How applied research can support Australia’s post-COVID economic recovery

05 November 2020

Applied Research. You hear it talked about often enough in circles of learned individuals. But what does it actually mean? Who does it and why? And why does Australia need it now more than ever for its post-COVID economic recovery?

Applied research does suffer from a somewhat uninspiring name. Maybe if it was renamed as ‘research solving real world problems for businesses’, it may get more interest and better traction in Australia. Applied research is in fact a targeted intervention to bring technology and know-how to solve real-world production and service issues within small to medium enterprises (SMEs). Granted, a bit of a mouthful.

As Australia seeks to return to pre-COVID economic activity, SMEs will need targeted and sustained support. Businesses emerging from COVID-19 are likely to pursue transformation, however, they face significant challenges in accessing services and the support needed to adapt. TAFEs’ engagement with businesses based on an applied research model is one tangible and practical solution to rebuilding resilience in SMEs. The capability to undertake practical research and apply it into the business or industry is the key to success – for the business, employees and ultimately the economy.

Cisco, Optus and TDA have teamed up to produce SMEs and TAFEs Collaborating through Applied Research for Growth, a report which recommends Australian Government investment in a one year pilot of an applied research model where TAFEs collaborate with SMEs to develop or enhance products and improve services and processes.

The report has been informed by lessons learned from 15 years of successful applied research in Canadian colleges. The Canadians do it very well as it happens. In 2017-2018, research activity in Canadian colleges and institutes led to more than 4,400 new processes, products, prototypes and services. Approximately 87 per cent of these results were achieved in less than a year. Innovation with tangible results? Yes please.

The full report, which can be viewed here, makes the case for the place of innovation in a COVID recovery, including for investing in TAFE institute practice-based innovation. It highlights successful examples of applied research in Australia through case studies at Holmesglen Institute for the water industry and TAFE Queensland for the gas industry. Importantly, an analysis of the journey the Canadian Government has taken in building the capacity of Canadian colleges demonstrates the benefit of investing in applied research capacity in the non-university sector here in Australia.

This Australian SME and family business research initiative, supported by Cisco and Optus, is part of a suite of timely and innovative public policy initiatives TDA is bringing forward for government consideration on behalf of the Australian people and their communities. It complements an earlier initiative, Critical Role of Blue Tech and Digital Skills in Australia’s Economic Recovery for the Australian Government to work with industry and TAFEs for greater national action on developing blue tech and digital skills, including for SMEs and family businesses.

The expression ‘necessity is the mother of invention’ means that a need or problem often encourages creative efforts to meet that need, or solve that problem. It sounds a bit like applied research, and the need has never been greater than now.