Login or Logout? Online work in regional Western Australia
Online Work to Grow Regional Economies
In the current climate of a slowing resource industry, regional areas in Western Australia must look to new ways of growing their economies. Accessing new markets and increasing productivity will be central to this growth.
Advances in information and communications technology are changing the nature of many jobs in Australia, enabling both new types of work and new working arrangements to emerge.
New technology creates potential for an online workforce, which in turn can deliver better productivity and work-life balance. Online work offers opportunities to diversify and grow many regional businesses, and could also attract new residents from the capital cities to enjoy the regional lifestyle.
A new report from the RAI, Login or Logout? Online work in regional Western Australia finds that 35 per cent of the regional workforce in Western Australia, and 51 per cent of the Perth metropolitan workforce currently has the potential to reshape the state’s economy by engaging in online work.
“Online work offers a chance to create a more productive and flexible workforce. There is potential for people living in Perth to move to regions, and also for people in regions to work for employers in other cities or regions without having to leave home,” said Jack Archer, Deputy CEO of the RAI.
Technology in the workplace offers potential for regional residents and businesses to have new or easier access to national and international markets for goods, services and employment. This also offers challenges, as existing regional markets are simultaneously opened up to new competitors.
Knowledge-based work can potentially be undertaken in any place with sufficient connectivity, equipment and workforce capability. This unties many jobs from a single site of production, which means work can be delivered from a home-based office, a mobile work site, a call- centre, a tele-centre or digital hub, or a remote operations centre.
The potential for the expansion of online work in any region depends upon four key factors:
- Work force capacity – Online work is best suited to professional, administrative, managerial, or creative roles. Approximately 35 per cent of the regional workforce in Western Australia is currently employed in occupations with at least some potential to engage in online work. Furthermore, 51 per cent of Perth’s workforce has at least some potential for online work, providing an opportunity for more metropolitan workers to move to regional areas and keep the same job.
- Industry mix – Industries based on the exchange of knowledge have the highest uptake of online work. These are currently concentrated in metropolitan Perth rather than in regional areas of Western Australia. While the core regional industries, such as agriculture, retail, food and accommodation services, tend to be those with much lower potential for online work, mining has both high levels of regional employment and high levels of digital access.
- Broadband connectivity–Sufficient speed, bandwidth capacity and reliability is needed to make online work commercially viable. Connectivity in regional Western Australia is highly variable. Despite an evident lag in the development of high speed fibre-based broadband connectivity, there is wider coverage through mobile networks.
- Business capacity–Regional businesses tend to lag behind in the uptake of online work opportunities, but are also more likely to generate sales through the internet. Availability of ICT and business supports are highly variable across regional Western Australia. Larger regional population centres tend to have more supports available to assist businesses to expand their technical capacity and employee skills.
Potential Online Work Hotspots in Regional Western Australia
Twenty local government areas (LGAs) in regional Western Australia have significant opportunities to tap into online work as a regional development strategy:
- Good connectivity, existing workforce skills, and an availability of labour offers potential for digital hubs to be established in places such as Bunbury, Geraldton, Mandurah and Pinjarra;
- Proximity to metropolitan areas and the availability of labour offers potential for the development of call-centres or back-office processing in the inner Wheatbelt and Peel region, if sufficient connectivity is available;
- The existing workforce skills level and business supports available in Albany offer prospects for targeted development of ICT services, subject to available connectivity;
- The Pilbara, Kimberley and Goldfields/Esperance regions currently face challenges due to high competition for labour from the mining sector, but opportunities may exist for partners of people in mining to have higher workforce engagement through online work, and in the development of specialist knowledge industries; and
- Remote operations centres are possible in areas with high connectivity and workers with knowledge of mining activity, such as Busselton and Mandurah.
Lack of high speed broadband connectivity risks creating bottlenecks to growth in regions with potential to develop and engage with the knowledge economy. Areas with substantial populations and no planned improvements in connectivity risk the creation of a digital divide which will inhibit their long term economic growth.
Many areas in regional Western Australia exhibit a combination of poor connectivity, low levels of ICT workforce capacity, and limited business capacity. Although some online work will occur in these areas it is unlikely to be extensive enough to drive regional development outcomes.
“Online work creates both opportunities and risks for regional economies. It opens up external markets, and enables more flexible and productive ways of working. The biggest risk is getting left behind. Regional businesses will need to build their capacity – to be a competitive option for existing and new customers, and to retain and attract employees,” said Jack.
To read more about the potential for Western Australia’s regions to grow the online workforce, read the report here.
The executive summary is available here.
View the fact sheet Login or Logout? Online work in regional Western Australia here.