The Next Generation in Standards Development: Unnecessary Expense or Essential Investment?

There has been much discussion recently on all platforms about “future-proofing Australia” and preparing for substantial Industry Transformation. However, the matter of Standards Development can often be drowned out in all the noise.

When considering these concepts, we are often drawn to thinking about change on a grand scale. Robots running entire manufacturing plants, Artificial Intelligence, Internet of Things, Additive Manufacturing, Blockchains and all our appointments being booked by nifty computer programs. But there is far more to it than that.

What about all the people behind the standards (present and future) that enable our organisations, business across all sectors and society, to operate safely and fairly?

From passive grease traps to traffic signs to cloud computing, if you can name it there is probably a product/management system standard, or specific industry technical specification or guideline, that governs it – all developed by a host of technically qualified experts with decades of collective experience in standards work.

Sounds great, right? It is, until we consider that standards development itself is not immune to skills shortages.

What would happen if we no longer had the knowledge or skills to create sound standards? What would business do without this guidance? What impact would this have on societal safety? What if business suddenly got less of a say in their development due to lack of available talent? What if people with little practical experience in the area suddenly called all the shots?

It is a sobering thought.

The nature of work and employment is changing, and businesses cannot bank on employees staying in singular industry roles for 10, 20 and 30 years anymore. It is more important than ever that organisations commit to continually capturing and codifying knowledge, so they are not left in the dark when employees retire or move on.

Therefore, we need to invest and empower the Next Generation of standards developers to take the reins when it is time for our current experts to make their transitions. In a competitive world, standards play a critical role in a landscape that is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous, to say the least.

Committing to preparing the Next Generation to participate in the development of standards will certainly involve some level of expense or inconvenience. After all, the premise of standards development is pooling technical knowledge and information through voluntary contributions.

Sending employees on programs and giving them time away from their regular duties to get prepared has a price tag for businesses. But then again, so does allowing your technical talent to disappear.

In terms of investment, the return on preparing the Next Generation to get involved with standards development can be substantial. Benefits can include:

  • Upskilling staff (including nurturing future leaders);
  • Appropriate succession planning (part of future-proofing your own business);
  • More opportunity to shape standards you’re held to (who wants to be held to standards that don’t work or make doing business costlier in local and export markets); and
  • Increased standing in the community (people trust Australian and New Zealand standards, and those who make them).

All of this brings me back to my earlier statement. While it is all well and good to think of Industry Transformation in terms of manufacturing robots and computer programs to organise your life, you must ask yourself this: who will build the robots? Who will code the computer programs? Who will make the rules about what is and is not acceptable from these products and systems? Where does that knowledge come from?

The Next Generation of standards developers can provide contemporary perspectives blended with the experience of standards experts, to help strengthen and future-proof our public, private and not-for-profit organisations. They are a key investment in a prosperous future.

If you want to discuss engaging the Next Generation (succession planning by another name) in standards and regulatory development further, contact James Thomson.

If you want to sign up for our Next Generation Think Tank (a group that helps to drive Ai Group action on this topic) contact Rachael Wilkinson.

Ai Group’s goal is that every Tier 1 and Tier 2 member engaged with standards and regulation will have a Next Generation staff member along with a senior staff member within three years.

For information on the Standards Australia NEXTgen program, click here.

The goal for Standards Australia is to have 70-80% NEXTgen alumni involved with Technical Committees within two years.

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Rachael Wilkinson relocated from Western Australia to Victoria to join the policy team at Ai Group in 2017. Prior to Joining Ai Group she worked for the Fair Work Ombudsman, providing advice to the public on the Fair Work Act. She then spent time living in Vancouver (Canada) where she worked as an Appeal Coordinator, and volunteered with the homeless community.

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