Don Matthews is the Executive Director at Industry Capability Network (ICN) Victoria. He spoke to William Poole.

AMT: What is the Industry Capability Network actually and what are its objectives?

Don Matthews: ICN Victoria has been operating since 1984 and is best described as a business network which links Victorian and Australian manufacturers – specifically small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) – into projects. So in many ways we sit between a buyer on the one hand and a supplier on the other hand, and we look to connect them based on capability and project requirements. Effectively, our whole aim is to increase the number of manufacturers in Victoria that are participating in those projects so that the work does not go offshore.

Our primary reason for being is to facilitate the Victorian Industry Participation Policy (VIPP) on behalf of the State Government and as such, we are a not-for-profit body. All states and territories – bar Tasmania and New Zealand – have an ICN, and there is a co-ordinating group out of Canberra called ICN Limited (ICNL).

AMT: Tell us a bit more about the activities you’re engaged in.

DM: Our VIPP team assesses all major projects – and we define a major project as one that is worth over $50m, which the Government classifies as a strategic project – to provide a recommendation for local content requirements. Once that number is agreed, the tender is released to the marketplace, and all of the bidders on those projects must provide a Local Industry Development Plan (LIDP). The VIPP team will then undertake a risk evaluation on each of these LIDPs, and provide that report to the agency which forms part of the basis for award.

During that bid phase, in another arm of the ICN our Industry Advisors work with those bidders to identify local suppliers in the supply chain who have the necessary capability to participate in that project, and that forms part of their LIDP, part of their local content number. And post-award we will continue to work with the awarded contractor to identify local companies in the supply chain they may need to engage.

AMT: And for an ordinary manufacturing SME that wants to take advantage of this, how would they go about that?

DM: The most effective way for SMEs to engage in the process is through the ICN Gateway, an IT portal where projects – including government strategic projects – are registered on a database of around 16,000 suppliers. Those suppliers identify which sectoral areas they’re interested in, and when those projects and work packages go up on ICN Gateway, they are notified by email. They can then submit an expression of interest (EOI) through the Gateway portal, which goes directly to the contractor or the bidder.

Our ICN Industry Advisors are out and about in the marketplace working directly with SMEs. And that’s another connection point, through that direct communication with the SME and the bidder. Our advisers are experienced individuals who have worked in private industry, who have come from different sectoral areas, and who have a well-rounded knowledge of industry.

We also run events on behalf of either the bidders or the awarded contractor. These events are part of the introduction to the bidder, so that the SMEs understand what’s required as part of the project, and it’s a way of networking with those prospective contractors. And that’s a pretty important part of what we offer. Our events are very well supported, with often more than 200 or even as many as 500 attendees.

AMT: ICN Victoria is also the organiser of the annual Victorian Manufacturing Showcase. What your plants for this year’s event?

DM: This is the fourth year we have run the event, in partnership with the Victorian Government through the Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources (DEDJTR). We are pleased to say that there have been over 300 attendees at each of the previous three Showcases.

This year the theme is ‘Creating New Opportunities’. And the whole objective is to provide opportunities for Victorian manufacturers to gain invaluable insights into successful Victorian businesses – so we showcase those businesses effectively – and to network with other manufacturers and representatives from the Victorian State Government.

It’s part inspiration, part education, and part networking. I think given the context of how the manufacturing sector is transitioning to a new sort of world, where we’ve seen the closure of automotive, we’ve seen the closure of Hazelwood, how do you create new opportunities amid that changing landscape?

AMT: More generally, what are the major challenges and opportunities for manufacturers in Victoria today?

DM: I think some of the opportunities lie in finding new niche value-added markets and growth areas, given the investment that’s going into those sectoral areas. That can be medical, pharmaceutical, new energy, food and fibre, transport, defence, construction and so on. Advanced manufacturing is another opportunity. And that’s all in the context of not just providing domestic capability, but also, ultimately getting into global supply chains. That’s pretty important.

In terms of the challenges, I think that one is the speed in which you can transition from what you’ve been doing previously in the sector you’ve been working in, into a new sectoral area. That is a challenge – it’s not easy to do. I think the fact that we don’t have big multi-national companies in Victoria, or at least a limited number of big companies here, then the whole issue is where you find those opportunities in the marketplace, without those companies being here.


AMT: In last year’s Victorian Manufacturing Showcase, you had quite a few companies who have transitioned away from being largely dependent on one sector, such as automotive, into servicing more diverse markets.

DM: Those companies were a shining example of creating new opportunities. This year we’ll again have a number of similar types of companies that have made the transition, talking about how they’ve gone about it. The Showcase is all about the stories of those companies. We’re not looking for a standard corporate presentation, it’s really: ‘Our story. This is how we did it’. It’s personal and inspiring.

AMT: Where do you see Victorian manufacturing in five or ten years time?

DM: I think Victorian manufacturing will be dominated by quite advanced, niche, small or medium-sized players who have created unique products or services to not just service our domestic requirements, but also global markets. I think we will see a lot more collaboration between manufacturing companies with complementary skills and capabilities, working together to secure work with big global companies. That’s how I see manufacturing developing.

AMT: How might an ordinary day in the job look for you?

DM: It could be working with organisations at a senior level around opportunities, looking at how we can assist them with the project they’re working on. It can be working with my staff – we have 22 in number – and identifying opportunities and resolving issues that we may have in the work we do. It’s working with government agencies around priorities and opportunities. And there’s some administrative work obviously.

AMT: Tell us a little bit about your professional background and how you came to your role at ICN Victoria.

DM: I have a background in manufacturing at large corporate companies. I was Chief Operating Officer at Amcor Australia, running the Australasian Amcor business. Prior to that I was President of SCA Australasia, which is a manufacturer of tissue products. Taking on this role at ICN was about giving something back to the manufacturing sector because in many ways it’s been very good to me in my career. And I think that the work ICN does is a pretty noble cause in terms of assisting manufacturers to win work. I like the philosophy and principle and that attracted me to this work.