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Are we getting left behind?

How Australian managers can lead the digital transformations of the future.

As the world moves towards more digitalised businesses, Australia needs to adapt quickly to shore up its future.

But according to management researcher Dr Farveh Farivar from the Tasmanian School of Business and Economics, Australian business managers are struggling to develop the skills they need to lead the way with new technologies, and that means we risk being left behind.

Managers need to be able to accept, understand, and manage the transformation from traditional businesses to digitalised businesses.

Dr Farveh Farivar, Tasmanian School of Business and Economics.

“If they don’t, then even the best engineers and scientists can’t do anything, because managers have to understand and approve all these changes,” said Dr Farivar.

“Businesses are moving towards digitalisation, so they need a specific set of skills, and this isn’t optional. In Germany, Japan, and the US, they’ve already accepted this, and they’re five years ahead of us in making changes and adapting to things like machine learning.”

Working in the oil and gas, coal, and uranium industries, Dr Farivar conducted a survey for the federal government and National Energy Resources Australia.

She investigated whether managers in these industries have the tools, skills, and mindset needed for digitalisation and adopting machine-learning technologies to bring their industries up to date.

“We found that, generally, they’re not open to developing new technologies,” she said.

Managers in these industries think they don’t need to participate in developing new technologies. Unfortunately, Australia is a user, instead of a developer.

The key to changing the current state of things, says Dr Farivar, is we need to not only improve how we educate new managers – we also need to work with industry and government to change the mindset of existing managers.

“We need managers who are open to change, and who know that they have to do something now,” she said.

At the University of Tasmania, Dr Farivar is designing two theoretical management courses for new managers in leading digitalisation and human resources (HR) analytics.

But she plans on going even further, and in an Australian first, is introducing a practical unit on HR analytics, using the programming language Python to develop and use intelligent programs so managers can understand machine learning and how to manage their business transformations.

“As far as I know, we don’t have that in Australian business schools right now,” she said.

While the first step for this researcher is to change how we educate the managers of the future, she also wants to work with industry and government to help existing managers future-proof their skill sets.

“We need to talk with industry and politicians at the same time that we are changing the management courses, because these new graduates will work under managers who are using the traditional methods and mindset,” said Dr Farivar.

It’s like a game: every country is in this, but if we want to stay in the competition, we need to be innovative. That’s my target – to produce innovative managers.

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