Becoming “For Purpose”, Creating Entrepreneurship and Jobs for the Future

By Dr Don Perlgut, CEO, Community Colleges Australia, 8 September 2017

We in the Australian community education sector face challenges from many sides. We need to pay attention to the requirements of government training funders and regulators, teach our students to become entrepreneurs, become entrepreneurs ourselves, keep our missions and visions intact, engage our communities and work out our “purpose”.

Not long ago, Community Council for Australia Chair (and World Vision Australia CEO) Tim Costello proposed that the not-for-profit (NFP) sector should rename itself as the “for purpose sector”. The role of NFP leaders, according to Costello, is to keep our organisations “focussed on purpose” – what are we here to do. While this idea has captured the imagination of many, it has not yet replaced the concept of “not for profit”. Costello also said that, “To be local and not for profit we must understand the forces of our world.”

“For purpose” has a very different slant that the negative (and confusing to many) “NOT for profit” phrase does not. It implies a question: “What is our purpose?” It implies action towards something rather than “not” something.

It also leads us to a new way of doing business, if we take the concept seriously. It means, in part, that we become entrepreneurs in our own space.

These concepts were are the front of my mind as I attended the TAFE Directors Australia conference in Adelaide this week, where I presented about leveraging economic development through VET.

Sitting in a room (almost) full of people who work for public (TAFE) vocational providers, it struck me how little the conference talked about government. What they discussed, instead, was leadership (Dame Asha Kemka DBE DL, Principal and CEO of West Nottinghamshire College, UK); skilling the South Australian workforce for defence jobs (Andy Keough CSC, Chief Executive of Defence SA); entrepreneurialism (Nick Kaye, CEO, Sydney School of Entrepreneurship – SSE); innovation (Dr David Martin, Centre of Applied Innovation, Melbourne Polytechnic); technology partnerships; and innovation ecosystems (the Tonsley precinct in suburban Adelaide).

The hit of the conference day I spent was undoubtedly Bernard Salt AM, demographer, social commentator and futurist, who spoke about “Preparing for jobs of the future”:

“You can criticise the USA for many things,” said Salt. “But they have a great ability to monetise innovation.” Comparing America’s largest companies to Australia’s, one slide told a powerful story, with the top 10 businesses (by market worth) in the USA and in Australia, along with the year they were founded. I reproduce Salt’s data in the tables below, because they are worth examining in detail.



Company – USA Year founded Worth (US$ billion)
1 Apple 1976 690
2 Google 1998 565
3 Microsoft 1975 490
4 Berkshire Hathaway 1955 402
5 Amazon 1994 386
6 Facebook 2004 381
7 Exxon Mobil 1870 343
8 JP Morgan Chase 1799 310
9 Johnson & Johnson 1886 309
10 Wells Fargo 1852 283


Company – Australia Year founded Worth (US$ billion)
1 BHP Billiton 1885 198
2 Commonwealth Bank 1911 108
3 Westpac Bank 1817 83
4 ANZ 1835 65
5 National Australia Bank 1893 62
6 Telstra 1901 46
7 CSL 1916 39
8 Wesfarmers 1914 35
9 Woolworths 1924 25
10 Macquarie Group 1970 22


There is much to unpack about these two tables, including that five US companies (including Amazon) are “technology”, but only one Australian company. And Australia’s “Big Four” banks come in at numbers 2, 3, 4 and 5 respectively.

But Salt’s major point was to look at the year of founding: only one Australian company (Macquarie) was founded AFTER 1924, whereas five US companies were founded after 1974. According to Salt, “Australia has a fundamental contempt about innovation and business.” And he didn’t mean that as a compliment.

Salt had much more to say, about Australian cities high percentage of overseas-born residents, which makes us uniquely suited for international trade and innovation (Sydney = 39%). He also gave us some of his favourite new acronyms:

PUMCINS = Professional Urban Middle Class In Nice Suburbs

NETTELS = Not Enough Time To Enjoy Life

KIPPERS = Kids in Parents Pockets Eroding Retirement Savings

But he returned to innovation and entrepreneurship, saying that the best things that parents could do was to give their kids a positive attitude towards entrepreneurship, resilience and flexibility. And he concluded with four “points to consider”:

  1. Build a culture of entrepreneurship (to create) jobs of the future
  2. Develop a workforce that embraces change … opportunities to learn new skills and create new relationships
  3. Change the way we validate human endeavour … recognition as well as remuneration
  4. Shift our thinking to how we can make a contribution … what can I do to build stronger communities

Salt, the demographer, may have been talking to an audience of 400 (mostly) TAFE personnel, but those four points speak directly to us in the community sector. Worth pondering as we go about keeping our purpose in mind.