Regional Startups 3 MIN READ

With the realisation that the ‘ideas boom’ had failed to take root with mainstream Australians hitting during this year’s election campaign, the Government and the startup sector alike have since been looking at how to educate people outside the sector around how the concept of ‘innovation’ in fact touches all industries and workers.

Labor MP Ed Husic, formerly Opposition spokesman for digital innovation and startups, warned during the campaign that for many Australians like those in his Mt Druitt electorate, innovation is thought of as a job killer.

“This is about explaining to the broader community what is it we do when we champion innovation, what does it mean? We’re all excited about it, but people in the broader community aren’t……they think that tech rips away jobs, and where do they go next?” he said.

Taking up the challenge to work with the wider community is startup incubator Pollenizer, which has today announced the launch of a program in Geelong to help the hundreds of workers who will be finishing up at the Ford factory after its close figure out their next career move.

Ford will be shutting its plants in Geelong and Melbourne’s Broadmeadows on Friday, putting over 600 employees – many of whom have been with the company for several decades – out of work.

Pollenizer stated that the program, Next Monday, was put together in less than 24 program after figures released by the Australian Catholic University revealed 62 percent of the Ford workers intend to look for another job, while just 1 percent aim to start their own business.

As such, the program will look to help participants explore potential business ideas. In a message to the workers on Pollenizer’s website, the organisation’s chief startup scientist Phil Morle said Next Monday will look to share knowledge around starting a business, and introduce participants to others in a similar situation who they might want to collaborate with.

Morle said the program is about bringing Australian startup veterans together to tackle what will be “an ongoing issue as Australia’s economy transitions and more jobs are displaced”.

“The Australian economy is going through unprecedented change. Legacy industries are shifting and new ones are being created. In our work, we have learned that as fast as old businesses end, new ones emerge and that anybody can start them,” he said.

Signed up to support Next Monday are Deakin University, Australia Post’s Small Business Hive, and Runway Geelong, which earlier this year was awarded $1.25 million in funding over four years from the Victorian Government’s LaunchVic to establish a startup hub in Geelong.

Runway aims to spur innovation in wider Geelong, creating new businesses and jobs through mentoring, networks, training, and access to venture capital. The city has known a major shift was coming for some time, with Ford having announced the closure of its Geelong and Broadmeadows plants in 2013.

With Runway an independent initiative looking to embrace and guide this shift, Ford too has been trying to ensure its employees are equipped for life after its plants close, having paid for free literacy and numeracy classes for its workers after hours over the last three years.

In addition, Ford and the Victorian Government have been running job fairs, with Ford also working with the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union and Auto Skills Australia to run career planning and upskilling programs.

However, the effectiveness of such programs in addressing the particular issues of the manufacturing industry has been questioned by some. Many workers in the industry are close to retirement age after having spent two or three decades in the one job and find the prospect of upskilling for a new role unappealing, while many speak English as their second language.

With these issues in mind, and understanding that starting and running a business is not for everyone, Morle is trying his hand, simply wanting to encourage workers to come along to explore new ideas and potential.

“All it takes to start [a new business] is to say “I have started” and quickly others will join. This doesn’t mean risking everything. It can be done on the side. But you are in charge. You decide,” he said.

“You may not be an ‘ideas person’ and you may not want to be a founder to carry the burden of a new business. But what if it was possible to join someone else’s? What if you could use your superpowers to help other people to make something great that you are proud to be a part of?”

The free Next Monday program will be running October 17-18.

Image: Phil Morle. Source: Supplied.

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