From mining to minds: refocusing Western Australia’s biggest export

February 16, 2023

Over recent decades, Australia has become a key player in technology and innovation, with notable brands like Atlassian propelling our abilities into the global spotlight. As healthcare settings and hospitals continue to evolve and digitise, will parts of our country previously known for more traditional exports finally have their time to shine?

Mining is one of the biggest contributors to Western Australia’s (WA) economy — it feels like it always has been this way, and at one time, many of us would have said it always will be. In fact, according to Australian Mining, as of 2022, it had reached a record 47 per cent share of the WA’s economy. 

And yet, despite resources historically being vital to the economy, it is becoming increasingly evident that it is time for WA to shift its focus. It needs to move away from relying so heavily on this industrial past and diversify into other industries, so it is “better insulated from the boom and bust cycle that continues to define WA’s economy”.

As areas from healthcare to finance, engineering to agriculture adopt new digital solutions, at WA-based Olinqua — like many – we are looking to technology as the answer. 


Why does WA need to shift focus?

The need to shift WA’s economic focus goes back to at least 2017, with WAToday referring to the state as a “complex economic riddle”, using the analogy of a fairground ride to describe the state of its economy. 

They further highlighted there is “widespread consensus that diversifying the economy through sectors like tourism and agriculture is the way ahead” and went on to explore five potential growth areas, including technology, that could pave a more fruitful path into the future for the state. 

More recently, while WA remained resilient during the COVID-19 pandemic, “the state’s lack of economic diversity ” was exacerbated during these times, as concluded by the Western Australia Parliament Economics and Industry Standing Committee. The pandemic resulted in significant economic impacts, such as increased unemployment, global supply chain disruptions and reduced business operations. 

As the state emerged from the lockdowns and other consequences of the virus, and like other states, activated plans for renewal and rapid growth took place. WA’s lack of economic diversity saw that recovery balanced largely on the shoulders of that one industry – mining. Though the strategy was effective this time, and recovery was “largely driven by a significant increase in the value of the state’s iron ore exports” (as stated in the Diversify WA Report), betting on one horse only was seen by many, as a risk that could have been avoided. 

This over-reliance demands a significant refocus on diversification, enabling the economy to tap into other key industries that offer immense potential. If this shift does not occur, key risks such as “prolonged global supply chain disruptions, worsening trade disputes with China and ongoing labour shortages” will continue to threaten WA’s economy — according to Australian Mining.  


What does the future look like for WA’s economy?

The state government recognised the need for a more diversified economy prior to the pandemic in 2019 with the development of DiversifyWA (and updated in 2021).

This framework “connects WA’s economic strengths to global megatrends and identifies priority sectors where there are evident opportunities for growth and diversification in the short-to-medium term”

DiversifyWA is a detailed document questioning what WA’s global offering and demand trends will look like by 2041 and how these will shape the jobs of the future for the next generation. 

It identifies that industries including “tech, data and cyber trends are playing an increasingly important role in shaping future jobs and demand for potential exports – as are technological changes”.

WA is now the headquarters of 477 fast-growing technology companies created after 2000, including our very own Olinqua. 

As a rapidly growing company, like many of the other new tech companies in Australia’s west, we will not only provide locals with the opportunity to work on exciting projects and deliver truly innovative products, but combined, will become a key source of revenue and renown for the state. 

And as technology companies aren’t usually subject to the same borders and boundaries as companies that produce physical products, the opportunities for global growth and export are both exciting and endless.  


How do we support the innovation transformation?

By fostering and supporting innovation in WA, we can set up the state for a truly diversified economic landscape in the near future — and some of our team at Olinqua are even taking it a step further.

Currently, our Executive Director for WA and National Head of People and Culture, Jemma, serves as a Chair on the Discipline Advisory Panel for Innovation, Entrepreneurship, Strategy & International Business at Curtin University. In that role, she has been able to support the faculty that are shaping the next generation of innovators – students.

At Olinqua, we are supporting one such student, our Graduate Developer, Thomas Bell. Back in 2021, Thomas joined us from Innovation Central Perth – a joint venture between Cisco and Curtin University. 

In his work with us, Thomas has learnt fast – applying his 4+ years of experience in programming – and is already a steady contributor to our platform’s front, and back ends. 

We are proud of his efforts so far, working with and learning from our development team.

By focusing on jobs, growth, university partnerships, internship support and working with Cisco Innovation in Perth, we truly endorse the mindset to take those transferable technologies and skills and find ways to repurpose that technology in other areas. We are playing an integral role in shifting the focus from mining to minds.