What will the story be for business over the coming decades? How is the world of business changing? And how can you prepare yourself to find the best opportunities in the future workplace?
We sat down with two of Charles Sturt University’s expert academics in the field to get some answers.
The growth of small business
Professor in Entrepreneurship at Charles Sturt, Morgan Miles, sees the most fertile ground for business innovation and success being, arguably, at the small- and medium-sized end of the scale in the future.
“Mostly what I do is working with small business and start-ups – and the start-up industry in Australia, and particularly in New South Wales where the majority of our campuses are located, is booming at the moment. There is major government investment in entrepreneurial programs, and incubators and accelerators that support entrepreneurs and innovators are becoming more prevalent.
“For example, in Orange, near Charles Sturt’s campus there, is the GATE [Global AgTech Ecosystem] Innovation Centre at NSW Department of Primary Industries’ Orange Agricultural Institute. This serves to fast-track research and development, to get new ideas, technologies and services into the hands of our producers and industry to boost productivity.
“The university has links to GATE, but we are also working with industries in our own accelerator programs to combine our research expertise with local business knowledge.”
Indeed, Charles Sturt has three dedicated hubs to promote innovation in our regions. The Walan Mayinygu Indigenous Entrepreneurship Pop Up Hub Program provides business workshops and networking to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The AgriTech Incubator Hub supports small- and medium-sized enterprises to overcome research and development challenges and fosters greater participation of women in entrepreneurial activities. And CenWest Innovate encourages interaction between the university and local small businesses to build regional business innovation and job growth.
Dr John Hicks, Professor of Economics at the uni, sees this growth in the importance of small business and entrepreneurship as part of a prevailing trend in the labour market.
“In terms of employment I think small business is going to be far more important than it is presently, even though it has become more important over the last 20 years (because the push for ever-increasing productivity in big companies is leading to technology, artificial intelligence and so on taking over tasks from human labour, as it’s cheaper and easier to control). That will continue and for people to be economically productive in what they do for a living they will need to place themselves in a work context that values the unique contribution of humans to production.”
The world of business
Ironically, a focus on small business innovation can open up global opportunities, as Professor Miles explained.
“Technology is allowing regional small businesses to be more competitive than they were in the past, and expanding their business horizons. So being in Orange or being in Bathurst you can export anywhere in the world, because of the capacity of technology and due to the globalisation of business transactions.
“So we work with existing small businesses in our regions that we can help expand their business potential on a global scale, everything from customs experts to help with exports to human resource experts and so on. And to foster more jobs in these businesses and regions.”
Dr Hicks sees preparing for an even more open global economy as one of the primary keys to business success for future graduates.
“Students need to be prepared for a global economy. Notwithstanding temporary political ructions like so-called ‘trade wars’, I don’t think we will in the future move very far away from where we are now in terms of global business interaction; if anything the world is going to get ‘smaller’ and people will interact across the globe more and more frequently.
“And the competition that people will face for jobs – and the competition that the industries they choose to work in will face – will come from a growing range of sources around the world.”
Professor Miles feels that Asia is going to be where Australian business efforts could be most beneficially directed.
“As Asian populations grow, there will be more opportunities to do business in those countries, so understanding those countries is important as Australia is in a good position to take advantage of those trade possibilities.”
Preparing for the future of business
Dr Hicks feels that students need to gain as much knowledge as they can about the global economy and the worldwide marketplace in order to thrive in their chosen business career.
“In the future you won’t be able to isolate yourself from what’s going on around the world if you want to succeed.
“So learning a language is always going to be fairly important for business students. But in addition you need to gain some understanding of different cultures and how business works in them. That’s because you are likely to have to operate in those markets in the future, and having no understanding of them increases the risk of business failure.”
It is also important, as Dr Hicks explained, to develop skills beyond the technical and theoretical.
“Technology will be a part of business in the future, as it is now, but it can’t be relied on to do everything. Technology may enable you to be more informed more quickly, but you still need to be able to analyse information, to understand competitors’ motivations and goals. Communication is a two-way process. It’s not just about getting your messages out; it’s about understanding the messages and communications you are receiving from other business parties.
“So critical thinking will be an even more crucial part of a businessperson’s toolkit; the ability to delve into the issues we will need to tackle in the future, and to do the analysis required to make decisions that minimise risk.
“As such, service industries will be more and more important; the ‘thinking’ industries where you are able to introduce new ideas and are able to implement them efficiently. Being inventive, being original, being entrepreneurial – these are the sort of things people will need for business success in the future in terms of the labour market.
“This means that you are likely to have to move not only between jobs and industries, but also geographically in order to take advantage of the best opportunities. That could mean moving internationally or within your own country. Mobility is going to be essential in the future business workforce; those who can more readily adapt to the need to be mobile are those that will succeed.”
Dr Miles echoes this need for a flexible approach to career progression.
“For students and graduates in the future I think it would be a good thing to have some knowledge and experience of small businesses, because the big corporations are just not hiring like they used to. People are having to look at how to develop their own career. It’s much less likely to have a career in one company. Big corporations are not the only way to a successful career anymore.”
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Professor Morgan Miles is Professor of Entrepreneurship at Charles Sturt University. He teaches and conducts research in areas ranging from innovation and small business to marketing, agribusiness and business ethics.
Dr John Hicks is Professor of Economics at Charles Sturt University. Formerly the Dean of the Faculty of Business, his teaching and research focuses on macroeconomics, business economics and the labour market.