In the space of 12 months Australian executives have gone from feeling unprepared to tackle the changes unlocked by technology to more bullish than their global counterparts.

According to Deloitte’s second annual leadership readiness report, 37 per cent of Australian executives completely agreed that they feel ready to capitalise on Industry 4.0.

Australian leaders’ confidence now exceeds the global average of 34 per cent and is a dramatic jump from the 2018 survey, when just 2 per cent of Australian execs said they felt highly confident. The global figures also increased from 14 per cent in 2018 to 34 per cent this year.

Broadly speaking, Industry 4.0 refers to the sweeping changes ushered in by the marriage of physical and digital technologies. The report argues the increase in confidence is perhaps partly due to greater awareness of what Industry 4.0 is and community discussions around its impact on the future of work and skills education.

The report, Leadership in the Fourth Industrial Revolution: Faces of progress, is based on survey of more than 2,000 c-suite executives across 19 countries, including Australia.

At a global level the report noted while awareness had improved, business leaders were still struggling to develop effective strategies in today’s rapidly changing markets.

Half (49 per cent) of Australian business leaders say they invest in new technologies to disrupt their market, compared with 33 per cent globally. And 61 per cent of executives believe they have permission from leadership to fail and learn in the context of innovation.

Executives in Australia are more likely than their global counterparts to say they will try to meet their skills gaps by re-training current employees rather than hiring externally.

More than half (57 per cent) of Australian business leaders say they know which skills their future workforces will need to thrive in the Industry 4.0 future and, significantly, 60 per cent say they plan to extensively train their current employees to help them close any skills gaps (compared to 43 per cent globally).

Australian leaders also ranked re-building community trust as a top priority. Twenty-four per cent of Australian corporate leaders (versus 34 per cent globally) now rank having a positive societal impact as the most important success measure in evaluating their annual performance; notably higher than financial performance as a success measure (16 per cent in Australia, 17 per cent globally).

“As a nation, we are not short on brilliant ideas,” said Deloitte chief strategy & innovation officer, Robert Hillard.

“From the bionic ear to polymer bank notes, Australian companies have created world leading innovations. Our challenge, as we compete on the world stage, as a country and individual businesses, is how we consistently commercialise research, to bring the best ideas to life. As the revolutionary impact of new technologies like artificial intelligence, robotics and 3D printing becomes apparent, it’s encouraging to see Australian business embracing change by investing in technology and their people.”

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