Jens Goennemann is the Managing Director of the Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre, founded as part of the Federal Government’s Industry Innovation and Competitiveness Agenda.

AMT: Let’s start with your professional background and how you came to your role with the Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre?

Jens Goennemann: For the past 20 years I have been working for Airbus, eight of them based here in Australia responsible for the Australian and New Zealand operations. When it was more than time to go back to Europe, it became a family decision to give it a miss – Australia had become my home. So, it came that I joined the Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre earlier this year, and as anticipated it is a very interesting and promising opportunity. Manufacturing in Australia isn’t what the public perceives it to be, and I felt that we could do something quite extraordinary if we started to believe more in our potential – especially from what I have seen coming from previous experience at Airbus by working closely with innovative Australian manufacturers.

AMT: And what is the Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre? Why was it established, and what are its objectives?

JG: The Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre was established in 2015 as part of the Industry Innovation and Competitiveness Agenda. There were five original Growth Centres formed at that time (Advanced Manufacturing, Food & Agriculture, Medical Technologies, Mining, Technologies & Equipment, and Oil & Gas), with the sixth Centre (CyberSecurity) announced earlier this year. The overall idea is to focus on our unique strengths and by doing what we are already good at as a country rather than attempting to do everything making very little impact.

The Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre was formed to raise the competitiveness of our Australian manufacturing sector to a global level. While we had a good idea of what that could look like, we decided to conduct solid round consultations with industry and research institutions as well as in-depth analysis to gain clarity on our objectives and what it would take to realise our goals.

What we found confirmed that connecting into global supply chains has to be our sector’s first priority. Second, we need to improve our professional skills both at the management level and to utilise more high-skill workers across the entire manufacturing process to seize opportunities. Third, we need better co-ordination and partnerships between industry – and this means between one manufacturing firm and another – and between industry and researchers, with the goal of tangible commercial outcomes. Last but not least, we could all benefit from more institutional alignment and stability by giving any plan sufficient time to deliver before changing the goal posts.

AMT: What can you tell us about your new Sector Competitiveness Plan?

JG: I can tell you that it will be published before the end of this year. We’re excited to get our Sector Competitiveness Plan into the hands of Australian manufacturers to share with them, and the wider public, that our sector is full of potential. The frequent suggestion that the manufacturing sector is in decline is not supported by the facts, especially when all those jobs which exist because of manufacturing are currently not taken into account.

What our Sector Competitiveness Plan provides is a razor sharp and data-based look at what makes us more successful, and we show pathways that manufacturers can take in order to lift their competitiveness. I think many readers will be surprised as well as heartened to know that we can definitely hold our own internationally. What we need to do is to agree that competition is not within, but beyond our borders, and we can win the global game when we focus on where we can add the most value, where we are at our best.

Moreover, our Sector Competitiveness Plan is an iterative process with updates coming out on a regular basis. We listen, learn and help put into action what promises to make our sector more successful.

AMT: With Australian manufacturing undergoing a period of transition, what are the major challenges and opportunities?

JG: Manufacturing is always under pressure as technology continues to push the frontiers. But this is the case for all sectors across our economy, not manufacturing alone. We know of companies in the automotive sector who saw the writing on the wall over 15 years ago and who have successfully reinvented themselves.

What we are witnessing is the persistent advancement of how manufacturing continues to change. Why this has been particularly hard in some cases here in Australia is that we have not sufficiently prepared ourselves to see around the corner as we could have. Instead we’ve stuck to ways of production that were neither helping employees gain the essential skills to keep up nor shaping our sector to stay ahead or at least in touch with global trends.

It’s rare for Australia to be cost-competitive, unless we are prepared to say farewell to our lifestyle. Our future depends upon competing on value, be it in technology leadership or service offerings – or in a combination of both.

This is why I find our Sector Competitiveness Plan to be an inspiring read. It plots a course for this massive ship called Australian manufacturing, and I believe we have the fact-based analysis and actions instead of the myth-fuelled publicity to help get us on the right course

AMT: Where do you see the sector in the next 10 or 20 years?

JG: Globally competitive – not in everything, but in relevant niches – because we target and co-ordinate our institutional decisions, instruments and investments. Collectively, we will be more informed about what the challenges and the opportunities are – as a sector and as a nation. Manufacturing will be appreciated as the sector where complex things are being realised and the sector which enabled Australia to sensibly participate in ‘moon-shot’ opportunities such as the Future Submarine building program. Only a healthy, vibrant and ever advancing manufacturing sector can pull this off.

AMT: What might an ordinary working day entail for you at Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre?

JG: Thankfully, and like for most executives, there isn’t really an ordinary day. There are major themes though that drive our schedule: My core role for the moment is making sure our sector knows who the Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre is, what we do and why it matters. The foundation for this is our profound analysis, such as through the Sector Competitiveness Plan, because without data and facts, it’s like trying to nail a pudding against the wall!

We are a team with big ambitions and I believe we have the right trajectory and government commitment in place to make Australian manufacturing successful over the long term. Equally, I’m keen to connect with your readers in the near future and find out how our ambitions resonate best with theirs.

Let me finish by saying that manufacturing now and in the future is a most exciting affair. Let us be self-aware and more confident about it and tell our children as well. Their future is certainly not built on the fate of unstable commodity prices and ever-increasing property values alone.