The RAI Research Agenda: Empowering regions to lead change
We are at a turning point for our regions as regional Australia is again dealing with major economic changes on multiple fronts. To manage this change the Regional Australia Institute (RAI) has identified five themes that will underpin a vibrant future for our regions.
The end of the mining boom, job losses due to technology change and fragile global economic conditions are impacting on regions around the nation. A similar scale of transition in the 1980’s and 90’s led to significant hardship in regions and a sense of disconnection from the nation’s success.
The RAI’s work shows regions that this experience need not be repeated. Using the right development strategy, proactive local leadership and smart policies, regions can navigate these challenges and grow their contribution to the nation’s economy.
Work by the RAI from 2016-18 will be concentrated on five themes reflecting the areas where regional Australia must be successful. Delivering capacity building initiatives to help locals lead change will be a key feature of each program of work.
The impact of technology on jobs is the most significant emerging issue for regions. Managing this change will be important and each region needs to be equipped with the necessary tools to adapt.
Over the next decade employment opportunities will change in both regional and metropolitan areas. 40 per cent of Australian jobs are at a high risk of being replaced by technology by 2035[i]. 18.4 per cent may be eliminated entirely. Unskilled or low-skilled activities will come under the greatest pressure[ii] and 92.5 per cent of jobs in farming and forestry could be automated by 2035[iii].
We know digital disruption will change the future of work in regional Australia, but it need not be a bad thing. Technological impacts on the workforce are becoming increasingly visible; efficiencies, reinvented supply chains, improved marketing, more direct customer engagement and a more disperse and collaborative workforce are emerging.
Building the capacity of regions to create new jobs, reskill workers and foster an entrepreneurial culture is the challenge we face. On a practical level, regional leaders require tools to introduce the discussion about the impacts and opportunities technology change can bring to their community. By offering a template that focuses the discussion at the local level, communities can begin to understand and own their digital future.
Through this program, the RAI seeks to recognise and share the best strategies being used around Australia and internationally so our regions can harness digital technology.
Thirty one regional cities including Tamworth, Wagga Wagga, Newcastle, Geelong, Bunbury, Port Macquarie and Townsville are now collectively home for 4.5 million Australians. This network of cities is well placed to pursue city style growth opportunities while maintaining the best elements of regional living.
Australia’s major urbanisation trend since the 1970’s has in fact been the rise of regional cities. Since 1971 regional city populations have grown at a rate of 8 per cent, four times the rate of growth for our major cities during the same period. In 2013 the economic output in our Regional Cities was on par with that of Finland. We also know regional city economies are diverse and resilient. These cities offer the benefits of urban living without the downsides of congestion, pollution and extreme property prices.
The RAI wants to identify how our regions can best develop great small cities and the benefits that will accrue across regional Australia and nationally. A framework to enable leaders to assess their city’s progress against the success factors and attributes of a ‘great small city’, as well as mechanisms to improve areas where different cities require development, can help us achieve this goal.
In 1911 if you lived in regional Australia it was most likely in a town of between 200 and 500 people. By 2006 this was the least likely place for regional Australians to call home. Urbanisation and technology change have steadily reduced the need for a network of small regional towns. But small towns are the heart of regional Australia and people in small towns are creating a diverse set of futures for their communities.
Small regional towns are often great places to live but their economic future is challenged by a variety of forces. There is a growing need for small regional towns to identify ways in which they can take control of their future through development strategies that work. A mixture of technology and local innovation can help address the risks of decline, we also know volunteering, community skills and leadership can transform small places.
Australia needs to actively engage with the future of small communities, but we must be both realistic and honest about the challenges that many places face. To assist with this task, the RAI is proposing an initiative called Innovation Watch, aimed at sharing stories of success from across regional Australia. By identifying effective local strategies and proven models of success, we can build a thriving small town network across Australia.
The ageing challenge is coming to regional Australia first; already there are 59 local government areas where levels of ageing are beyond the level predicted for Australia in 2050. However, while ageing is a national challenge, ageing can also be seen as one of the greatest signs of our nation’s success.
Older Australians are a source of population growth for regional areas and regions are well positioned to continue to attract this demographic as they bring new wealth, experience and energy to communities. The Super Boomers in particular are transforming the way in which ageing plays out in regions. This demographic form 39 per cent of the regional workforce and will stay engaged in work longer than previous generations.
The challenge is how can regional Australia activate older populations in the economy, secure growth and deliver high quality services. By examining the anticipated workforce, housing and consumption patterns in our oldest regions, tailored assessments and practical responses to the ageing challenge can be developed.
This theme will not only establish a vision for an older regional Australia, but one that supports regional development and provides leadership in response to the national ageing challenge.
Regions in Australia are in the midst of a long term economic transition reflecting the increasing dominance of services in the Australian economy. The global economy, technological change, the environment and population are all factors that are growing in complexity and unpredictability. This is placing pressure on traditional social and economic systems in regional Australia and is forcing regions to change whether they like it or not. To prosper into the future we need to shift our thinking on what matters to regions and empower them to make decisions and respond to change.
The question for regions is not whether we would prefer the world to be different or how we might prevent change from disrupting our practices. The question is, how do we position ourselves to achieve change on our own terms?
By identifying the regions that are most likely to perform well over the next 15 years regardless of economic conditions, those that will face volatility, those that are likely to be stable and areas most likely to face significant economic transition, we can build stronger communities.
We want to encourage regional leaders to assess the long term drivers of regional economies and establish a responsive agenda to help overcome emerging issues. It is through the development of smart regional development strategies that we can help regional leaders navigate vulnerabilities and pursue opportunities for their communities.
The Regional Australia Institute’s Research Agenda is responsive to stakeholder needs and interests and is delivered through partnerships, collaboration and a mix of self-funded and commissioned work. We encourage stakeholders to engage with us through the research process. Your input is valued and contributes to a robust national discussion on issues of importance.
To contribute to the RAI’s upcoming research program or find out more, contact Kim Houghton, General Manager Policy and Research [email protected]
[i] CEDA 2015, Australia’s future workforce?, available online at http://adminpanel.ceda.com.au/FOLDERS/Service/Files/Documents/26792~Futureworkforce_June2015.pdf
[ii] Edmonds and Bradley 2015, Mechanical boon: will automation advance Australia, Department of Industry, Innovation and Science, Research Paper available online at http://www.industry.gov.au/Office-of-the-Chief-Economist/Research-Papers/Documents/Research-Paper-7-Mechanical-boon.pdf
[iii] PWC 2015, A smart move: Future-proofing Australia’s workforce by growing skills in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM), available online at https://pwc.docalytics.com/v/a-smart-move-pwc-stem-report-april-2015