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Community Employment Council’s Central / North Central Victorian Employment Challenge

Jeff Bothe

Executive Officer, Community Employment Council

What is the Employment Challenge project?

The Employment Challenge project responds to an acceptance of the realisation that no one single person, individual government or business is going to provide for sustained employment growth in a region. Rather, the development of increased levels of employment growth will largely come as a result of a willingness to accept that it is each and everyone’s responsibility to work to achieve opportunities for the present and future labour force.

Accordingly, the Employment Challenge project is about facilitating and supporting a region (through its communities) to work in strategic partnerships and demonstrating a co-operative and responsible approach to a common goal - i.e. sustained employment growth - the achievement of employment opportunities can be realised. It is also about ensuring that the region understands that employment cannot be treated in isolation.


The Community Employment Council’s (CEC) Strategic Regional Plan and current Business Plan has focussed on engaging increased community support and participation in addressing our region’s employment needs. Titled the ‘Employment Challenge’, the CEC researched, developed and implemented a pro-active community approach and strategy to identify and generate sustained employment opportunities throughout the region.

A number of factors contributed to the development the ‘Employment Challenge‘ initiative. Some of these included:

  • An unwillingness to accept the current levels of unemployment.
  • A willingness of stakeholders (including local government) to make ‘jobs’ a high priority.
  • An acceptance that sustained employment growth within the region will largely come from a concentration of endeavour through a common focus, regional commitment and local ownership.
  • A proven capacity of the region to form strategic regional partnerships and demonstrate leadership.
  • A diverse range of intellectual expertise and resources and a willingness of key people / organisations to be involved in the initiative.
  • Potential employment opportunities through the strengths of the region such as its geographic location and existing / emerging industry opportunities.

As an organisation in a regional community with a key role on employment matters, the CEC linked with various stakeholders to provide the leadership to generate and co-ordinate the support from Central / North Central Victoria plus develop partnerships to guide the Employment Challenge from a concept to an effective regional strategy.

Project Aims:

The following ‘Project Aims’ related to developing the Employment Challenge from a concept to a regional strategy in readiness for the project’s implementation in March ’99. The aims were:

  • To develop an improved awareness of the employment challenge facing Central Victoria in the short, medium and long term.
  • To identify and / or establish proactive local and regional partnerships focussed on achieving the project’s objective.
  • To co-ordinate human and economic resources to address the challenge of generating sustained employment growth throughout Central Victoria.
  • To provide an employment communication network that provides for ongoing community discussion, encourages suggestions and initiatives, identifies employment inhibitors and local issues, generates employment related projects and allows for involvement from all related sectors in the employment field.
  • To provide public recognition for the development and support of the employment challenge initiative from the individuals and organisations / agencies involved.
  • To develop recognition of the need to establish a holistic approach to generate sustained employment growth.
  • To encourage a regional commitment and endorsement from business, community and government leaders to the Employment Challenge initiative for the long term benefits of the region.
  • To generate broadly based community ownership of the Employment Challenge initiative.
  • To develop methodology to document, monitor and evaluate the impact of the ‘Central Victorian Employment Challenge’ initiative.

Project Implementation Process:

In order to take a major regional project from a concept stage to an implementation phase, the development of the necessary strategies and supporting framework required an immense amount of co-ordinated work. Briefly, the following processes will be undertaken to achieve this transition.

An Interim Project Management Group established.

1. Research – included the identification and assessment of regional employment initiatives within Australia and overseas, analysis of trends within the region’s industry and labour force, analysis of feedback from consultations with the community workshops plus responses from stakeholders and regional leaders.

2. Community consultations – extensive consultations through workshops / focus groups throughout all 6 municipalities in the region. The consultations included a balanced representation of relevant groups and ‘champions’ of the project. In all some 31 consultations were held in 25 locations.

3. Business consultations – consulted with successful business operators who have demonstrated a willingness to contribute to the project.

4. Business and Community leader awareness – liaison with a significant number of regional stakeholders and leaders enhanced support networks.


As a result of the collation and analysis of community consultation information, research, networking and sharing of information, awareness raising, support and encouragement of community involvement, two projects were immediately implemented, additional resources were arranged belatedly (due to funding issues) to work within Buloke Shire plus strategies for the further development of the initiative have been completed.

However, due to our resource limitations, our inability to work in a timely manner with some specific areas within the region has been a disappointment.

Projects that evolved from the Employment Challenge initiative

Building A Future For The Country

The ‘Building a Future for the Country’ project was developed as a pilot project as a direct result of extensive consultations with small communities within Central Victoria.

Several of Central Victoria’s small gold heritage towns were identified as struggling to engender enthusiasm, action and co-ordinated leadership to strengthen their communities and stimulate employment and economic development, yet these communities demonstrated a commitment to work to secure an improved future for themselves.

The project has established a framework for the development of a range of strategies, which, through the provision of support and targeted assistance, will strengthen communities and empower a number of these small Central Victorian towns to identify and implement practical and achievable employment and economic development actions. The towns initially involved were Dunolly, Maldon, Newstead, Talbot and Wedderburn. Inglewood has now joined the project (June 2000) and Carisbrook has made application to join.

The process involves the

  • Establishing and supporting the activities of community taskforces within each participating town,
  • Formation of a Regional Management Team that comprises representatives from each of the taskforces and stakeholders from within the region to manage and direct the project,
  • Identification of regional strengths and opportunities by Taskforces,
  • Identification, investigation and support for the establishment and undertaking of local and regional initiatives and activities targeted at enhancing the achievements of local community priorities, generation of business and employment opportunities and growth,
  • Provision of training and support for taskforce and Regional Management Team members to enhance the identification and implementation of local ideas and solutions members.

Project Mission Statement

“Working together to secure the future for our regional communities.”

Project Objectives

Under the key focus of “how to turn the region’s strengths and opportunities into real outcomes”, the following objectives were adopted.

  • To establish a framework within which the operations of the Regional Management Team and Taskforces can be undertaken in an effective, cost efficient and sustainable manner.
  • To encourage and support Taskforces and their communities to work productively together to foster and sustain ongoing consultations throughout regional communities
  • To enhance the linkages and networks between regional communities in order to provide opportunities for the sharing of information and experiences plus to establish cooperative arrangements.
  • To foster the implementation of community based and supported initiatives.
  • To demonstrate leadership to communities that provides benefits to the region from the impact of change (such as information technology).
  • To provide on going information to taskforces on programs, services and funding opportunities plus encourage their dissemination to local communities.
  • To provide recognition of communities and their Taskforce members for their achievements.
  • To foster training opportunities for regional communities.

Role Of The Regional Management Team

  • Co-ordination of Taskforces
  • Development of an ‘Operational Plan’ as the basis for the activities to be undertaken by the Regional Management Team
  • Provision of support to Taskforces for agreed actions
  • Assisting with the collection and analysis of quantitative and qualitative information
  • Facilitating, developing and / or assessing ideas and proposals initiated by communities, taskforces and / or Regional Management Team members and / or the staff
  • Endorsing submissions for project funding
  • Prioritising recommendations
  • Facilitating the implementation of projects and initiatives (as deemed appropriate) in partnership with the taskforce/s / communities
  • Marketing of the Building a Future for the Country project including the activities and achievements of the Regional Management Team and Taskforces.
  • Undertaking regular communications with taskforces and broader communities
  • Financial management as per an agreed budget

Role Of The Community Taskforces

  • Undertake consultation with their communities to identify needs, ideas and opportunities.
  • Foster and develop stronger communities as a basis for achieving economic and employment growth.
  • Identifying and implementing strategies that lead to increased community
  • Establish a priority action plan for the taskforce to provide a basis from which an assessment can be made on the achievements of the taskforce
  • Establish proactive two-way communication with the local community to ensure a sharing of information, heightening of awareness of taskforce activities as well as gathering relevant information on activities and projects being considered / undertaken
  • Facilitate and / or undertake local projects and initiatives that address local and regional needs
  • Provide community leadership.
  • Provide a conduit for communities to develop linkages / networks within an enhanced region that are experiencing similar issues

Project Outcomes

A range of outcomes are anticipated from the project that include:

  • Establishment of a framework within which the operations of the Regional Management Team and Taskforces can be undertaken in an effective, cost efficient and sustainable manner.
  • Empowerment of teams of enthusiastic community taskforces.
  • Implementation of tangible projects and activities that generate actions for:

• job creation and economic development initiatives in each town;

• strengthening communities throughout the region.

  • Successful attainment of funds to support the implementation, undertaking and management of community supported projects and activities

Building A Future For The Country Project


During the course of the Employment Challenge community consultations, many ideas for community-based enterprises were suggested as opportunities for their respective areas. On analysing these ideas subsequent to the consultations as well as understanding that the region has a vast array of skills and assets, it became evident that with targeted support, a number of these ideas (and probably additional unidentified opportunities) could potentially be developed into commercial enterprises.

Accordingly, an innovative approach was developed that could take these identified sustainable ideas / opportunities and develop enterprises on the ground. The public name of the project, i.e. when the project was taken to the community was subsequently changed to reflect the project’s purpose. This was to assist with the marketing and implementing of the initiative. The name adopted was the ‘Enterprise Development Initiative’.

Funding was arranged through the Commonwealth Government’s Regional Assistance Program to run a pilot project for the Shires of Buloke, Central Goldfields, Loddon, Macedon Ranges, Mount Alexander and the City of Greater Bendigo. Loddon Shire is the Project Proponent.

Primary Task

The primary task of the initiative was to establish 3 to 4 sustainable community co-operatives / enterprises throughout the region. Those chosen to participate in this project would receive a range of professional services to assist them develop their business enterprise over the following 12 months.


  • Establishment of a Project Management Group to guide and support the implementation and undertaking of the project
  • Tendering and contracting of key resources to provide the professional services required to assist selected enterprises
  • Development and undertaking of region-wide advertising and information sessions to attract ‘expressions of interest’ from potential co-operatives / enterprises
  • Assessment of EOI’s for suitability / sustainability and short listing of potential suitable enterprises for further investigation (refer ‘How were enterprises selected?’ below)
  • Selection in prioritised order of suitable enterprises for support
  • Agreements completed, strategy plan developed and implemented for each selected enterprise
  • Strategic support provided for individual enterprises
  • Evaluation

How were enterprises selected?

Prospective enterprise proponents were required to complete an Expression of Interest (EOI) document to be eligible to be considered for support. The EOI document assisted the Management Committee determine which enterprises could be supported. The evaluation criteria included, but not limited to:

  • Clarity of concept outline and path to commercialisation.
  • Economic viability of the proposed enterprise / co-operative.
  • Number of new jobs created both short and long term.
  • Potential social and economic impact on the region or locality.
  • Demonstrated leadership resources.
  • Potential community / business support.
  • Long-term sustainability both economic and environmental.
  • Ability to capitalise on regional strengths or build new regional strengths.
  • Infrastructure requirement
  • Financial resource required and available.
  • Export generation or import replacement.
  • Value to other regional enterprises.

Examples Of Potential Enterprises

The following examples were provided as a guide for possible enterprise / co-operative proponents for the type of enterprises that could be developed. It was also specified that this should not limit the creativity of persons with innovative ideas that may not fit within the theme of the enterprises outlined below.

  • A group of produce growers or farmers combined to add value to their product
  • An industry sector consortium formed to take advantage of, or develop, a marketing opportunity
  • An alliance of operating businesses formed to take advantage of opportunities that are not available to them individually.
  • A group of individuals formed to take advantage of particular assets or sound business concepts including information technology, arts, etc.
  • Community cooperative work pools.

The enterprise may be aiming to establish / grow by linking with others, find other resources and skills, improve competitiveness, capture new markets, enter export markets, spread the cost of securing technology or better utilise technology once acquired or optimising the use of community resources.


The Project Management Group and consultant/s were bound by confidentiality agreements not to disclose any details of any proposal without the consent of the proposer.


31 EOI’s received. After assessment, approx. 8 enterprises were short-listed for follow-up. 3 enterprises were subsequently selected to participate in the project.

Approx. 6 months into the project, projects are that the 3 enterprises (Aquaculture Co-operative, Olive Growers Co-operative and a rail based Tourism Enterprise) will result in $2.3 million of investment and 33 new jobs in the region.

Other strategies implemented

  • Placement of a designated resource to work with key business, community and government leaders in the Buloke Shire – a rural based Shire with 5 main towns (that range in population from 700 to 1,400). The Shire is primarily a dry land farming region. Her role is to develop strategic linkages, undertake research and provide key support to where opportunities are identified. Recent success has been the facilitation of a grant - $130,000 (28th June 2000) that will assist the Birchip Cropping Group establish a modern research and training facility for the grain-growing sector.

Where to from here?

  • Possible expansion of the Community Co-operatives / Enterprise Project
  • Ensure the sustainability of the Building a Future for the Country Project
  • Continue to encourage and support community initiative in their response to unemployment
  • Possible implementation of labour attraction and skills training strategies in identified areas of skill shortages

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