The key to unlocking our potential in northern Tasmania is improved education and skills. At a fundamental level education is a social determinant of health, and moreover, improving our educational status will have the added advantage of leading to better health outcomes in our region.
The northern Tasmanian region already has natural advantages that could see us thrive in the globalised economy growing the appetite for quality food and fibre products, and natural and cultural experiences in a beautiful, clean, green, natural environment. These days, Tasmania is seen by outsiders as exotic and its products and experiences are sought after. The strength of our education sector, university campus and stable workforce are assets in attracting innovative businesses that can take advantage of what we have to offer.
There are many opportunities: innovative, niche products from our food and competitive manufacturing businesses, and maritime related manufacturing; adventure, nature and food tourism; and potential students from other states and countries to study our world class courses, such as food science and our wide range of maritime courses.
Education and learning are the engine of productivity, innovation and economic growth in the modern economy. Saul Eslake points out that education is a key driver of productivity and that our region’s education and skill levels challenge our economic and social wellbeing. Our economy is characterised by many small and medium businesses. There are implications of this for learning: small businesses don’t always have time to source the learning and training opportunities that could be useful for them; they may want to help train students or new workers, but don’t have time to work out which is the best option for them; and they need easy access to smart, well qualified service businesses in ICT, human relations, marketing and a host of other service areas.
The region’s relatively low levels of educational attainment compared to other states means up skilling is a key challenge. Census data shows that many managers have only Certificate IV or below as their highest qualification, and year 12 completion rates are well below the national average. On the positive side, the introduction of Associate Degrees at UTAS and a strong TasTAFE presence provide the opportunity to address the region’s skills needs, alongside other education and training initiatives such as the Enterprise innovation hub, Business Action Learning Tasmania and the Department of Education’s My Education program in schools.
Engaging business and industry in identifying skill and knowledge gaps and opportunities to assist and train new workers, and coordinating university, TAFE and other VET providers to deliver relevant training in a format that suits business is crucial to up skilling our workforce. I intend to work with groups including the City Deal, LCCI and education and training providers to set up coordination mechanism for business involvement with education-work related activities.
The aim is to coordinate business learning and information programs and to simplify businesses involvement with work integrated learning, international student work related experiences, other work placements and school student work and career exposure activities. This will also maximise opportunities for our region’s students to be exposed to pathways to careers.
My vision for Northern Tasmania is a regional learning culture that supports and celebrates learning and innovation. I will initiate development of a Learning Region plan based on OECD learning city and region Australian Centre of Excellence for Local Government frameworks. A Learning region will develop and monitor targets and champion and promote a coordinated regional learning and education and training culture. Associated activities are likely to include pop up shops for schools and other education providers to promote education and learning in vacant shops; the long and slow education trust building needed in disadvantaged areas; and a framework to celebrate learning achievement through in awards and celebrations of all kinds.
- Professor Sue Kilpatrick is the Northern Tasmanian Development Corporation’s deputy chair and Education director