Innovate or stagnate: Upskilling the best protection against economic uncertainty
From mining, manufacturing and the media through to education and aviation, many Australian industry sectors are in the midst of a period of significant economic and structural change with more focus on self-reliance and corporate responsibility than ever before.
The result? An increasingly nervous workforce with a growing number of professionals concerned about the possibility not only of redundancy but of future-proofing their employment prospects.
Professor Fred McDougall, Vice-Chancellor and President of Australia’s 40th comprehensive university, Torrens University Australia said research showed that enrolment in Australian postgraduate programs rose 6.5 per cent between 2008 and 2009, primarily on the back of the global financial crisis at that period.
If we’ve learned anything from the aftermath of the global financial crisis, and from previous economic downturns, it’s that during times of uncertainty, employees look to upskill, re-skill or add specialist qualifications to their existing credentials. Some do so because they find themselves unemployed and are looking to stand out in the job market, others do it to avoid being in that position in the first place. More still do so to add value not only to their own CV and skills but to their employer and, with time, their investment will pay off.
Postgrad and continuing education
Online education also enjoyed a boost between 2008 and 2010 as the global financial crisis undermined job security and encouraged people to enroll in education and training. A study conducted by Open Universities Australia in 2008 found that 53% of its students felt that the poor economic situation made it more important to take up university study. Enrolment numbers for online education were lifted by students deferring entry into the labour market, people who lost their jobs, and people who remained in the workforce but wished to upgrade their qualifications in a weaker job market.
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The cautious current mood, particularly in light of major manufacturing closures and massive job losses at companies including Qantas and Sensis, is tipped to prompt a surge in postgraduate study across myriad sectors– with good reason – across the board, postgraduate salaries are higher than equivalent salaries for Bachelor degree graduates in every employment sector.
“The aim of postgraduate study is not just to gain qualifications, seek promotion or boost job security, but to gain relevant expertise to add greater value to your organisation, and to explore new aspects of your chosen – or desired field,” noted Professor McDougall.
Australian Bureau of Statistics Census Data shows the number of people who completed a postgraduate degree over the past decade has almost doubled, while over 90 percentof postgraduates are in full-time employment shortly after graduation – on median salaries increasing year on year (by more than 7 per cent between 2010 and 2012). The median salary for Bachelor degree graduates in full-time employment is $66,000 per annum, a 32% increase since 2009; compared with a median salary of $85,000 for full-time postgraduate qualified employees; with postgraduates in management and commerce disciplines attracting the highest median salaries ($108,300 for men, $92,300 for women).
Professor McDougall said the opportunity to engage in online postgraduate study has opened up the field to a diverse range of students, with the 2014 Financial Times ranking of online MBA programmes indicating online students are more inclined to want to develop their management skills ahead of a primary focus on increasing earnings, with promotion and developing strong business networks also key priorities for enrolling students.
Changing landscape of business education
But it’s not just professionals and potential students who’ve learned from the GFC and are acting now to shore up and enhance their employment prospects, postgraduate program providers have also reacted to, and learned from, past experience.
A report from Hanover Research, which investigated trends influencing MBA courses around the world by analysing the Financial Times’ top 100 institutions (2012), found that many business schools had stepped up their focus on business ethics, international business, financial risk and corporate responsibility to equip students to do business in the altered post-crisis climate.
“Agility is key to delivering relevant postgraduate programs,” said Professor McDougall. “As a private university Torrens is in a unique position to craft programs and flexible delivery methods that have been specifically designed – with input from local industry experts - to quickly respond to market demand, which is why we’ve chosen to offer postgraduate programs in global project management, public health, education and business. As the university grows, we’ll continue to review current and anticipated industry trends in order to add programs geared towards jobs of the future,” advised Professor McDougall.
“Just as business must respond to industry conditions, as we’re seeing in the manufacturing, motor and aviation sectors right now, higher education must innovate – offering hands-on small classes, state of the art technology, 24/7 online access to resources and extensive domestic and international mentoring opportunities – to remain relevant and ensure our students do the same. That way our students will not only enhance their employability, they’ll add genuine value to employers in challenging conditions.”
Torrens University Australia is currently extending thirty percent scholarships to all accepted online MBA, global project management, education and public health postgraduate students who commence study in May 2014.
As Australia’s 40th comprehensive University, Torrens University Australia aims to deliver an innovative environment for learning, scholarship and research that is culturally diverse, career-oriented, and with a distinctive global perspective. Offering a range of undergraduate, postgraduate and higher degree by research programs – for study on-campus, online or a mix of both depending on the program selected – Torrens is a part of Laureate International Universities, a leading international network of over 75 innovative higher education institutions – teaching more than 800,000 students in 30 countries and online. To apply, visit www.tua.com.au
C-suite spotight: Melanie Perkins, CEO, Canva
Who is Melanie Perkins?
She’s the co-founder and CEO of Australian unicorn online design platform Canva, who ultimately became one of tech’s youngest female CEOs, at just 30, and recently became a billionaire aged 35, making her one of Australia’s richest and youngest.
Why is she in the spotlight right now?
Because less than a year after securing a US$6bn valuation during the pandemic, which provided a big boost to business, Canva has recently more than doubled its valuation, securing a $15bn valuation, which makes Perkins a billionaire, according to Forbes. The valuation comes in the wake of a new funding round in the first week of April 2021 led by T. Rowe Price and Dragoneer and raising $71m. At the same time, Canva announced its business has passed $500m in annualised revenue, up 130% from the year before.
What is Canva and why is it so successful?
Launched in 2013 by co-founders Melanie Perkins (CEO), Cliff Obrecht (COO) and Cameron Adams (Chief Product Officer), Sydney-headquartered Canva is a free-to-use online graphic design product that allows users to create everything from social media graphics to presentations and other visual content, as well as offering paid subscriptions like Canva Pro and Canva for Enterprise, with 3 million of its now 55 million users taking paid subscriptions.
Accruing 750,000 users in its first year, following a number of rounds of investment including from Mary Meeker’s Bond Capital in 2019 and this month’s massive funding round, Canva now boasts 55 million users across 190 countries, with offices in Sydney, Beijing, Manila, and most recently Austin, Texas, and is valued at $3.2 billion.
And while the company was originally most popular with SMEs, helping them draft and design print and digital assets, it’s since grown to become a real-time collaboration suite that’s being used by big firms including McKinsey, Salesforce and American Airlines. In fact, Canva claims that 85% of Fortune 500 companies use the platform’s services. They continue to add new features and during the pandemic, added presenter video recording tools.
How did Perkins get there?
The idea of Canva came to Perkins when she was at the university of Perth, where to earn money on the side she taught students design programmes. Many of her students found platforms like Adobe complicated and frustrating, and the ideas came to her to simplify and democratise design, to make it more approachable and accessible, more collaborative, and ultimately to empower all in design. So, she and university peer Cliff Obrecht, who became Canva co-founder and Perkins’ husband, created an online school yearbook design business, Fusion Yearbooks, to test it out. Operating from her mum’s living room, the yearbook design business was a massive success, expanding to New Zealand and France, and remains the largest yearbook publisher in Australia.
However, Perkins did not give up on her dream to create a one-stop-shop design site and at one point spent three months living with her brother in San Francisco where she pitched to more than 100 venture capitalists, all of whom rejected Canva. It was following a chance encounter at a conference in Perth with Silicon Valley venture capitalist Bill Tai, Perkins was winning over major investors including Hollywood celebrities Woody Harrelson and Owen Wilson and building out Canva’s design platform with a fast-growing team of tech engineers and a high-profile tech advisor, Lars Rasmussen who co-founded Google Maps.
It was in 2012 when things really kicked off however when Perkins and Obrecht found a tech co-founder in Cameron Adams. The same year, they closed their first funding round, which was oversubscribed and raised $1.5m, with Canva going live in 2013. In 2019, an $85m funding round led by Silicon Valley investor Mary Meeker’s Bond Capital gave the company a valuation of $3.2bn, before the most recent funding around in April 2021 leading to a valuation of $15bn.
In her own words…
"I think it's pretty important to know that every single person is going through their own trials and tribulations. Knowing that it's tricky for everyone, that any adventure will be filled with rejections and littered with obstacles – somehow makes the adventure a little less lonely. And it's most important for people who feel like they are on the outside to know this."