problems.
If you got the best Chairs, or CEOs, in a room today and asked them "how do you solve a problem?" most of them would say: you get half a dozen clever people around the table and you talk about the problem and you come up with a consensus and that's how you change it. Parliament doesn't work like that.
It's a very, very adversarial system. But you've got to try and find the mechanism to develop that. And our parliament isn't that mechanism - it's a very old-fashioned institution. Whereas universities, which are very old-fashioned universities, have managed - I think - to evolve and have managed to become more modern. And maybe there's a lesson in that and the Melbourne Model, you know, is an example of an age-old institution, Melbourne University, as old as the state itself, evolving in changing times with a different offer. And I think it's been very successful.
ALI MOORE - But this was going to be my question: that if we've got the institutions that we've got, and while there might be reform, it's not coming tomorrow. So, how in our current environment - which you both paint as relatively depressing I should say - how do we get better policy making?
GILLIAN TRIGGS - Well I do come from the University of Melbourne. I did my law degree here and ultimately my PhD, and I am morally certain that one of the greatest contributions universities can make to young people - future policy makers - is to teach them analytical thinking based on evidence. To challenge the preconceived ideas, but do so from an evidence base. But to be willing - to use John's word - to be agile, to be intellectually sceptical, demanding, critical and analytical.
And I think the point about that is whether you've done veterinary science or business or law or arts, if you have developed that intellectual skill of agility and original thinking, then you can allow Australia to deal with these problems. They can then go through the public service and up hopefully into public positions.
Where you say there is a set way of thinking and doing something, and you promote that thinking without proper evidence, then I think you become stultified.
JOHN BRUMBY - Universities have got a crucial role in contributing to public debate and policy. We see that in things like the School of Government here at Melbourne University. We see it in things like the Grattan Institute, which isn't the university, but part of this Parkville Precinct and it's about independent critical thinking.
And the other role I would add to what Gillian said about the universities, is that universities now are economic powerhouses. And so, if you look at this Parkville Precinct, it's an economic powerhouse of Melbourne and the state. If you go out to Monash, ditto out in that cluster and, you know, you look overseas. The role of Stanford University and Silicon Valley. You look at the UK, Cambridge, that Cambridge cluster - there are something like 50,000 small businesses - many of them in the science area, clustered around Cambridge.
So, universities' critical role: thinking, public policy, public debate, research, but also increasingly economic drivers in this whole creative economy, if I can use that expression.
ALI MOORE - So against this very extensive backdrop that you've both painted. And I know that we started this whole chat with you John, pointing out how much more complicated policy-making has become today. But, what would your advice be to policymakers of the future? Bearing in mind that the institutions are not necessarily the correct institutions, the issues are so much more difficult to grapple with. The political discourse is so much more extreme if you like.
JOHN BRUMBY - Well, I don't think the advice is too much different from what we've been talking about this morning. And that is, that if you're looking at developing policy, it needs to be evidence-based. So, you've got to find, try and find the evidence, the clear evidence and the facts and build policy off the back of that.
I think the other point I'd say about policy is, the two bits that are crucial are the evidence. And secondly, what I call the collaboration, the round-tables - I used to call them - in government. If you've got a difficult policy problem, and it might be on health, get all the players around the room, you know, from the doctors through to the practitioners; through to the consumers; through to the unions - get everyone around the room. Here's what the facts say. The facts say that diabetes is growing at an alarming rate. The facts say you will go blind and you will die of heart disease if you don't treat your diabetes. So, what do we do about that?
And that to me - it's a bit old fashioned, but it is still the best way. Now you can meld into that collaboration - all the social media things we've been talking about, so you can use technology to help get a wider range of views, but evidence and listening to people - listening not just to the experts, but to everybody who's a stakeholder is still the best way to develop policy.
GILLIAN TRIGGS - Yes, well I completely agree of course. Although, of course, it's been so sad in my view to see that that kind of consultation went out to our indigenous Australians to make proposals for constitutional change. They came up with a reasoned view about wanting a constitutional amendment to allow some form of advisory body in, I think, the confident belief that they would be listened to and that at least there would be some attempt to respond to their proposals. But it's been apparently rejected out of hand. That looks extremely disrespectful to Indigenous Australians and has left us with a brick wall or an impasse. We're going nowhere.
I think, of course, we need to be more respectful of the evidence. I completely agree about the necessity for greater levels of consultation with the people affected. I would like to see a reform of parliamentary processes. I think it's very distressing that so much that happens by people of goodwill and good faith in parliament is lost in the polemic ideological debate.
But I'd like to see our leaders standing up for evidence-based decision making. But I think we also need to be much more respectful of civil society and of the various groups within the community that know what they're talking about. It may not be possible, politically or constitutionally, but at least to be respected and drawn into the discussion to find - as John has said - some form of consensus. It's not impossible, but it needs to be done before positions become so polarised that nobody can move in any direction at all. And then you end up in a situation where actually nothing will happen.
So, we don't have the vision and we don't have a nation that's behind that vision anymore.
ALI MOORE - There are so many issues and clearly so many challenges that face policymakers today and I thank you both enormously for giving your thoughts about, well I guess the environment that we live in and let's hope that we can go forth and do better.
Thank you very much to both of you.
GILLIAN TRIGGS - Thank you very much.
JOHN BRUMBY - Thanks.
ALI MOORE - You've been listening to a University of Melbourne discussion between Professor Gillian Triggs, John Brumby and me, Ali Moore. In the changing world of work, the Melbourne Model is preparing students for the future beyond their degree. To find out more: visit unimelb.edu.au and look for Melbourne talent.
Innovation in China, the need for smart water pipes and why we should do away with Year 12 exams - listen to a lively discussion on the future for scientists with former Chief Scientist and Kernot Professor of Engineering Robin Batterham and CSIRO Director of Science Manufacturing, Dr Cathy Foley.
If you operate as a leader with your scientific training where you say, I'll try a hypothesis and I'll see how well it works. And by gee if it does work, I've got a predictor of behaviour and I can base my leadership on predictions, as well as observations of the past. That's pretty useful.
GAY ALCORN: Hello, my name is Gay Alcorn and welcome to a University of Melbourne podcast on the brave new world of work - a series about the future and the skills and the outlook needed to make the most of it.
Today, scientists who lead outside the lab. It's a changing world for scientists now, as well having scientific excellence, they need to work a room, be prepared to commercialise their research, tweet, blog, do Ted talks and often, educate students too. So how well prepared are they?
To explore this. I'm joined by Professor Robin Batterham, the Kernot Professor of Engineering at the University of Melbourne and a former Chief Scientist of Australia and Dr. Cathy Foley, Deputy and Science Director of Manufacturing at CSIRO.
First to both of you, is this right what I've just said? Is there a whole new skill set that scientists need today that that may not have been so important when you were young scientists?
ROBIN BATTERHAM: The undoubted answer is yes. You do need a skill set which is a lot more than science, but I would emphasise that by studying science, and by coming out with a good degree in science, you understand the basics of virtually everything. And you use that through your whole life, whether you're practicing to further science, or whether you're applying it - doesn't matter what comes up. You've got the basics, you can understand the world around you. And that's an incredibly powerful position to be in.
CATHY FOLEY - Yeah, I agree actually. In fact, I want to add to that. I think scientists have always been able to do this and do all these different things that you described in the introduction. It's just that we didn't realise we had the ability to do it!
The training to be a scientist and to be a successful scientist, you actually innately have to have those skills anyway. Because, it's not as though funding gets served up to you on a golden platter and that you just sit there and say, I'm a scientist and give me funding because I'm really smart.
It's actually more about how you understand how the system works, and how to make sure you are able to put competitive world class proposals forward to, usually, in the past, funding bodies and also to some extent you needed to work the room at conferences, to be able to get people to agree with your science ideas. So, in some ways, the expectations of the modern researcher these days is actually taking it outside the laboratory and taking those same skills further.
And I actually think, that if you look around many of the scientists who didn't realise they had those skills are really jumping into this new opportunity with both feet and doing really, really well at it because, actually it's been part of the scientific training - it's just we didn't realise it was useful further afield.
GAY ALCORN - Okay. We hear a lot about scientists working closely with industry to bring products or services to market. There's nothing really new in that idea, but I wondered is it especially important right now and how Australia is placed with it.
ROBIN BATTERHAM - Let's think of it two ways: a linear model and a parallel model. Now, a linear model we all know. We know the comic cartoon strip of a little light bulb comes up on top of somebody - generally wearing a white lab coat I might add! They invent something, they take it to the world and the world is a better place for it. And if they're lucky, they make quite a bit of money out of it and that is the invent, develop, commercialise type route. I call that one the linear route.
There's another route which is totally in parallel, which involves the same skillset, the same necessary innovation and jump forward. And, that's when you look at something which is already happening, perhaps with a company or with a hospital with some public service - something which is there and existing and you decide that you can see how to make it better. This is called innovation. And this often goes on in parallel. It's not invention, it's about changing something in the marketplace so that it has the impact. And so that we're all better off. Now, it turns out that scientists are remarkably well placed to do this parallel work.
This innovation, being out in the wider community, because they have such a breadth of knowledge and because they can be embedded in it and because they understand the basics that helps you to de-risk innovation. And so, I see a lot of opportunity, but I do see that because it's always path dependent, there's nothing like experience to get you even further along the path.
GAY ALCORN: So Cathy, can you give us some examples of some innovative, exciting collaborations going on right now? Whether CSIRO are working on it, or elsewhere.
CATHY FOLEY - So, we've got something at the moment which is really interesting. It's called future science platforms. And this is one where, what we've done, is look to the future and say what is the world going to be like? What do we want it to be like by 2030? And what are the issues that need to be solved where there is a real need for technology solutions?
And I'll give you a little example. Water pipes in Australia are getting on to be 150 years old. The water authorities want to replace them and they're billions of dollars' worth of infrastructure that needs to be replaced. Water authorities would like to see smart pipes put in place, except that they want to have ones which are self-healing, that have embedded sensing, that are able to do smart things such, as looking at where pollutants are coming from and being able to track them down. Or where people are using explosives or, even getting to a point where you can have an understanding of health in a particular area, by just looking at what's being flushed down through the sewers.
If you go through saying can we have smart parts with all those capabilities which are very interdisciplinary, can we make those? Well, we talked to parts manufacturers and they say: "we make pipes." So, what we're doing at the moment is pulling together what's in existence; because some of those things exist now, what needs to be invented and the new science to make this happen. And it's bringing together robotics, informatics, sensors, autonomous systems, data - all those sorts of things in order to make this happen and look at a long-term view.
So, you're bringing in this case, government authorities, manufacturers, and researchers; not just in CSIRO where I'm at; but also with universities, because we have to remember that we're only a small part and a fraction of the research that's happening in the world.
And often a solution comes from going to the best and the greatest ideas. And so, you bring you know, some Team Australia, or even Team world together. And that's one of the approaches we're doing at the moment.
GAY ALCORN: And Robin, what are the most exciting collaborations you're involved with or you're witnessing?
ROBIN BATTERHAM - Well I think I'd backtrack, and say Cathy, this is getting pretty close up and personal. Because I live in a house that was built in about 1880-1882, I think. And the water main outside, I'm sure, has been replaced once or twice. But it's old enough to have burst and flooded my basement. So, roll on the smart pipes thing, thank you very much! (COLLECTIVE CHUCKLES)
But, this whole question of collaboration is interesting. If I look at innovation and stand back and look at how it's changing and then what are the opportunities for Australia, it's undoubtedly about collaboration. And as you put it, it's about breaking down silos. I think it's more than about breaking down silos, it's about blowing them up.
I've just spent an interesting few days working with Honeywell in Shanghai. And we think of them as an instrumentation company, but they're a long way from that. This is not a free ad for them. But what I want to point out, is that they've got a new way of running their open innovation. It's what I would call connected innovation.
Open innovation is where, Cathy, as you describe, you take a problem to the world's best and you work with them and you knock it over and you collaborate with them, rather than saying I'm going to do this all in-house and I'm going to lock up the IP because I'm going to make a fortune from it. That doesn't work. Good luck to you if that's your sort of view of the world coming up.
Do the sums. About 2 percent of research institutions income globally comes from what I'd call 'the mega invention.' I'm not arguing against the mega invention. So, 98 percent comes from more open innovation. When you get people, who are into innovation, collaborating together such that they're connected. They don't just feed off each other's ideas. They feed off each other's experiences and the problems that people are working on and they cross pollinate, they cross work with each other.
GAY ALCORN - We know in Australia we've got far too few young people, particularly women, studying science, technology, engineering and mathematics, so-called STEM subjects. Are we tackling this seriously enough? We hear a lot about it but have we really got to the nub of this issue?
CATHY FOLEY - Can I jump in there because it's something I've been really passionate about for a very long time. So, I've actually worked for CSIRO for far too many years. I'm coming up to my thirty-third year at CSIRO. I love working for the organisation and I love its mission. But for whole time I've been working in the organisation, I've really been looking at the fact that Australia - and the world - is actually not embracing the full human potential by making sure that we really use the best brains or making sure that we're using everything we've got.
And, if you look at the numbers of girls in high school doing two sciences and a mathematics - which is usually an indicator that they'll do a technology course after they leave high school - is dropping at an alarming rate. In fact, it's dropping at such a rate that if you had a simplistic model it would be zero within 10 years. And it's because it's dropping so fast. So, part of the issue is, why are kids choosing subjects that are really not leading into technologies?
And there's a couple of reasons. One is to do with GDP of the country. And there's some really interesting research that was done by Rosen and Rosen. They went through looking at a survey of children's interests in science and technology against GDP. And it's an absolute linear response. The lower the GDP, the higher the interest in technology and science. It falls as you get higher and higher in GDP it absolutely drops away, because you think you can buy it from the shop. Why do you need to worry about it? It's a bit like kids not knowing that milk actually comes from a cow, not a refrigerator.
Then the other thing is the way our schools are set up at the moment is all about league tables. You know, getting the highest final year mark, and being encouraged to drop maths and science because they're tricky subjects and actually just do the ones you are passionate about, or that you like to do, so that you're able to go through and get your best score.
ROBIN BATTERHAM - I look at this and say the broad education really does set you up well for coping with the world. For enjoying it, I might add. For contributing to it and so on. So, the question then comes down to the specific. How do you go about that? And I would say here's three things. All of them somewhat radical.
One. Do away with Year 12 exams. Do away with them. Bang. Now the next one is to turn around and say actually in terms of learning - experiential learning is the way to go. Yet, the time pressure to cover the amount of material that is seen fit to teach in the Australian syllabus is such that, far too much of our learning is didactic. By that, I mean it starts with somebody espousing, or you read it yourself - a principle. You then look at some of the potential outcomes of that, and the applications of it, and then you might get down to examples.
Whereas, experiential learning is to say, 'well you know. Let's see if we can discover what is X Y Z. And so, you get into X Y Z, you play around with it, you share experience with your other students and so forth. And eventually you sort of stumble across the fact; some faster, some slower than others; that actually there's a principle at work here thank you very much. Now I can assure you, that learning a principle like that, is far more effective in terms of your ability to understand it, to grasp it, to then apply it further, than learning a theorem and then some applications of it, and then moving on to examples.
GAY ALCORN - So you're talking about learning at university, or still at school?
ROBIN BATTERHAM - I'm talking about from kindergarten, I'm sorry, from year one, from year one onwards. We are far too didactic in our approach to squash more and more in, as opposed to saying all learning should be experiential. That's a bit extreme by the way. But I start with that position and say 'tell me why not.' Because, from a neuroscience point of view, from how you embed knowledge and from how people use it, experiential learning beats everything else. But you've got to surrender some of the content that we currently go through.
So now you come to my third point which is to say, 'well just what should we be covering in this more expansive sort of education?' And on that, I am very, very clear. At least two languages. Your mother tongue plus one more. I really don't care what it is. At least something heading towards, dare I call it, the fine arts end of town. I don't care what it is. Well, I do a little bit. Whether it's learning a music instrument, whether it's throwing a brush around, whether it's understanding the history of some of the great people that have gone before. So, in that area. Something on economics I regard as absolutely compulsory.
And then finally what triggered this - your question. I would also say you've got to have in this more liberal education, science literacy. It just sets you up for life.
CATHY FOLEY - I actually think that we need to make sure that we are teaching our students at university to be able to learn and to think and to assess and evaluate. Because it's those things that really allow them to, not just take their education to a point where it's a training, and I think there's an awful lot of training going on.
So, I think if we're able to have universities which are truly universities in the sense of universal thinking, universal teaching. I think that's where the future is.
And I know that Melbourne's done - the University - with its, you know, changing the structure of the subject when you first go in. And having that basic learning and then specialising later on, that sort of thing is probably on the right track.
GAY ALCORN - Given that we're in this world of opinion and even a post truth world as it's called, is there a special role for scientists to play in this?
ROBIN BATTERHAM - I think scientists have got a special role to play here in this so-called post truth world. Just as long as they don't brand it false or fake news or some such.
My point would be that scientists love the thrill of the chase. They love worrying about and thinking about what makes things tick. So, they have this paradigm. They have this method of working which says, 'I'll think about what I reckon is the reason behind this. I'll try a bit of an experiment. Or I'll observe, because nature makes experiments, of course, around us including in the social sciences. And then, on the basis of that, I'll decide whether my hypothesis is useful or not.' Not whether it's true or not.
Science isn't about truth. It is, at the end of the day, about utility. So that's actually something extraordinary useful in a so-called post truth world, because it says if you operate as a leader with your scientific training, where you say, 'I'll try a hypothesis and I'll see how well it works. And by gee, if it does work, I've got a predictor of behaviour and I can base my leadership on predictions as well as observations of the past. That's pretty useful.'
GAY ALCORN - And Cathy, what about you?
CATHY FOLEY - Yeah, well. Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, is a PhD in physics. And I think she is someone who really has shown sort of a steady hand during the global financial crisis, during the issues relating to Syrian refugees and that sort of stuff, and being a real leader in the European Union during pretty difficult times. I actually think that sometimes her ability is see through the problems and not be thrown by the media and the public opinion, has been because of her ability to see things through in a way which is, as Robin just pointed out, seeing things through, thinking things through.
And I think there's a real opportunity there. I think Australia would be for the better if we actually had a strong diversity of views in government, as we know in the public service that happens already and it's fantastic. If we saw more scientists and engineers putting their hands up to really look at how they can use their skills in the in the public domain, I think that would be fantastic.
GAY ALCORN - You've been listening to a University of Melbourne discussion between Professor Robin Batterham, Dr Cathy Foley and me, Gay Alcorn.
In the changing world of work, the Melbourne Model is preparing students for the future beyond their degree. To find out more, visit unimelb.edu.au and look for Melbourne talent.
With just under 55 years of experience between them, 50 of which belongs to one, listen to alumnus Leigh Clifford AO, Chair of Qantas and Kerry Halupka of IBM discuss the limitless opportunities for the future of engineering.
Well, I think it's the speed of change. Engineers have always had to be very adaptive. So, the opportunities are going to be where the intellectual input, the IP if you like, is a greater proportion than what I'd call the metal bashing, or the welding.
I don't think we're going to make lawnmowers for the world, but we will make a lot of high tech pieces of equipment which has a higher intellectual input than if you like, as I call it, the nuts and bolts side of it.
ALI MOORE - Hello my name is Ali Moore. And welcome to a University of Melbourne podcast on the brave new world of work - a series about the future and the skills and the outlook needed to make the most of it. Today we look at engineers who connect people with ideas.
Just how has engineering changed over the past 30 years, and where can it go in the next 30? To explore these questions, I'm joined by Leigh Clifford, Chair of Qantas and Kerry Halupka, a postdoctoral researcher at IBM. Welcome to both of you.
KERRY HALUPKA - Hi, it's good to be here.
LEIGH CLIFFORD - Thank you.
ALI MOORE - Leigh, you graduated from Melbourne University in 1968. And, I don't want to rub it in, but Kerry you finished your PhD in April this year. And that's not 30 years that's in fact, well nearly 50 years, difference. So, let's start with that really big picture question - the very changed landscape for the engineer. Leigh, how different is the job of the engineer today?
LEIGH CLIFFORD - Well I think firstly it's the speed of change, it is changing very rapidly. Sure, the basic principles are still the same and I think it is important that engineers understand the basic principles. But technology is evolving much more quickly. If I look at my early days when I was using 10 figure logarithms for surveying underground. Well, those things are a thing of the past and I think you're seeing, certainly the tools that are available, changing very, very rapidly.
ALI MOORE - Is the core skill set the same or does it naturally have to be different because the tools are so different?
LEIGH CLIFFORD - I think that some of the nature of the tools are changing. You know, physics, computing capabilities, and these skills that an engineer needs are somewhat different. But, you still need the basic principles - be it civil engineering, electronics, mechanical engineering, mining engineering, metallurgy etc. Some of those things are changing, because the tools are very different.
ALI MOORE - Kerry what do you think? I mean do you have a historical perspective?
KERRY HALUPKA - Oh, I definitely don't have a historical perspective. But I have always thought that engineering or the process of learning to be an engineer is less about memorizing facts and figures and ways of going about things, and more about learning how to problem solve.
So, that skill of actually knowing how to solve problems, knowing what to look for, what kind of information you don't know, and what you should go and find out. That, I would say, is something that probably was required when you did your engineering degree.
LEIGH CLIFFORD - I think that's right. I think engineers have always had to be very adaptive. You know, I think that quite often technologies were leapfrogging the way you did things.
I can think of my own experience in metallurgy etc. And you know, the nature of the work is changing. The work that people are involved in - if I look at, and say they probably don't need as many Coopers or glassblowers as they once did. Technology's changed and you've got to be aware and adaptive enough to manage those new technologies.
KERRY HALUPKA - Yeah, adaptability is huge and it's also probably why engineers are found in so many different professions as well. That ability to transfer your knowledge from one aspect to another.
LEIGH CLIFFORD - I think also you're seeing engineering skills impacting on life and industry very differently. I would suggest also something like agriculture. The farmers today in broad acre farming are using very much different technology from, say 50 years ago or 100 years ago.
And we're going to see it more in medicine. I think also in teaching, than the way it's communicated. And I've also thought about infrastructure. You're now seeing remote control of equipment in mining operations and driverless cars. So, technology is adapting, but we're also seeing some jobs are absolutely disappearing. And we've got to make sure people have the skills for the new jobs.
KERRY HALUPKA - Absolutely. I've actually heard a figure that in America they used to be 46 percent of the population were farmers. And now I think it's 2 percent. So that's quite ridiculous, that change.
LEIGH CLIFFORD - And, I think we're probably not aware of how fast things will change going forward. If we went back 15 years and someone said driverless cars - I remember being involved in a trial of a driverless truck in the mid 90s. And you know I'd have to say, I probably wasn't aware of the opportunities that it created. Now that truck had more than just gearbox and transmission. It really had a lot of intellectual property in that business, and it was going to make a real difference to mining.
ALI MOORE - But if you look, I mean, for example, the most obvious recent example is trains in mining. I mean they're completely automated. They're run from thousands of miles away, perhaps in Perth, when the actual train is up in the Pilbara. And they've just changed the way you do business. I mean, that's a classic example isn't it of just how dynamic the whole process is?
LEIGH CLIFFORD - and you'd have to say the person who is now being recruited to work for that company has a different mix of skills from the old days. And you know, I think some of those technologies are going to impact in areas we can't even envisage at the moment.
ALI MOORE - Kerry, you made the point earlier that engineers are often found in different professions if you like, that they spread their skill set. It really is extraordinary when you look at people that you may not even think were engineers.
I mean Leigh, you're an obvious example. You now chair an airline which is a long way from your core skill set. But you look at some other very well-known names. Steve Wozniak from Apple is probably not so surprising. But Rowan Atkinson, AKA Mr. Bean. He's an engineer. Jimmy Carter, former US President, Alfred Hitchcock. Even Cindy Crawford. Before she took up full time modelling she was studying chemical engineering. So, what is it, do you think, Kerry about engineering that lends itself to this - I suppose - flexibility?
KERRY HALUPKA - Yeah, well I would have no idea what kind of skills that Cindy Crawford has taken from engineering. But in terms of the other ones, again I'm going to go back to that problem-solving capability. But, more so, the aspect to understand the problem, to get to the real basis of the problem. And I guess being able to jump into a new field and immediately take in all of the aspects of what is involved in this particular field and the core of the problem and then being able to figure out a step-by-step path for how to solve that.
I think that's at least what I learnt through my engineering degree and also my PhD. And I think that is something that may be possibly not be unique to engineers, but is definitely reinforced through the engineering degree.
LEIGH CLIFFORD - I think also engineering blends abstract reasoning with practical solutions.
KERRY HALUPKA - Oh, that's nice.
LEIGH CLIFFORD - And (CHUCKLES) I think that early on in your life, sometimes you find that you've got a bent towards that, as distinct from say analysing Shakespeare. Certainly, I've found that. And you know I often say, be honest with yourself, look at what you're good at and what you're not good at. And despite what pressures come from all over the place, try and pursue what are your inherent strengths.
ALI MOORE - That was going to be a question of mine. What drew you to engineering Kerry in the first place? Was it appealing to your own strengths as you recognize them?
KERRY HALUPKA - I actually remember the first time that I that I considered being an engineer. And it was back to this idea of things that we talk about now and we take for granted, that weren't discussed at all back then. And this was, I think it would have been 11 years ago and I went to a talk by the then DSTO (Defence, Science, Technology Organisation) about drones and no one at that time, that I knew of, was discussing drones.
But this organisation, they were. They were discussing being able to put these unmanned flying aircraft into the air and have them communicate with each other and something back on the ground. And, distinct from actually discussing or sending any of this information back to a person, they would make decisions. And possibly go into affected areas and rescue people or drop goods - they'd be able to solve all of these problems themselves. And that really struck me as such an interesting application and such an interesting problem. How would you put thought into something that you were then not going to converse with, that would then be able to figure these things out for itself? And I guess that was that real, it was just this interesting problem and I thought to myself - how else can we apply these things? And, of course, that was the first thing that drew me to it.
But then when I started doing engineering, and going through my degree, I started to realise that these kind of technologies could be used to help people in other ways. I might not have the skills that are required to be a doctor, but I do have the skills that can be used to aid doctors to help in medical technologies. Which is why I've now gone down this path of biomedical engineering. But I guess for me, yes, I was always interested in maths, yes, I always liked physics. But it was more of that I want to solve problems that other people haven't attempted before. And engineering seemed like the likely path.
LEIGH CLIFFORD - I think one of the realities is engineers require quantitative, analytical capability. And I'd have to say I look back in my school days and I have a friend who became a famous songwriter. Now I remember him good at English, lousy at maths and I was probably the opposite from that. And you do play to your skills, but I think you also take a problem-solving approach to the world and you're applying skills that you've learned, to real problems. And I think that's why engineers, especially with a quantitative, analytical capability, a lot of them end up in financial management type roles - investment banking or banking. Anything which requires quantitative, analytical skills lends itself to employing an engineer.
ALI MOORE - Did you though 50 years ago have a light bulb moment that you thought to yourself - yep I want to be an engineer?
LEIGH CLIFFORD - I'd have to say, I really didn't know totally what an engineer did. In fact, I didn't know a lot of what an engineer did, but what I did know was what I was good at, and what I wasn't good at. And then you were influenced by friends and family who were in - you know -related industries and I could see that was a better opportunity for me.
And as you go through it - some change their career as they go - But as you go through it, you say I think I'm playing to my skills here.
KERRY HALUPKA - Yeah, I was actually told that I shouldn't be an engineer. That was one of the other things that made me want to be an engineer.
ALI MOORE - Who told you that?
KERRY HALUPKA - A friend of the family said that women shouldn't be engineers.
ALI MOORE - Now that's a whole other debate.
KERRY HALUPKA - That's a whole other topic, it's probably not what we're talking about today.
ALI MOORE - But it is a fascinating one and there is a huge campaign to get more women into the engineering profession. So, it's terrific to have you talking to us today. One of the things that you both share is this interest and fascination with engineering innovation in health. And I know that Kerry, you've been focusing on improving vision of the bionic eye. Where did that interest come from for you?
KERRY HALUPKA - So for me, as I said, I was very interested in drone technology and one of the aspects of that was the capability of drones to take in the world and understand it. And that made me start thinking about vision in a digitized sense as well. And, at that point in time, there was a catalyst: my mum was diagnosed with a very rare eye condition. And she was told that sometime, in the near future, or in the long-term future even, she might go blind. Thankfully that hasn't happened. She's still got great sight, but that really made me start considering that the way that we see really influences everything about our world. Everything. It changes the way we see the world - literally. So, it started making me think. How can I, as an engineer, use the skills that I have acquired to help people who've lost their vision? So, it was all just a lot of things that happened at the same time that that helped to catalyze that.
ALI MOORE - And I love the comment that you made earlier. That you may not have the skills to be a doctor, but you do have the skills to help people in the health area. Is that, for you, the future of engineering - health?
KERRY HALUPKA - Oh, oh, the future of engineering is everywhere. I mean absolutely, there's a huge impact that engineers can have in health. But, as Leigh says, there's a huge impact as well, that we can have in financial areas, banking, mining, really everywhere. Health is a big one though, because we're now starting to see the advent of trying to understand, say, the brain. This is something that I guess is a paradox though. Will we ever actually be able to understand the brain, considering that it's the brain trying to understand the brain? (LAUGHS)
But it's something that we're now attempting to do and it's something that we're trying to invent, machine brain interfaces, in order to be able to interact with the brain, possibly send or receive signals from it. And, at the moment, our medical technology may not be good enough to be able to say, use stem cells for this purpose, but we are able to see quite good improvements with engineering.
So, it's something that I see that engineers can work hand in hand with doctors to head in that direction. And possibly one takes a step, waiting for the other to catch up. But it's really not one or the other. We really can just keep helping each other towards that.
ALI MOORE - Gee, the skillset that you describe, and increasingly now with collaboration across professions and across industries, and the future of engineering. It's an extraordinary person who can become an engineer if they can do all of this.
I mean, what sort of person is the right person for this profession, do you think, Kerry?
KERRY HALUPKA- Oh, that's a really tough question. Who's the right person to be an engineer?
LEIGH CLIFFORD - I'd have a go. I'll have a go while you're thinking.
KERRY HALUPKA - Yeah, go ahead.
LEIGH CLIFFORD - I think you do have to have reasonable quantitative analytical skills. I think you have to have an inquiring mind and you've got to be a person who doesn't necessarily jump to the conclusion before you've done some of the analysis etc.
I think you need people who've got an element of risk taking. And obviously if you keep making mistakes, you're not going to get very far. But the nature of work out in the typical industrial environment is, you'll make mistakes on the way. The important thing is learning it. You've also got to recognise when you don't have the skills and draw some expertise in. And I think that's pretty important too.
KERRY HALUPKA - Yeah, I agree with all of those things. That's a nice succinct summary. Definitely I agree with the quantitative skills that you're talking about. And also, the point that you made about being able to take in all of the facts prior to actually making a decision, really resonated with me.
But as you said, balancing that with taking a risk, and possibly taking a chance. Because the thing is, we're probably not always going to know all of the facts and figures around a particular thing that we're doing. If we're jumping into the unknown, we won't have all the facts about how likely it is that we're going to succeed. So being able to have a probabilistic mind frame at the same time, making a safe risk is...
LEIGH CLIFFORD - I often say business is quite often about calculated risk taking. It's not gambling, it's just calculated risk taking, trying to weigh up the implications of failure. And I'd also have to say in many projects, and I'm sure you come across it in some of the work you're doing, you've got to be prepared to say this isn't going to work. I call it shooting the dogs. You know, you can get people falling in love with their technology. You're spending an enormous amount of time, an enormous amount of money. And frankly, any objective analysis would say this is running into the sand.
KERRY HALUPKA - I think that one skill, or maybe personality trait which you didn't mention, I think is quite important - and possibly underrated - is creativity. I think that being able to think about ideas in a different way and lateral thinking out of the box - that's something that's also incredibly important. I'm not entirely sure if that can be taught.
LEIGH CLIFFORD - I think you're right there. I think the important thing also, when you're working in teams of people, you've got to make sure - especially as a senior manager in an organisation - you've got people who will challenge you. And you know, you've almost got to introduce the 'what if' yourself.
I can hear one of my greatest bosses I ever worked for, around the iron ore operations of Hammersley. He used to say "what, if we've got this wrong?" And I think you've got to force yourself to look at alternatives.
KERRY HALUPKA - Definitely play devil's advocate sometimes. Yeah. I think that possibly - you know - you have a great perspective on this from a management standpoint. From being one of the people who is managed at the moment in my career, I see that another good skill to have is the capability of managing upwards.
ALI MOORE (CHUCKLES) - As Leigh looks at you cautiously.
LEIGH CLIFFORD - Well, I think that emotional intelligence comes into play here. You've got to, sometimes you've got to convince someone that your project - which you're asking to spend so many dollars on - is worth the effort. And you've got to understand the risk, but you've also got to sort of separate the personalities from these things.
You know sometimes a very strong personality can overwhelm someone who's got a great other idea, but maybe not quite the same personality.
KERRY HALUPKA - It's interesting, even in this discussion, we've put a lot of weight on personality and that's something that traditionally is not a highly rated engineering aspect or characteristic.
LEIGH CLIFFORD - Yeah, I think that's because the university fundamentally is trying to give you the tools, the quantitative analytical skills, the experience and the knowledge in specific disciplines. And the further on you go, the more you've got to apply those using creativity. Beg, borrow and stealing ideas etc.
One thing we haven't talked about, is what I call the changing nature of how engineers in Australia might be working. And many of them all come into developing products or processes etc. And, I think the important thing is the nature. Australia is a high wage country. There's nothing wrong with that. So, the opportunities are going to be where the intellectual input, the IP if you like is a greater proportion, than what I'd call the metal bashing or the welding. So, I don't think we're going to make lawnmowers for the world, but we will make a lot of high tech pieces of equipment, which has a higher intellectual input than if you like - as I call it - you know, the nuts and bolts side of it
ALI MOORE - There's an enormous amount of food for thought. So, thank you very much to both of you for taking part in this discussion.
LEIGH CLIFFORD - Thank you.
KERRY HALUPKA - Yeah, it's been fantastic. Thank you.
You've been listening to a University of Melbourne discussion between Leigh Clifford, Kerry Halupka and me, Ali Moore.
In the changing world of work, the Melbourne Model is preparing students for the future beyond their degree. To find out more, visit unimelb.edu.au and look for Melbourne talent.
In 2016, a landmark documentary hit our screens. ‘Revolution School’ showcased struggling school Kambrya College and its unique, deep relationship with the Melbourne Graduate School of Education. Listen to former Principal Michael Muscat and current teacher Grace Wong in conversation with Maxine McKew on what worked, the changes in Kambrya College, NAPLAN results and why teachers, principals and students need continual learning in their lives.
Teachers and principals need to have a learning mind-set, because we're in an ever changing environment. The research is continually being updated and improved and new things are coming on board. You'll never get there. It's a continuous process. I mean, it's not just the students who go to school to learn... teachers and school leaders are all part of the learning process.
MAXINE MCKEW - Hello my name is Maxine McKew. Welcome to a University of Melbourne podcast on the brave new world of work - a series about the future and the skills and outlook needed to make the most of it.
Today we look at teachers with the agility to keep learning. Australia is known for its strong educational results. We continue to attract international students who want a high school experience here ahead of entry into our universities. But there are some red lights flashing.
Since 2000, our performance in the key areas of maths, science and reading has been trending down. And that's happening among our best students. The individuals we expect to be the creators and producers of the future. So how do we improve and how can we support our teachers in shaping the next generation?
I'm joined today by Michael Muscat and Grace Wong, whose participation in the landmark documentary series Revolution School, screened last year on the ABC, shed a real light on the complexity of schooling and the multiple challenges faced everyday by teachers. So Michael, Grace, welcome to this podcast.
GRACE WONG - Hello.
MICHAEL MUSCAT - Good to be here.
MAXINE MCKEW - Now Michael, you were principal at Kambrya College and Grace you're still at Kambrya as a senior maths teacher. So let's start our discussion on what must have an extraordinary experience at the school - having cameras embedded in classrooms in all sorts of areas across the whole year. Michael, what was it like with that kind of spotlight?
MICHAEL MUSCAT - Look it was a lot of fun. And it was exhilarating and challenging all at the same time, because we really felt that we had the spotlight on us every day for 12 months to a very high degree you know?
MAXINE MCKEW - And it was going out to a national audience.
MICHAEL MUSCUT - Yes. (LAUGHS) So there was a little bit of living on tenterhooks for the whole year. But look, it tended to bring the best out of people and the best out of the organisation.
GRACY WONG - Mm
MAXINE MCKEW - Grace, what did you feel? Because, I would have thought cameras on a group of teenagers who are going through a lot of emotional turbulence in their life anyway, what was that like? What was the effect on them?
GRACE WONG - I can still remember a few of my students. They were like, looking into the camera and saying "mum I'm on the TV I'm on TV!" But after a while they get used to what happened with the cameras and stuff. So they were like, yeah, back to normal classes, normal classroom.
MAXINE MCKEW - And Michael, what feedback did you get?
MICHAEL MUSCAT - We got a tremendous amount of positive feedback from all quarters, you know across the nation. People made the effort to contact the school and say thank you and well done and thank you for being so brave. And we were brave. For finally getting to show the Australian community how challenging and how complex the work of teachers really is.
MAXINE MCKEW - Because as we know, teachers often don't get the respect and they don't have the status that I think they deserve. But what we saw in that series was the lengths to which so many teachers would go to hang in there with students who, in some cases, were goofing off or were really not with the program.
MICHAEL MUSCAT - Yeah very true. That is very true. I'm sure of all schools in the nation where teachers just stretch to the Nth degree and really put a great deal of care into their work and invest a lot of themselves into their work.
MAXINE MCKEW - Grace, how did teachers feel about the series and about the filming?
GRACE WONG - I think they feel like it's their story as they watch it because that's what happened in our lives. Teachers' lives like every day. Like challenging students, trying to keep students on track, to motivate them and be passionate about what you're teaching every day. Yeah, I think that's a really good series in the transparency of showing the world, or Australia, what teachers should be.
MAXINE MCKEW - I'm wondering if you got any feedback to the effect of "Wow, I really, I really didn't quite realise just how hard teachers work." You know, you're not clocking off at 3:30.
GRACE WONG - No, definitely not clocking off at 3:30 because, the lesson plans that we need to put in. And if you can remember, like, the videos I made over the Revolution School series, those are like, you know, after work, after work. Yeah.
MAXINE MCKEW - Let me go to a couple of the, I suppose a couple of the things that were explored throughout the series and one, of course Michael, was the very strong relationship between Kambrya College and the Melbourne Graduate School of Education. And that happens in a number of ways through the network of schools but also through the Master of Teaching graduates, many of whom have been recruited by Kambrya. So just talk to us about that.
MICHAEL MUSCAT - It's been one of my frustrations right through my teaching career that the quality of teacher education has not been up to standard. And I have been so impressed with the work that's being done by the Melbourne Graduate School of Education now in preparing teachers to hit the ground running when they start on their careers. I think that the intensity of the program and the high expectations and the amount of time they're spending in school with hands on training -
MAXINE MCKEW - Is that the critical thing?
MICHAEL MUSCAT - Oh, absolutely, absolutely.
GRACE WONG - Yes.
MICHAEL MUSCAT - And look at Gracie, you know, is a prime example. And it was very intense.
GRACE WONG - Yes, it was.
MICHAEL MUSCAT - But you had - you saw how you could - yes, it is challenging, but there's plenty of support around you. And that's provided both by the Melbourne Graduate School of Education, by the staff member who's employed specifically to be a support person. And of course, by all your colleagues at the school.
GRACE WONG - Yup.
MAXINE MCKEW - Michael what has been your experience then with the beginning teachers because we know the data tells us that retention is a real problem. Often we're putting graduates into schools and within three or five years they're gone.
MICHAEL MUSCAT - Well look, there's no doubt that no matter how well prepared you are, your first year of teaching is going to be tough. There's no way around that because it is exhausting. You're being tested. Your emotions are being dragged. You're just being -
MAXINE MCKEW - Your physical energy levels, I imagine? (LAUGHS)
GRACE WONG - Mm (LAUGHS)
MICHAEL MUSCAT - The whole thing, five days a week, you know, full on work.
MAXINE MCKEW - And I guess some kids would be trying you on too, wouldn't' they?
MICHAEL MUSCAT - Of course they do. And they're testing you out and you know you are a work in progress. You are developing. So the great thing about the Graduate School of Education is that it prepares teachers better to be able to cope with those challenges and then give you a way better chance of staying in the profession. So that's it - but it's it is tough. Teaching is not is not a gimme, it's not something you fall back into as a soft option. It is a tough profession, but it can be one of the best.
GRACE WONG - And rewarding.
MAXINE MCKEW - Did all of the supports then help make your first year a bit less daunting than it might have been?
GRACE WONG - Yes. It was a bit less daunting. As you can see, there's cameras in my classroom during my first year (LAUGHS). It was less daunting in a sense where, like, you know where you stand and you know you have a bank of things that you can use. It's just that you need to make up your mind which one you want to use and which one you want to be expert in. Yeah. Or you want to refine in your teaching.
MAXINE MCKEW - Michael, you mentioned just a minute ago though that your concern is about the variability of a lot of Australian teacher training. First of all, do you think we are getting to the point though that we are lifting the bar on that?
MICHAEL MUSCAT - I would say yes, finally we are beginning to head in the right direction. It's been a long time coming. It means that we have a lot of unprepared teachers in the system, unfortunately.
MAXINE MCKEW - That's a dreadful comment, isn't it. Because at stake is thousands and thousands of students and their preparedness for - as we're saying in this series - a very different work world.
MICHAEL MUSCAT - That's the reality and it is cross-sector. So that's the challenge we have as principals in schools. To build the capacity of our teachers, always. It's probably our number one job. Constantly building the capacity of our teachers to become better at their craft.
MAXINE MCKEW - Let's talk a little bit about different classroom approaches that you try at Kambrya. Because as you know, the Master of Teaching program centres on the application of what's called clinical intervention practice. What does that look like at Kambrya?
GRACE WONG - For example, we look into research and studies on how to differentiate more effectively in a classroom. As we know, in our classroom of 25, all of the students, they learn differently. We can't just say, "all right students, take out your textbook and turn to page 41 and do questions one to 10." You can't have 100 percent of learning happening in the classroom with just one sort of intervention.
So you might have students who like more hands on. And as you know, kids nowadays they're like, with ICT (Information and Communications Technology), they're really good with ICT. And now we have been pushing, you know, watching videos on learning this concept or using numeracy software. Like, they play interactive games as they learn or they like grouping into small groups. So there's one more knowledgeable to teach to other peers.
So there's so many things, and interventions, happening in a classroom where we want to, what Mike was saying before, to push great outcomes. Great learning outcomes. Yeah.
MAXINE MCKEW - So the task for you, every day really, is to find the hook. That will interest that particular student.
GRACE WONG - Yes.
MAXINE MCKEW - And then the set work that will challenge them to go a bit further.
GRACE WONG - Correct. Yeah. And imagine if a teacher has four to five maths classes, you'd need a lot of individual lesson planning for each student. And you need to think, how do I sustain? Using this strategy over this term? To have this student learn? And as a third year out teacher, I still struggle with all this individual learning plan and differentiation.
MAXINE MCKEW - But it must be great when you see a student who probably thinks they're only average and they're doing a bit better than that. I remember, the teachers that I remember well those ones who thought that I was a bit smarter than I thought I was. Michael, what about you?
MICHAEL MUSCAT - Yeah. (LAUGHS)
MAXINE MCKEW - There's a debate running at the moment. And this is particularly pertinent to this series about the future of work. And that is that perhaps there are limits now to what content knowledge is pushed in high schools with perhaps there needing to be a greater emphasis on skills development. Michael, where do you fall down on this one?
MICHAEL MUSCAT - Oh, totally agree. You know we are all in the same boat because we don't exactly know what the future is going to be. The best we can do is to develop young folk who can be independent learners; who can collaborate effectively with others; who've got strong reading skills because it underpins so much of learning; who are inter-culturally aware; who are good problem solvers.
I mean, we're going into an unknown future, because change is so rapid. If we can build those capabilities and skills - You know, knowledge, we're awash with knowledge. That's not the problem. We can access that. So they're the sorts of skills we need to really focus on in our teaching.
MAXINE MCKEW - Linked to that there was, I thought, a fascinating and again very brave segment that was screened in Revolution School. And that was the exercise where a particular teacher was confronted with the amount of teacher talk time she was doing in the classroom. And then over time pulled that back to the point where she was doing more listening, waiting longer for the responses from students. Grace, what about you? How are you conscious about this?
GRACE WONG - You know, I was part of the program with John Hattie and his wife with the teacher talk. I was 80% (ALL LAUGH) so I wasn't that great too.
MAXINE MCKEW - So how have you adjusted your practice?
GRACE WONG - So what I did is change lesson plans and even just listen to student feedback. Because I asked them for feedback. How can Miss Wong do better in her teaching? Do you think you can learn better in certain ways like working on worksheets? Or, like you know, how do you learn better? So, getting their feedback actually helped me restructure my lesson plan.
You know I was taught back in Asian countries, so back in Brunei, our teaching style is very different. Our teacher would talk to us for like the whole time and we'd just write notes. And so on and so on. So, it's very different - the way I've been taught in Brunei. It's so different with this Australian classroom. At first I was like, whoa, culture shock. (ALL LAUGH) You know? I need to adapt.
MAXINE MCKEW - So what do you seem to be describing as an ideal environment is a school where everyone's learning.
MICHAEL MUSCAT - Absolutely Maxine. I was thinking, you know, teachers and principals need to have a learning mind-set because we're in an ever changing environment. The research is continually being updated and improved and new things are coming on board.
And just as a school principal needs to be focussed on ongoing school improvement - you never get there. It's a continuous process and it keeps you vibrant. It keeps you on your toes and it helps to create that learning community. I mean, it's not just the students who go to school to learn. Teachers and school leaders are all part of the learning process.
MAXINE MCKEW - Let me just bring this discussion to conclusion though by looking at the question of leadership. Because more and more this is, I think, a very important focus.
Michael, I remember you saying - because you we were at the school for a long time and you saw that journey, and you were a part of it and you led it. But you made an interesting observation to me about the problems of perhaps doing too much. Just explain that. What did you learn?
MICHAEL MUSCAT - You can create institutional confusion and incoherence by trying to do too much and not sticking with things for very long. You know, you might try something for one year and say, oh yeah that was good. And then it's quietly forgotten about and you jump onto something - another bandwagon. Doesn't work. Look, get down to the basics. Get them done really well. And do them one at a time.
When the opportunity came through the Melbourne Uni network of schools and one of the focus groups was on independent reading which was led by Diane Snowball. And we thought, this is for us. This is what we need. Our students are just not reading enough. And Diane presented some very compelling arguments for a focus on reading.
What we did was, we set up mini libraries in every classroom from years 7 to 9 or was it 10?
GRACE WONG - 10
MICHAEL MUSCAT - And every English lesson began with it with a period of reading. 10 minutes of silent reading. And during that time there would be individual conferences, reading conferences, with students. We had three trained professionals to conduct these conferences to assess the level of comprehension, to assess the level of enjoyment and whether it was an appropriate read for them.
The first indicator that we had from our librarian was something like a 75% increase in the volume of borrowing. We thought, well, that's got to be positive. But the great thing is two years on, when the NAPLAN results came out in 2017. The school showed outstanding growth in reading and writing.
GRACE WONG - And even numeracy too.
MICHAEL MUSCAT - And numeracy. So we have bucked the trend.
MAXINE MCKEW - Is that replicable? What you did at Kambrya?
MICHAEL MUSCAT - Absolutely. So is the whole story of the turnaround that's taken place at Kambrya College. We turned around a very low performing school to one of the higher performing schools in all areas across the state of Victoria.
MAXINE MCKEW - Are we doing enough to build an emerging cohort of effective, proficient leaders do you think?
MICHAEL MUSCAT - The evidence still isn't there. When leadership positions are advertised, the numbers and the quality of applicants is still not there. And this is - it perplexes me. I don't really get it. But I'd love to see more of the brightest and the best put up their hands for leadership.
Because leaders can either breathe oxygen into a school and enable and energise a school, or they can do the opposite. They can suck the oxygen out of a place and stifle it. Or they can let it go into cruise mode. I think that the principal plays a pivotal role and it's so important to get the right people in those positions.
MAXINE MCKEW - Grace, what about you? Would you aspire to be a Principal?
GRACE WONG - Maybe. But, I always want to be a behaviour management leader. You know, I have this passion in connecting with students and helping them to get back on track in their lives. So that's what I aspire to become.
Well, I really, really agree with what Michael said. Like teachers, we can't be complacent. If we decide to be complacent, then how do we preach what we teach to our kids? We ask them to learn and to give us good outcomes. But on the other hand, teachers, we are not really learning ourselves. We are not challenging ourselves enough. How can we connect with them and teach them the methods, you know? That suits them the best. Yeah.
MAXINE MCKEW - In line with that I spotted a quote from Lisa Rogers recently. She is the new CEO of AITSL, the Australian Institute of Teaching and School Leadership and she said this, she said "when you send your children to an Australian school, effective teaching should be a certainty not a lottery."
MICHAEL MUSCAT - We're heading in the right direction. We're doing - There's so many positive things going on, but the reality is we've got a way to go. The regions are depleted. Special efforts need to be made to encourage some of the brightest and the best back into the regions to lift the standard of what is going on out there. And across the board, across the system, more work needs to be done. It is, it is a work before us. It is the challenge we face.
MAXINE MCKEW - Michael Muscat, Grace Wong, thanks very much for participating in this podcast.
MICHAEL MUSCAT - It's a pleasure.
MAXINE MCKEW - You've been listening to a University of Melbourne discussion between Michael Muscat, Grace Wong and myself, Maxine McKew. In the changing world of work, the Melbourne Model is preparing students for the future beyond their degree. To find out more, visit unimelb.edu.au and look for Melbourne talent.
Listen to leading Australian visual artist, Melbourne alumna and Professor Sally Smart talk about what it means to be an artist in a changing world, the politics of cutting and how art can collaborate with high end fashion.
I think with a digital age, I think some of the new paradigms around work for artists, we're just at the absolute beginning of. I think that there are increasingly young people being able to monetise their practice. And I really would stress that that may be with some sort of collaboration that they can do that. Whether it's with writers, producers, makers in different ways. I want them to go forth into Asia. I want them absolutely to do that. We're so there, so close. You know that's fundamental.
ALI MOORE - Hello my name is Ali Moore. And welcome to the brave new world of work - a podcast series about the future and the skills and the outlook needed to make the most of it.
Today we look at artists who create the bigger picture. Art has informed civilizations across the globe. But how are the artists of today shaping the world around us and what might the future hold for them?
To explore these questions, I'm joined by Sally Smart. Artist, professor, and current exhibiter at the Margaret Lawrence Gallery here in Melbourne. Sally, hello and welcome.
SALLY SMART - Hi Ali.
ALI MOORE - I know a lot of people are going to be very familiar with your work. But, there will also be some who are listening to this who are not so familiar. So, I thought we could start with the description of your current exhibition, Staging the studio: the choreography of cutting. And that description reads that, 'Sally Smart is known for her large scale cut out assemblage installations. Her practice engages identity politics and the relationships between the body, thought and culture.'
That is no small thing. Tell us about your work.
SALLY SMART - I know, it's very comprehensive, isn't it? Actually, right now in the Margaret Lawrence gallery, you will find two bodies of work sitting in conversation with each other. One the pedagogical puppet and two, the most recent work.
And the pedagogical puppet started a number of years ago when I was invited to the University of Connecticut to be an artist in residence at that time. I asked them to paint one of the walls of the gallery, which would be my studio, black like a blackboard. You know working within a university, I was to work around, you know, I thought about the pedagogical puppet. Who would be the puppet? Me or them. But that's the framework that I was going to set up. The long and the short of that is that you will see, over five years, I have actually, in all these different places, I have built a sort of a whole representation around dance, movement, choreographers' drawings. And they are all there in this blackboard.
ALI MOORE - And I guess that's what's amazing about this exhibition is that it's so reflective of the work that you do more broadly. And I want to look at the cutting at a minute. But first of all, the idea of the blackboard. How confronting is that for an artist? Because what is inside your head you are allowing out and you are sharing with your audience. That's not common.
SALLY SMART - No. And in fact, that's exactly what I wanted to do. It was actually a very, very decisive decision at that time. I thought: I am going to reveal my process, my thinking, and be in that space. That comes across very strongly in this exhibition and how that has grown, how that thinking has changed, and what I've added to that.
And I also collaborate with a writer and cultural historian Maria Tumarkin, who's at the University of Melbourne creative writing. And over that period of time and through our collaborations, I will add her text onto the board as well. So, you'll see me writing notes. You'll see fragments of other texts, but you'll also see other people's texts that have reflected on my work.
ALI MOORE - The focus on cutting. You call it the politics of cutting. How did you come to that?
SALLY SMART - It goes back quite a way actually. To maybe 1991. And I was interested to look at issues of identity, and of course feminist politics, and also the unstable nature of identity. How do we view identity, you know, personally and politically, publicly? I remember very strongly. I was sort of wanting to make ideas if you like, assemblages of identity. And because I wanted to position it within women, I sort of had these cut-out elements around clothing, actually. Which is quite interesting, when you think about what's happened in more recent times but in terms of my work.
So, I cut up clothes and I pin them onto the wall using metaphors - medical metaphors - along with metaphors around the paper doll cut-out you know, anatomical metaphors as well. The paper cut out assemblages, you know, to look inside the body.
And I pin them on. But then I wanted you to take the pin out. Or I would take the pin out and change it.
ALI MOORE - So, it was assembling and disassembling.
SALLY SMART - Absolutely. So, it was the fact that you could see that it could be disassembled that was really important conceptually, at that time. As I said, I started to look at the metaphors of cutting. Cutting the body, scarification. So, and cutting inside an anatomy, and also then I started to look at the psychological aspect of cutting. And the issues around self-harm. And this reference to the psychological through delicate cutting, scarification, self-harm. But often that is also about revealing the marks. And that's also been quite interesting, I think, philosophically for me through this whole process. I've always liked to show the marks of cutting in my collage as well. It's a bit like wanting to reveal rather than conceal something.
ALI MOORE - So, the question then becomes I guess: The skills to become an artist like yourself and to be able to think, and then from that thinking create - are they skills that you can teach?
SALLY SMART - Yes, I think you can. I think you can totally. I feel that you can. You do have to be receptive. You do have to be, I think, not everybody does it the same way. And I would never imagine that my trajectory is the same that at someone else's trajectory is, because everyone's experiential is quite different.
But there are some things that can be taught and there are definitely things about engagement in the world and giving a licence in a way, I often think, to investigate, to be curious. That you can make art out of the most obvious and most simplest things, or the most complex. And I think that you can teach that. I think you can, and I think you can be. Obviously, you can teach criticality, you can teach about being in those spaces of thinking, in those spaces of pedagogy. You can think about it, and also present new models to people and I think that those things can be taught.
ALI MOORE - And there's a role for universities in that?
SALLY SMART Totally. Absolutely. I wouldn't be the artist today if I hadn't gone to the VCA. And then my Masters at the University of Melbourne. Without a doubt, it was the people that I came in contact with, the pathways that I found through research. I was open to that, but I think if anyone, I think most people who are wanting to be engaged, are open. So, I found incredible pathways, yeah
ALI MOORE - It is truly extraordinary. I mean, you also made the point very early in this conversation, that it was interesting that you started with fashion, given what's happened recently in your career. And I guess what you're referring to there is the fact that a number of your pieces have been picked up by the luxury Italian fashion house Marni, who have taken some of your images for their clothing and accessories. What is it like to see your work on handbag, albeit be a very expensive handbag?
SALLY SMART - (LAUGHS) yes, it's quite extraordinary actually. It's been, yes, it's been an amazing collaboration. They have chosen four images for both men's and women's ranges. Quite a number of garments actually and bags. And - but one of the things I gave them the rights to do was cut them up. Of course, I did!
ALI MOORE - (LAUGHS) From one cutter to another.
SALLY SMART - And they were very grateful for that. But they had been looking at my work for some time. But they did a really beautiful interpretation. It wasn't just putting the clothes, the images on the clothes. There was definitely also an interpretation of my work within a particular range. So, I thought that was really wonderful.
And that is happening increasingly around the world, where great fashion houses like Marni are looking to visual artists and looking at their output of work. I mean there's always been a relationship, I mean it was a very early relationship between Sonia Delaunay, you know, the great Avant garde woman artist who whose work I love a great deal. So, it's always been there. It wasn't really very difficult for me to say yes. (LAUGHS)
ALI MOORE - But does it open - if not other doors, it must increase your exposure enormously.
SALLY SMART - Oh, totally, around the world now. I get images sent to me on Instagram for instance. There are just images constantly from Japan, in Turkey and India is just doing an article in India Vogue, I think. There are people sending me images themselves in changing rooms in my garments - you know, friends. (LAUGHS) There are people wearing my clothes all around the world. Absolutely. It's extraordinary.
ALI MOORE - So when we look beyond your body of work and we look at artists more generally. I mean, what do you think about the power artists have to create a bigger picture? I guess not even just to provoke thought, but to do even more than that. Perhaps even change opinions?
SALLY SMART - The power of artists is extraordinary. It is a politically very powerful. It can be very. Or it can also be just quite subtle in its, I think, around identification with something. Or to feel like you might belong in terms of all sorts of issues. You think about the environment, or gender, or the politics with changing in a very active way, as activists as well.
I mean artists have been fundamental in so many ways around major change, with indigenous rights. And all of these things are extraordinary in their strength to, I guess, it's like make manifest in the world? I mean an artist will put something out there in the world. You can't always know how it's going to be received. I mean you've got an idea maybe. But, it's really up to interpretation as well. Sometimes it gets confused around an artist and making political art or political statements. And there are some artists that are very political in their outlook and their thinking and even in their activism.
ALI MOORE - So what they start with the thought, or the point before the artwork?
SALLY SMART - Yeah, or they're active. They're activists, because of their politics and their thinking in the world, their sensitivity to the world. They're sensitive to issues in the world, but they may make art that is completely non-representational, it might be completely abstract. And so, so it isn't always about making a political image as such. It's about having, living a political life.
And I think that's really, really important to make that distinction sometimes for artists. So, they don't always have to be representing it literally. It can be about a life lived. You know it can be music and it can be in dance as well. So. But it's powerful, it's totally powerful.
ALI MOORE - Given where you are today and given how much success you've had. What would you say, how would you advise someone starting out, and someone starting out who doesn't just want to be creative and use their art to tell a story, but fundamentally also to make a living?
SALLY SMART - I think with a digital age, I think some of the new paradigms around work for artists, we're just at the absolute beginning of. I think that there are increasingly young people being able to monetise their practice. And I really would stress that that may be with some sort of collaboration that they can do that. I think in a collaborative sense that would be great. Whether it's with writers, producers, makers in different ways. I think there's a pathway for that.
And they're making their own work still in the most critical environment that I would want them to do it in. To be. Not to dilute that in any way. But, I do also want them to be in the world globally.
ALI MOORE - Engaged?
SALLY SMART - Totally in the world. I want them to go forth into Asia. I want them absolutely to do that. We're so there, so close. You know that's fundamental. So, with all of those things. Yes.
I mean I want them to be active and I want them to collaborate and I want them to collaborate here and there and then that cross-fertilization that happens. Yeah.
ALI MOORE - They sound like very wise words. Sally Smart, thank you so much for talking to us.
SALLY SMART - Thank you.
ALI MOORE - You've been listening to a discussion between Professor Sally Smart and me, Ali Moore. In the changing world of work, the Melbourne Model is preparing students for the future beyond their degree. To find out more, visit unimelb.edu.au and look for Melbourne Talent.
Corrs Chambers Westgarth is Australia’s oldest law firm. Hive Legal and Xakia Technologies are arguably among our youngest. Listen to John Denton and Jodie Baker discuss tradition, innovation and whether the lawyers of the future will be human...or robot.
What we're seeing in the law is that you're seeing a shift in the balance of power from the producer to the actual client. Previously, the law firms dictated the terms of trade. Now, clients dictate the terms of trade.
GAY ALCORN: Hello, my name is Gay Alcorn and welcome to a University of Melbourne podcast on the brave new world of work - a series about the future and the skills and the outlook needed to make the most of it.
Today we look at lawyers who balance history with innovation. Just what does innovation mean for an industry that has been in existence for centuries?
To discuss this, I'm joined by John Denton, Partner and CEO of leading law firm Corrs, Chambers Westgarth, founded way back in 1841. Hello John.
JOHN DENTON - Good morning.
GAY ALCORN - And on the line from San Francisco, is Jody Baker who founded her virtual firm Hive Legal way back in 2014. And now heads Xakia Technologies. Hello Jodie.
JODIE BAKER - Good evening.
GAY ALCORN - Now to you first John. We know that industries are being revolutionised by technology and we know the pace of change now is relentless. So how is this impacting on the law?
JOHN DENTON - I actually think that what is most evidently disrupting law is the changing demands of clients and of the people who work in the law. Technology is actually an enabler of that change. But the actual change has been driven quite clearly, by the changing demands of our clients and, in particular, their expectations.
And also, the changing needs of the people who work in the law as well. And technology enables it. But technology is actually not the driver. It's actually changed expectations.
My firm has been in its continuous existence for over 170 years. Why we're able to continue to exist and sustain ourselves and be successful, is because we are capable of transforming ourselves to reflect the new reality, which is that clients are the actual holders of the balance of power.
GAY ALCORN - Jodie, what do you think?
JODIE BAKER - I agree entirely that a lot of the change is being driven by the clients and that there has been an enormous structural shift towards the decline, particularly on the corporate side. And there is a reaction by the firms to that. And as John rightly points out, some firms are reacting more proactively than others in coming to the party.
I do think though that technology is enabling some of that structural shift. Technology is significantly less expensive now than it was, even five years ago. And cloud computing plays a big role in that. So, allowing smaller teams or smaller corporate teams to access quite sophisticated technology at quite a low price means that they can be empowered to operate like mini law firms. Which really changes the engagement of those corporate legal teams with their law firms, in terms of the type of work that they ask their law firms to do.
And I think that when it comes to the shift, structural shifts in industries are often led by those early adopters, and there can be a lot of dissatisfaction. And the early adopters are the first ones to really jump on new things. But for the latent majority particularly, sometimes, they don't see the gap until its put in front of them.
And so, we've got the old Henry Ford and Steve Jobs who say "you've got to actually show people what they need, rather than asking them what they want," who go out and create these things and once it's there, then people jump on board. I suspect that there are gaps in the market that other people are filling or law firms or technologies or what have you. But I also think that there is a good part of the market that doesn't actually know what they want, until it's put in front of them.
JOHN DENTON - We look at a lot of data which says that when you look at the relationship between law firms and their clients, clients continually say that the gap is that law firms don't understand what it is we are trying to do, our legal service providers. What that tells me, is that the idea of client focus is important, but not enough. Client service is important, but not enough.
Because, if you look at the other data points, there has been an incredible increase in the amount of client focus and client service standards have actually risen. And yet you still talk to clients and they say but the law service providers don't understand what our needs are. What that tells me, is there's a big difference between client focus, client service and actually being driven by the client. And that's actually the big challenge for law firms - is to become client driven. Frankly it's a big challenge for professional service firms generally and frankly for technology providers as well.
Because there's a lot of technology which is provided which is unused. In fact, if you look at the cachet of a lot of technological frameworks that are put in place with clients. Sometimes something like 80 percent of the actual value that's supposed to be created is never realised.
GAY ALCORN - And also to you, Jodie? I mean you've spoken a little bit about this. I mean how will artificial intelligence impact the law and it is it already doing so?
JODIE BAKER - So, I was lucky enough to host the fifth legal innovation roundtable on Monday in Melbourne on this very question and the first part of the conversation was actually how you define AI. What changes every year. But I do quite like the definition that one of the attendees gave which is, that at the moment AI can probably just be defined as something really clever.
I think that my view on artificial intelligence in the law is that it's still got some way to go. I think that it is changing things up quite considerably and we are seeing some really interesting work around e-discovery and around contract reviews and what have you. Certainly, the expert systems that we see it and their logic there are some really interesting projects being done. But, I think that the notion that lawyers are about to be replaced by artificial intelligence is still some way down the track.
JOHN DENTON - One thing that I find intriguing about the discussions on artificial intelligence and lawyers is a misplaced assumption by lawyers that lawyers are actually exempt from this movement, and the potentiality of it, because what they bring to the matter is their judgment.
And it's kind of curious to me that there's a lot of self-importance that's sort of wrapped up in that statement because what people don't realise is that a lot of their judgment is actually valuable, only to the extent that there's uncertainty.
But what if that uncertainty is able to be limited by the application of algorithms used on data which actually enables prediction? Then, there's a lot of areas where people think their judgment is critical, which on the balance of probabilities is actually eradicated by the application of effective algorithms.
So, unless you're able to position yourself where I like to position my firm - at the really complex problem-solving end - You will find yourself asleep at the wheel as someone does actually erode, what you think is your judgment sphere, by applying - I think - some pretty good data analytics.
GAY ALCORN - Speaking of the rise of technology and AI, Jodie's firm Xakia is an example of a non-traditional legal firm. Can you tell us a bit more about this?
JODIE BAKER - So, Xakia is really a result of a research project that I did when I was still at Hive [Legal], talking to as many in-house and general counsel as we could to understand what was missing from their suite of technology products. And off the back of that research project, where the answers were fairly consistent, we built a small prototype.
And the clients liked it, there was good feedback, but it did not belong inside a law firm. And, so we spun it out on the 1st of July last year and it's a completely independent organisation. But, it's technology for corporate legal teams - corporate legal operation platform is the way that we describe it. And really, it's about just providing a very simple management tool - the equivalent of a practice management system for law firms. And it's had quite a lot of take up. I'm in the US at the moment speaking to you from San Francisco where we're doing our official launch next week at the ACC conference in Washington D.C. Because there's not a similar product really globally I don't think.
GAY ALCORN - And are there digital opportunities to change the law in other ways? In terms of our access to the law, you know, bringing down costs for some simple procedures that people want to have and are not able to afford a traditional legal firm or traditional legal advice. What are the opportunities there in terms of access to the law?
JODIE BAKER - I think the opportunities are enormous. I think that some of the statistics that are around - I don't have them to hand at the moment - but the statistics suggest that there are a very large number of people who are not being serviced at all at the moment who, with the digitisation of law, will be able to access the equivalent of Doctor Google, I guess.
They'll be able to go online and be able to search up for tools that will help them to identify what their problems are, where they might find a solution, even what some of their alternatives might be for self-implementation. I think that that opportunity is very large and I don't think that we've even scratched the surface of it yet.
I have to say that I applaud the University of Melbourne and their law apps subject which certainly looks at creating opportunities to create applications for not-for-profit organisations to improve the access of the law to people who otherwise don't have the resources to do it. But I think that it's a huge opportunity.
JOHN DENTON - There's a lot more work being done outside Australia than in Australia in this area though. But, it is interesting because people talk about the legal industry as an inward profession and the profession of course, when you think about our priorities, the first one is to the administration of justice.
And this whole issue about ensuring the continued support for the rule of law. A lot of that is actually about accessibility of justice. And so, a lot of work is going on now; more in the UK, I'd have to say; than in Australia about how you can facilitate access to justice through the digital platform.
And I think it's a really useful piece of focus and one thing I'd like to do is encourage more of that thinking in Australia. I'd like us to be best practice at it, we've got a way to go. But there's the opportunity that comes with the digital platform to do more about this.
GAY ALCORN - And Jodie, you're speaking to us from San Francisco today. Tell us what's happening overseas and in in other countries. Do you agree with John that some of the trends are ahead of us here in Australia?
JODIE BAKER - There are probably two things that I see going on. One is that cultural structural shift that we talked about earlier, in terms of the corporate legal teams really taking a lot more work in house and being empowered with new and technologically advanced tools to do things themselves and changing the way they interact with their external law firms.
We've seen the rise of the CLOC consortium for corporate legal operations, which is very large here in the US and only a few years old but really gathering steam. And the whole notion of corporate legal operations as a separate function, even from the law firms, is not something that we see a lot of in Australia. But it is also growing here. I mean, Telstra has initiated the CLOC chapter in Australia and it's gathering steam. So, I think that that trend is likely to continue in Australia. But it's not the same size market, so it's slightly different there, but very significant here and certainly growing in importance.
That's probably the first one and the second one for me is really, we're spending a lot of time in San Francisco and around the ecosystems of innovation and technology throughout 2017. For me, it has really shown me that there's a long way to go in Australia around building those sorts of ecosystems and really supporting that legal tech industry.
I've been one of the initiators of a group called Australian Legal Technology Association this year. We have 19 members. Who would have thought that there were 19 legal tech start-ups in Australia? And that's been an eye opener for me, just in terms of building an ecosystem from the ground up. It's been quite a challenge in some ways, but also very satisfying. But I do see that it's far more progressed here in the US than it is in Australia.
GAY ALCORN - Can I ask you both about universities? What do you think their role is in this change that's going on? What sort of skills should graduates be coming out with now?
JODIE BAKER - Universities must understand what the new professions are going to look like. Seeing the shift in the market power, understanding new career paths available to the graduates, arming them with the skills that they're going to need and being very forward thinking about it.
So, not just reactive, but actually in some ways shaping the future. So, legal technology is obviously one of them, but also understanding that you need to say well - if there is a shift towards corporate legal, then maybe we should be training up our graduates to go straight into corporate legal. Maybe it's not the responsibility of Corrs and other major firms to train up all these grads and then watch them go out to the clients.
But actually, you know, we need to think about whether there is a role for the universities to arm them with different skills. And there are some differences in terms of the level practice being done in a law firm, compared to the legal practice being done inside a corporate legal team. So, I think that that visionary aspect of universities understanding where those career paths might be and arming them for those sorts of things is really important.
I think the second thing is then creating opportunities for those students to explore themselves. So, hackathons are an easy thing to point to here, in terms of the legal technology and creating opportunities for them to learn and understand and explore and create ideas. But I think it's actually more basic than that. It comes down to brainstorming, creating opportunities to come up with new ideas. Maybe even setting some boundaries around what those paths - those career paths might look like for themselves, and then allowing them to explore it and articulate it.
But you know, it just needs to be a curious world at the moment. And it needs to be that the ideas are all explored and there's a great deal of flexibility around where the skills that they're taught in university can take them.
JOHN DENTON - I like to sort of speak to all the summer clerks as they come through and I also get the opportunity to speak at a lot of campuses and part of it is to understand a lot of people who are there and what they're interested in as well. Can we align our law firm to what they're interested in?
But the more I talk to them, the more I realise how challenged they are, because the institutions that they're working at aren't really thinking about the future. They're thinking about how to get them a job. But they don't really understand how to build a career in the law.
And I think some of things Jodie said are incredibly powerful. What I'm looking for - frankly - is the capacity to be creative, to be externally focused. And problem solving is important, but actually to have quite strong human skills. The reason is - you think about my comments before about the potential rise of machine thinking, cognitive applications, I mean - you know - unless you're capable of operating at a particular level, your capability might be redundant over a period of time. And that's OK. But, if you can reinvent yourself from then on, that's great as well. So that requires quite human strengths. All sorts of things. So, I look for a lot of things. Absolutely, I look for strong and outstanding technical legal skills. But, I think it's fair to say that's not enough. That is just not enough anymore. And yes, these are the sorts of things that I look for - different organisations will look for different things.
But I do think creativity at the heart of it. Problem solving is going to be a huge potential opportunity for lawyers in the future, particularly given the changing frameworks in which we're operating on a global basis. There is going to a whole lot of new thinking required to how we operate. A whole lot of creative problem solving required. A whole lot of new rules and regulations thought about, which are much more flexible for this new context.
I suppose I'm being a little bit ambiguous about it all, but there will require quite creative lawyers. They'll be people of real value in the future.
GAY ALCORN - You have been listening to a discussion between John Denton, Jodie Baker and me, Gay Alcorn.
In the changing world of work, the Melbourne Model is preparing students for the future beyond their degree. To find out more, visit unimelb.edu.au and look for Melbourne talent.
Can you see a future where your DNA details will sit on a bankcard and carried in your wallet? Professors Doug Hilton and Ingrid Winship do. Listen to a fascinating discussion about genomic medicine and how the next generation of doctors will personalise your treatment.
When we talk about personalised medicine, I can see a future maybe in 10 or 20 years' time where we all have the sequence of our genome.
The a's, the t's, the g's and the c's that make up all three billion letters of our DNA. And we carry that around on a bank card or a chip, and we use that information to make decisions about how we're going to be treated for particular problems that arise day to day, week to week, month to month.
GAY ALCORN - Hello my name is Gay Alcorn and welcome to a University of Melbourne podcast on the brave new world of work - a series about the future and the skills and the outlook needed to make the most of it.
Today, doctors who personalise treatment for precision. How long will it be before we carry our genomes like driver's licences? And what does that mean for the next generation of doctors?
To explore this, I'm joined by Professor Doug Hilton from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research. And Professor Ingrid Winship from the University of Melbourne and the Royal Melbourne Hospital.
Now, we know that our bodies are made up of millions of cells, but a lot of people may not know that these cells have inbuilt instructions known as genomes. Is this what the medical world refers to when they talk about personalised medicine?
DOUG HILTON - So my sense is that we're at a tipping point. So, the technology that we have at our disposal for deciphering and reading an individual's genome or the genome of your cancer - which is different from your genome, and that's a really important distinction - is way ahead of what we're doing clinically and what we're doing from it from a treatment viewpoint.
So, we can sequence the DNA of any individual now - almost overnight - and then, with the use of computers and mathematicians, we can begin to understand what that information means. But the capacity to apply that to everyday health care is the point where we're not quite at yet.
The challenge for us is how we translate the technology that we have at our disposal into something that can be used in everyday healthcare, when you might be talking to your general practitioner, who may not be up to speed with all of the new technologies and implications of the technologies.
GAY ALCORN -Do you agree Ingrid? Are we at a tipping point?
INGRID WINSHIP - Oh absolutely. I think the technical possibilities are there. The application is at best patchy. So, I think it would be fair to say we are using genomic technology for testing, but in most branches of healthcare that is yielding an answer which actually is a single gene disorder. And then we're acting in the same classical way as we have before.
There are some areas though that genomics is leading the way and so you can do genomic testing on my constitutional DNA. In other words, the genes that I inherited from Mum and Dad and look at the genome that way. But you can also take a tumour and interrogate that tumour by genomic technologies and look for the changes in the genes in the tumour.
These are not changes that you inherit in the main. They are not changes that you're born with or predispositions. That's a different group of genetic information. But the actual changes the signature within the tumour gives you much more information about the tumour than we've ever had before.
GAY ALCORN: So what does genomics and precision treatment mean for the average patient then? How can we expect to be treated?
DOUG HILTON: I see the genomic analysis and the use of genomic technology as being about more precise diagnosis.
So, what it allows us to do - and this has been a pathway that we've been on for 50 years. And that is, if a woman presents with breast cancer, we don't think of breast cancer as a single disease and for any of the listeners that have had relatives - women or men - who've had breast cancer, we start talking about what the cancer is positive for. That is, what markers are expressed by an individual's cancer that might be different from other women's cancers and we can have things like triple negative and single positive and double positive breast cancers and knowing which markers an individual's cancer is positive for, then leads to more tailored therapy.
So, one of the things that occurs is if we, for example, work with leukemia. We've known for a while that there are characteristic changes in different types of leukemia. Some genes are turned on and some genes are turned off and what another branch of precision medicine aims to do is to find new pharmaceuticals, new medicines that will target a particular change that leads to cancer, but not be effective for other types of changes.
So, it's about going from treating leukemia with a very blunt chemotherapy that has a lot of side effects, to trying to identify a change that has occurred in an individual's blood cells to drive an individual's cancer. And then finding a very specific treatment that targets just those blood cells with those changes, leaving other cells relatively free.
And that's great because it means you can have an effective treatment without having the horrific side effects of chemotherapy. So, hand in hand with precision diagnosis, we also need precision treatments and they often take a lot longer to develop.
So where we'd like to be in 30 or 40 years' time is to have an understanding of all of the different genetic changes that cause cancer. But then to have an arsenal of medicines that we can use and deploy depending on an individual's changes to target just those changes that will lead to great outcomes for the patient.
It changes the way we think about developing medicines. We no longer do large trials with a very heterogeneous patient group. What we're trying to do is to get precision clinical trials where we can stratify the patients based on those who are most likely to succeed with a particular medicine, and test them in that group rather than testing them on a broad patient group.
INGRID WINSHIP - I run the clinical trials unit at the Royal Melbourne hospital as part of my role and there's been a major change in the way that we do clinical trials. So, the sort of more boutique N of 1 trials where we're moving into a much more precision approach. But part of clinical trials readiness is understanding the genomic basis of disease.
Doug mentioned breast cancer and there are two very good examples. One that's been around for quite a long time which is mentioning receptors. Herceptin is a receptor positive status that some breast cancers have. So that is, testing the tumour and finding a particular signature and there is a drug which is very effective for those breast cancers. As Doug said, breast cancer is not an anatomical diagnosis anymore. It's a - there are multiple different diseases which manifests as a tumour in the breast.
But, at the other end of the spectrum, some women are born - or some people, men and women - inherit an alteration technically called a mutation in the BRCA 1 gene. Now, if you have a mutation in that gene, you're highly predisposed to breast cancer. So, you have an inherited vulnerability. If you develop breast or ovarian cancer on the basis of that, there certainly is good evidence now from clinical trials that there are targeted therapies which work better on women with BRCA constitutional mutations than others. So, we've got one example of precision from interrogating the tumour and one from looking at the genome.
But if you look. Probably the two areas that are best developing, or one of the areas that's better developed in genomics and healthcare, is in the area pharmaco genomics. So, this is understanding the impact of drugs on people with different genomes. And we've known for a long time now that some people react badly to drugs and not really known why. If you take drug response, some people do very well. Some people get no response at all. And some people get adverse events. Now obviously preventing adverse events is a very important thing to do, but also preventing use of drugs that do nothing is really important - particularly in the elderly.
Many elderly people have to take a lot of medications on a daily basis. And if they're not doing anything, they may actually be interacting with each other negatively. It's not good healthcare. And that's one of the learnings that we need to bring and this is where teaching pharmaco genomics to medical students is really important. And in the model at Melbourne, because it's postgraduate course, they're very clinically orientated right from the beginning.
GAY ALCORN: We hear the term big data use a lot in the field of medicine now. Doug, what does this mean for healthcare?
DOUG HILTON - So, my sense is that we have a lot of information that we collect as individuals and we can think through you know the devices that we wear that track where we go. Our phones track where we go, Fitbits track our exercise, the number of steps, often our heart rate. There's a lot of information that we have about activities minute to minute, hour to hour, day to day.
And, yet for most conversations that we have with our general practitioners and our specialists, we're not taking advantage of any of that data. So, really the big data challenge is how do we take, how do we get access to and usefully use all of the data that we have at our disposal? And that might be things like as I said, exercise, it may be our genetics, it may be pollen counts in the atmosphere, it may be the temperature. There's a whole lot of things that that that are measured all the time but which we don't integrate and which are not used to make decisions about healthcare.
And I think one of the challenges in the future will be how we access all of that data. How we integrate it and use it in a way that's useful. And then how we present that to both the patient and the treating practitioner to make decisions about prevention and treatment.
GAY ALCORN - I think from the general public there is an awareness of data being used for prevention these days. People know that where there is a predisposition to, say, breast cancer in the family that you can get tested for that. But it does raise questions at a personal level about whether to get these tests and what to do with your life once you get those results. So how do you handle that from a clinical perspective?
INGRID WINSHIP: One of the big ethical issues at the moment that we're grappling with is at the moment healthcare is very focused on - you get sick, you go to the doctor, you have a test, you have a treatment. And it's not focused on prevention and it's certainly not focused on precision population health, which is what we're trying to do.
But if we actually had better knowledge about what we were predisposed to, we could modify the factors that we can't modify. So, I can't modify my genes, but I might be able to say - well I'm genetically predisposed to A, B and C, therefore I will do the following things. Now that presupposes that human behaviour changes as well. And we all know that that's not quite straightforward!
But one of the big ethical issues around knowing about all your genes is - do you want to know? And how much do you want to know? How much can you know? How much should you know? How much do you want to know? And when you have a single gene test, you find out an answer about that gene.
We're already grappling in the clinical scenario with the fact that we do have panels of genes. So, they are roughly appropriate to the clinical reason that somebody has come to have that sort of testing. But we are able and we do, now in practice, sometimes do whole exome sequencing and whole genome sequencing (which is looking at a whole lot of genes, or all of the genes). And so, you may come in to have a test about cancer and find out about a heart disease. And the question is how willing are people to know that? How ready are people to know that? And this is why the community engagement so important.
DOUG HILTON - So, my sense is that whole genome sequencing will be commonplace. Most diverse will be carrying around our genome sequence on a bank card or a chip or in some form and that we will use that sequence in ways that Ingrid just outlined.
That is to inform the care or prevention that we have for today for the diseases we are most worried about. And that might be, you know, I want to go in for a general anesthetic for a particular procedure. And the anesthetist will want to know which will be the best anesthetic for my particular genome. And they will be able to dial up a half a dozen genes, or the 50 genes, that predict good outcome under anaesthetic and choose the right one. So, I sort of see it as a passport that you carry around for your life and you use for the particular challenges that you're facing at that point.
GAY ALCORN - Are we're close to that do you think? How far away is that?
DOUG HILTON - Look I think we're probably 10 years away from that. One of the big challenges is around healthcare infrastructure. So, having a good electronic health care record. So, not only can you carry around your genetic and genomic information, you can carry around a history of what you've been prescribed. Perhaps through visits to lots of different GPs, as you move interstate or go on holidays, or visit hospitals, or perhaps travel overseas. Being able to carry that around in a way that is accessible to whomever you're going to for care at a particular time is also really a really important step. And one we've not invested in entire healthcare systems.
So, in Melbourne there are a couple of hospitals that have a wonderful experience putting in new electronic medical records. The Children is one. The Austin is another. But, if we look around the Melbourne University precinct there are lots of hospitals that still have paper records. And that's really inefficient. And what it runs the risk of is that that we're not using all of the information at our disposal to be able to make the best choices about our own lifestyle and our own management of disease.
GAY ALCORN - Well, a couple of reflective questions to end. One is I guess relevant to generational change. I mean if you were starting out in research or medicine now, give advice to your younger self. What would you tell yourself with the knowledge you know now about what you will need in your profession? Ingrid?
INGRID WINSHIP - Well I made my career choice to be a geneticist when I was about 14 which is longer ago than I'm willing to admit. But I could see that the unlocking of genes was the future of medicine. And as it turns out, that was not a bad career choice, because there certainly has been a revolution in what one can understand about genes.
GAY ALCORN - And Doug? A young scientist?
DOUG HILTON - A young scientist, or a young doctor. I think the things that I would suggest would be - sample research. Research is different from conventional learning whether, you know, at a high school or at a university. So, medical students at Melbourne Uni get six months to do research as part of their graduate medical course. Find something about which you're passionate and then do research for six months so begin to understand what evidence based medicine looks like. Evidence based decision making.
For a young scientist, I would say stick with it. Get as much computer science programming and mathematics under your belt as you can. Even if you then specialise in biology, it's going to be a tool box that you want at your disposal.
INGRID WINSHIP - And I think one of the most important things that a young doctor needs is to be able to work in a team. The solo practitioner is probably not enough. You may see one doctor as the consultation, but that doctor is informed by their readings and their interactions with others.
But as we embrace more complex medical problems, multidisciplinary teams - teams of allied health professionals, nurses, other people involved in healthcare, as well as community advocates - are very important. So if a young doctor wishes to be successful, learning to be part of a team is really a very important skill set.
DOUG HILTON - I think it's a great idea to have scientists that are not medically trained spending, ideally, you know, a week or a couple of weeks, with a doctor, a medical doctor doing everything that they do. Equally I think it's great if we can get our clinicians, as I said, during their training to spend some time doing research to open their eyes to that side.
And I was recently in Oxford where one of their programs is to have their clinicians spend time in industry. So, that would be pharmaceutical industry for a lot of them. Again understanding the pressures of taking new medicines from discovery through to the point where they can be prescribed. So, I'm a great advocate for people getting out of their comfort zone and seeing the world from a different viewpoint. And I think if we do that then we'll end up with a much better medical research and general community.
GAY ALCORN - You have been listening to a University of Melbourne discussion between Professors Doug Hilton, Ingrid Winship and me, Gay Alcorn.
In the changing world of work, the Melbourne Model is preparing students for the future beyond their degree. To find out more, visit unimelb.edu.au and look for Melbourne talent.
What does technology mean for the future of agriculture in Australia and for our vineyards in particular? Listen to Dr Sigfredo Fuentes, whose research is driving the creation of ‘smart farms,’ in conversation with fifth-generation wine maker, Hayley Purbrick of award winning Tahbilk wines.
I think that has been a shift historically not only here in Australia, but around the world. Agriculture is the industry that is less fast in adopting technology. So, it takes a while. Now the shift in how we're applying technology in agriculture is attracting more young people to stay on the farms and the younger people are getting interested in agriculture - due to technology.
ALI MOORE: Hello, my name is Ali Moore and welcome to a University of Melbourne podcast on the brave new world of work - a series about the future and the skills and the outlook needed to make the most of it.
Today, agricultural scientists who think beyond the field. What does the rise of technology mean for the future of agriculture in Australia and our vineyards? To explore, not just the impact on wine, but to look across the industry, I'm joined by Dr. Sigfredo Fuentes, a Fellow in Digital Agriculture, food and wine at the University of Melbourne and Hayley Purbrick, who owns Big Sky Ideas consultancy and is also one of Purbrick's of Tahbilk Wineries, where she is the Environmental Manager.
Welcome to both of you. Let's get straight to the heart of the topic. Innovation in agriculture. So, in essence, the farmer could be sitting in Melbourne, the farm could be a thousand miles away and the sensors will work out when more water is needed, the irrigation system will be switched on, the irrigators will be moved, and it will all happen while the farmers are having a nice cup of coffee somewhere a thousand miles away.
SIGFREDO FUENTES - Yeah, that is the idea. So, you have all the sensors and they're working with all the apparatus-like valves, and putting in irrigation that is going to meet the end requirements and basically, the ideal situation will be an unmanned farm.
ALI MOORE - Hayley, does this sound like the stuff dreams are made of?
HAYLEY PURBRICK: It's so interesting, because for me, it doesn't at all. Not because it's technology but, so technology needs to be proofed, so you need ground truthing. So, the way we look at it is, we will implement as much technology as we can, but it's got to enhance the decision-making capacity of the person who, you know, is the farmer or the business owner, the viticulturalist.
The cost and the reliability can't outweigh the implementation itself. So, to me it's not ideal. Only because the reason I got into agriculture was because I love the hands-on element of being outdoors, living in a regional area. The community element that comes with that is so necessary. Sitting in an office looking at data. To me, that's definitely not where I would like to be.
ALI MOORE - But is there a perhaps a mid-way here that it's not that you can be a thousand miles away. It's more that you have all this extraordinary help, information that will help you build a better product in the end. Is that it?
HAYLEY PURBRICK - Yeah, I guess. The whole idea of precision agriculture and ag technology is about the decision making. So, it's about making that decision, making it more precise, so you can make a better call on what you should do - and if it can't do that, then you're not going to implement the technology.
So, at the moment the major challenges for us, as I guess viticulturalists, or winemakers, is that we can tell by walking into a vineyard if it's water stressed. So, the technology needs to be able to greater enhance our precision around where the water stress is, so that we're making better decisions. And it might be helping us with the way that we turn our irrigation on and off, because that is a major expense for us. Putting water onto the property.
So, I just get really, I don't know. I love technology, but we've got this challenge because predominantly people want to live in cities. They don't want to live in regional areas. So, sometimes I feel like a lot of the drive behind technology is to cater for people who aren't necessarily in the industry at the moment, but possibly people who might be in the industry in the future.
ALI MOORE - Well, let's ask Sigfredo that. I mean is it skill set? Is it a sort of a means in itself? And the cost benefit analysis has to be the bottom line, doesn't it?
SIGFREDO FUENTES - Yes, I think that I understand where people come from. That they say with technology, you need to put the brakes a little bit. But, I think there has been a shift in the sense of the adoption of technology. But historically not only here in Australia but around the world, agriculture is an industry that is less fast in adopting technology. So, it takes a while.
Fifteen years, twenty-five years ago, they were studying other things, like for example satellite information. This still caused imprecision. So, then the UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) came and it was perfect for the resolution that, for example, growers need.
Now this shift, that I think started happening in America three years ago, and is happening now in Australia, is that younger people is getting interested in agriculture due to technology. How we're applying technology in agriculture is attracting more young people to stay in the farms and apply - We've been developing, for example, apps that take down plant water status or stress levels or vino controlling in canopies - so you just snap a picture. It gives you a lot of parameters and then you can make decisions.
ALI MOORE - So, in some ways, it makes the job more challenging, more interesting, because you've got more to work with?
SIGFREDO FUENTES - Yeah yeah.
HAYLEY PURBRICK - Well I think that is where it is so interesting. So, I would see myself as the young person - I'm 33. So, I don't know if that's young or old?
ALI MOORE - Nah, I reckon that counts!
HAYLEY PURBIRCK - But the interesting part of technology I guess, when you look at agriculture, it is a really unique industry. You can grow, make, sell, and then you can service that industry as well. So, with technology, I think a lot of it is figuring out which part of the process within agriculture are you servicing. And as a university, what sort of skills are we creating?
So, what sort of jobs are we putting people into? It makes complete sense to me that younger people are interested in ag tech and complete sense that they would like to live in a city. So, there is a growing agricultural service industry and I think universities have a huge part to play in that. What I'm concerned about, I guess, as someone who lives in a regional area running an agricultural business, is we also need people who can grow. So, they might be soil science background, so your farmer - who has a great understanding of biology, chemistry, sunlight, water application - all those fundamentals which is more almost climate science: understanding how things grow and how to get the best yields. And I would like them to come back to the country and to be trained in the country and to actually - we kind of need holistic way to look at how tech is applied.
ALI MOORE - So, how do how do universities produce the right people? So, people who are able to do all those things that you just talked about whether it's, you know, soil, whether it's climate, whatever the specialty is. But, they can pursue innovation and they can draw in all that's available. It doesn't mean they don't go back to the farm, but they can use every tool that's on the table. How do universities do that?
HAYLEY PURBRICK - I don't know what you think Sig. But from my perspective, it is looking at it as a holistic system. And maybe the universities. I mean, I don't know a lot of people who are actually on the farm, who have been to university. They might have gone to an agricultural college that is specifically around more that practical fixing machinery. A completely different skill set.
You know we want the same behaviours, as in thinking outside the square, proactive, self-motivated. But I think university say with a technical college fits really well in the whole cycle of being able to get all of the right skills into a future employee to go back to the farm.
SIGFREDO FUENTES - In that sense we have our newly formed Bachelor of Agriculture Sciences that has been in since last year. It's increased enrolments by 25 percent. So, that is telling you that the curriculum that we put together is, I think, is according to the times of incorporating technology. And also integrating all the farm experience, because most of the Bachelor is based in Dookie.
ALI MOORE - So, it's got a lot of practical work, as well as theory.
SIGFREDO FUENTES - Yeah, and then we incorporate all the technological basics. Legal knowledge, remote sensing, and all the new stuff that we're developing - not only research, but we are doing this in practical situations as well.
We're working really closely with companies, so we apply all the UAV technology to solve problems for the growers. We don't go with pre-determined ideas. So, we go to the growers and say "what is your main problem? What do you want to solve first?" And it's all about efficiencies.
There are companies who made the mistake that in 2015, which was the year of the drone or the year of the UAV. And companies started to sprout up everywhere offering services and they were mainly engineers. Nothing against engineers, actually I am an engineer. But they have no knowledge of plant physiology, soils, etc. So, they were saying - we can detect differences and they can be related to pests, disease, water status, stress or whatever. But, they didn't know the plants and that they differ from soil to soil or from environment to environment etc. So, what they promised was too much and then they didn't deliver. And last year, there were 350 companies that were providing these services and they went bankrupt.
And that tells the grower who had the experience with these companies, that "we try UAV and they don't work." So, that is something that we need to reverse.
And the main thing is you need to go to the grower and ask what are the questions. A company can't really go out and say - we are going to increase your yields, we are going to increase your outputs. Because, probably sometimes, the growers - they don't want that. I mean, viticulturalists or wine producers - they want to maintain their style. And that doesn't mean increasing yields or increasing quality. It's their style. And for that you need to manage variability within the farm - and that is what technology can do. Because doing it by eye is not going to happen.
HAYLEY PURBRICK - I can see in the future that with GPS technology, with sensing. All the technology that's coming, there will come a point where the service industries no longer are reliable or cost effective and the farm will want to hire those skills internally, because that cost benefit relationship won't weigh up anymore.
So, it'll shift the sort of technical farm hand I guess - someone that you have on the ground is going to look very different with what they can fix and apply themselves to. But we're kind of in this transition phase, where the technology and the research in technology is there, but the support mechanisms haven't necessarily been developed - particularly in viticulture.
Whereas for broadacre irrigation, with our GPS system, we could call up anybody anytime and they could come in and fix our GPS. But in the Gambia, where we are only three wineries and we're the biggest winery in that region with 200 hectares. We don't have anybody in our region who could support fixing a drone if something went wrong. And that is a challenge, if the technology is going to be applied.
ALI MOORE - And if we go back to that question around - I guess - the education in a way. Do you think that there's enough collaboration between universities and business and universities and farms, universities and wineries, and is enough of that mix in the education phase?
HAYLEY PURBRICK - It's definitely something that is becoming more of a focus I think. And when I was looking at some of the questions today, I was thinking - what is the role of universities in the future and what does that look like?
And I think that collaboration between industry and research is going to become closer and closer. So, those barriers are going to be broken down a lot more. When I was an agricultural student, I literally knew nobody in the industry. It was not something that the university was focused on doing, so when you finished your degree, you were kind of thrown out into the wild.
Whereas I feel like the universities are doing a lot more work in building those networks and relationships for students before they leave, so that they have more options and pathways to work, which I think is really important.
SIGFREDO FUENTES - In the case of viticulture specifically, I think a big role is played by Wine Australia. So, there is a link between the universities or the research institutions, and the growers, because Wine Australia gives them money that they take from the growers. So, it's a levy from their profits every year that goes for research and that is what we apply for.
We have a few projects already done with Wine Australia. One of those was developing the app that I mentioned for canopy management and irrigation scheduling. And actually, that went out live last year and for free.
The main thing is most of the downloads are from America and Japan, not in Australia, and Australia paid for that research. So, I think Wine Australia needs to put more marketing strategies to try and involve more growers, or otherwise the benefits are going to be taken by somebody else.
ALI MOORE - Sigfredo, with the research that you do, you obviously, you do collaborate quite a lot within the university?
SIGFREDO FUENTES - Yeah. We're collaborating a lot with the engineering department and computer sciences. Mainly because they came to us actually. We didn't have to go to them, as many students need to do projects ideas for their degrees - Masters or undergrad. And then, they want to do stuff that they apply in real situations.
So, for example, we were talking before. In computer science, you can do a project for a thesis of a camera system looking in a ball in a table and then follow the ball - well, what's the point? You can do it. It works, but then I say, "well imagine the red ball is an apple. And then you can actually recognise that apple and count it. So that is yield estimation - with image analysis." And they say, "well, I'm interested in that."
So, it's a different approach for computer science and engineering. They're working really closely together with us, not only in agriculture, but in animal sciences as well. So, this same technology that we use in the remote sensing platforms like UAV, we are also using it in the cattle dairy industry to assess stress levels on animals and then how that relates to the quality of the produce like either milk, meat etc. Animal welfare as well.
ALI MOORE - Hayley you said before, I mean, you made the really valid point that there'd be no one to fix a drone in your neck of the woods if you had one of them. But what technology do you use?
HAYLEY PURBRICK - You know, on our property, we actually use no technology on the vineyard itself.
ALI MOORE - Not even moisture? Nothing?
HAYLEY PURBRICK - Nothing at the moment. Nothing. So, we are 100 percent, so drip irrigation. We have explored implementing so much different technology and that cost benefit argument has not been able to convince us that it's worth investing in that technology.
So, on the vineyard itself, so our winery. We do the whole process - make, grow, sell. We do the whole lot. So, we've invested in a lot of technology around the retail space - in selling our product in, developing our product, processes and systems. Through the middle they're using a lot of technology there, but in the actual growing - we have zero at the moment.
ALI MOORE - Sigfredo, is that one of the reasons that we have slow uptake with technology in this country? Because they just can't make the numbers stack up?
SIGFREDO FUENTES - You know there's a cost benefit and I think for drone technology, it is too expensive at the moment. The main thing is it's the same cost for one hectare and for 2,000 hectares. So, at the end I think it's viable according to the size of the farm that you're trying to do in this study. I know for a farm of 45 hectares, it's probably not going to be as cost-effective. But, we're dealing with farms of 2,000 hectares. And then you can do it in one day.
HAYLEY PURBRICK - Yeah. I must say I don't know these industry facts. So, we're 200 hectares - we're a medium sized player in the industry. How many farms or vineyards are over that size? Say 200 hectares and above?
SIGFREDO FUENTES - I don't have the figure. Yeah, I think you will be like a medium or a medium size.
ALI MOORE - But it does. It is interesting Hayley, that you say that although it doesn't work, you know, it doesn't stack up for you. You've looked at it. You're well aware of it. You clearly understand how important innovation is. Can you see a day where the numbers will switch?
HAYLEY PURBRICK - I can see a day when the numbers will turn. It all depends on the cost. So, if there's broader adoption and somebody can get it into a place where the costs can come down. Absolutely. And then the other thing is reliability. So, we need to have support around us to be able to manage it. If something goes wrong. We also need reliable Internet.
At the moment, on our property, we're an hour and a half out of Melbourne. We don't have reliable Internet, so that's something that we're trying to fix up. If we can't wifi our systems across, to actually get the data around, then it's useless data as well.
ALI MOORE - So there's one other issue that we haven't covered and that is of course that we're collecting huge amounts of data. If you do choose to use this technology, how easy is it to know what to do with it?
SIGFREDO FUENTES - Yeah, that's a different question as well. And the companies that I mentioned before, they went bankrupt and they didn't know how to how to deal with it. At the moment, we have different projects to try and interpret data for different applications, so one of them is obviously the first question, or the first priority for growers, is water use efficiency and increasing water use efficiency.
The second one is fertilizer efficiency. The third one is canopy management. In all the surveys, we do with the growers, these are all exactly the same. And then in the end there's labour costs and how to improve that. Now we're working in different algorithms to try to interpret the data and do our recommendations in that sense.
We working on one now that is working really well and actually we're applying it in China - to detect smoke contamination in grapevines. So, at the moment when there is a bushfire, there is smoke contamination. The growers, they don't know to which extent the contamination has been in their farms. So, for example they, they don't do anything. They just mix the whole thing and it contaminates the whole production basically.
So, now we're working on trying to map the contamination, so the growers can do differential harvest and separate the contaminated from the uncontaminated fruit.
ALI MOORE - And that's an easy thing to do from the point of view of getting the data?
SIGFREDO FUENTES - Yes. And you can do it in one day. So that is one of the demonstrations. So, for canopy management, the app for example - that technology can serve growers to take decisions on how to manage the canopy according to specific outputs. For example, if your sugar levels are - You can take a picture. This is in planning for three more years. You take a picture of your canopy from that particular plant. You're going to know the acidity of the sugar, etc, projected to harvest.
If you don't like it you do canopy management, you can take another picture and see where you are in real time, instead of waiting to see if you want more sugar, less sugar, or less alcohol. Then you can modify the canopy and it will give you the change instantaneously. So, that is one of the ideas that we're working on.
ALI MOORE - There are endless possibilities in that. Let's finish sort of vaguely back where we started which was not so much what the smart farm or even the smart winery is going to look like in the future. But more the role of the agricultural scientist. I mean it's as we talked about earlier, it's a completely different skill set and they are so valuable. The people who are able to think laterally and pull in all the innovations around them.
HAYLEY PURBRICK - I don't know if I have a comment on that. I'm just trying to think. Sig, do you have something to say on that note?
SIGRFEDO FUENTES - Yeah. I think as you say for example the agricultural scientist needs to be more holistic. In the sense of, they need to know all the basics about plant physiology and soil so soil physics, agronomy etc. But, also how the technology can improve decision making and how we can measure all those factors. Because we know from the basics how the plant reacts according to different environments etc. But if we have measures in real time, we can take decisions in real time and that's what we're trying to do with the new Bachelor of Agricultural Sciences. We're trying to incorporate that knowledge into future Agronomists.
And one of the majors that we're trying to implement next year is a major in viticulture and egronomy. So, it's going to be the first degree in Australia that they prepare agronomists with a major in viticulture. All the other university that work in them - they prepare the viticulturalists or egronomists, but they don't have the broad knowledge of agriculture or plants. If you tell them how the rice work, they tell you they didn't study that.
ALI MOORE - Gee Hayley, there's a new workforce for you.
HAYLEY PURBRICK - Well, I've got to say after this conversation, I'm going to speak to somebody exactly about that - about getting students onto our property to be able to share their knowledge with our staff.
Because you know in a regional area, nine times out of ten, the people who want to live there are the people who've grown up there and they don't necessarily have a university qualification and have no interest in coming to the city. So, for us our reliable stable workforce are regional people who have been there forever and want to live there. So, if we can bring students in to help complement their skills and build their knowledge in that way. Then for us that's the end game and maybe attract some students to come and work, that would be great too
ALI MOORE: The perfect collaboration. Thank you to both of you for your insights this afternoon. It's much appreciated.
BOTH: Thank you.
ALI MOORE - You've been listening to a University of Melbourne discussion between Dr. Sigfredo Fuentes, Hayley Purbrick and me, Ali Moore.
In the changing world of work, the Melbourne Model is preparing students for the future beyond their degree. To find out more, visit unimelb.edu.au and look for Melbourne talent.
Professors Don Bates and Alan Pert on Architects who consider sustainability before structure
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