Regional Projects & Ideas

Projects, ideas and initiatives from across the nation focused on agriculture, technology, environments, energy, training, job creation and investment.

Projects, ideas and initiatives from across the nation focused on agriculture, technology, environments, energy, training, job creation and investment.

Introduction to Tim Walmsley, CEO of BenchOn

As my introductory blog, I thought I would give you all some of my background and interests so you know where my viewpoint comes from.

Firstly, I am an Army veteran who retired as a Major after 14 years service which included two tours of Iraq and Afghanistan. My time in the military prepared me well for commercial life. I learned to be mission focused, how to manage and apply my resources to achieve seemingly impossible tasks, how to lead diverse teams in stressful situations and created a mindset that allowed me to think through and overcome obstacles as they arose. The military teaches you how to think, not what to think and this is directly applicable to almost all of the challenges I have faced in industry.

My transition into the commercial sector was smoother than most veterans for two reasons: 1. I completed two Masters degrees in Project Management and Capability Development and Acquisition, and 2. My last role in the military was the Senior Project Manager on the Air Defence Replacement project which helped me create a good network in industry and learn what made industry tick before I made the jump to civilian life. For these reasons, I was able to find myself a position within a US based Aerospace Consulting firm as the National Director of Strategy and Business Development. I absolutely loved that job. As the only executive here in Australia, I had full autonomy and was able to drive the company in new directions within the Defence sector. However, I soon realised that there was something broken in the Professional Services market and I made the choice in 2016 to start my own company in the hopes of solving it.

The problem I am solving is employee underutilisation. As we know in contract based industries, the contracts rarely line up. This creates the situation where valuable staff are sitting 'on the bench' in-between contracts costing the business thousands with no revenue in return. I became frustrated seeing so many small businesses in the sector close down or lose their most valuable people for this very reason. From my own perspective, I should have been focused on winning the next strategic contract yet I found myself chasing short-term contracts to fill the gaps just so we could keep our staff on the books. Without our staff, we had no capability. Simple as that. What I realised was broken in the industry was that underutilisation was accepted as common business practice. Sure you can try to absorb the costs into your overhead and hope you can make it through to the next contract, but that is no way to sustainably grow a successful, profitable business. 

It wasn't until I was listening to the key sourcing manager for a large enterprise vent their frustration that they didn't have a high quality bench of professionals just sitting there to respond to their customers short notice requirements that the idea for BenchOn was born. What if we could digitally match business's idle staff to the short notice, short-term contract requirements of reputable companies and Government Agencies? So, we created a platform to do just that. Effectively, we have created access to a hidden, untapped pool of talent in industry - the happily employed. By using our full-time staff more productively, we quickly found that it reduces company overheads, increases profit and allows businesses to grow sustainably and create new, stable full-time jobs for our economy. Win/Win!

Since starting BenchOn, I have become fascinated with the Future of Work and how we can better prepare ourselves for the huge challenges we are going to face in the next 10-20 years. I am a big advocate for small business as small businesses are regularly the source of the specialist, niche skills that will continue to advance our economy. In addition, small businesses are one of the largest job creators in Australia and as such, should be supported. I have two kids so I want to do what I can to make sure they have options for a fullfulling career when they enter the workforce.

Digitisation is creating a wave of change in our industries; some bad, some good yet this is where our future lies. I look forward to discussing, debating and exploring this complex landscape with all of you so that we can collaboratively better position ourselves and the country for the unknown future just ahead of us.

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Can Growth Strengthen Your Community?

Can Growth Strengthen Your Community?

Having grown up on a cane farm in Far North Queensland in the 1960 & 70’s, the impact of growth on the environment and people has been an important issue for me. Often the local landscape and the communities seemed worse off under the mantra of “Prosperity through Growth”

Yet, economic growth is critical and even more so to regional Australia. The passion to find a better way has driven my career as a Landscape Architect and Urban designer specialising in developing regional infrastructure projects that strengthen local communities. Over the last 30 years, I have worked with government, community and local business stakeholders to innovate solutions that ensure regional communities secure a vibrant future. Being responsible for the development of a number of multi- million dollar catalyst infrastructure projects ranging from mainstreet improvements to integrated town centre projects I have further developed professional skills as a corporate member of the Planning Institute of Australia and as an Australian Certified Economic Developer.

Today, I assist regional leaders to identify and develop compelling business cases for Catalyst Infrastructure. As a Trusted Authority & Specialist Advisor, I am a concept collaborator for catalyst infrastructure. I help develop infrastructure projects that transform the future of regional communities that seek to position themselves as key places of influence in the 21st Century economy. I work with local leaders to develop their big ideas for growth into their best ideas for an investable business case that is attractive to government funding as well as private sector investment.

Over the years, I have learnt that places that attract the growth that strengthens their local communities often have local leaders that are interested in:

  • Developing good growth strategies
  • Setting realistic action plans about things that matter
  • Securing funding and implementation partnerships
  • Developing a decision-making framework that promotes trust
  • Delivering catalyst projects that enhance local identity and lifestyle

As a long-term regional resident, I know how frustrating it is to see money and time wasted on projects that fail to enage the hearts of communities and attract private sector investment funding. We need a systematic way to identify projects that harness local passion as well as unlock new investment partners for growth that strengthens the local communities. A process that works with local stakeholders to develop, assess and fine tune their best ideas for an investable business case that maximises investment partners.

I know how difficult it is to attract public and private investment into communities so it promotes growth (well-paid local employment) as well as strengthens  lifestyle and identity.

In this time of dramatic economic transition, our regional leaders need growth ideas that promote economic development and strengthens their community’s unique local values. This requires collaboration that breaks down communication barriers and empowers the community with local ownership, leadership support and stakeholder buy-in. An approach that helps deliver effective change within the context of political, community and budgetary requirements, with a strong focus on accountability and transparency.

This collaborative, strategic and grass roots approach to securing a sustainable future for regional communities is what I believe defines "Good Growth". Future blog posts will further unpack the idea of catalyst infrastructure, the power of design thinking and the critical importance of local leadership and values required to develop Big Ideas into Investable Business Cases.

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Introducing Hugo M. Muianga

I am a current Doctoral (DProfSt) candidate in the Professional Studies Program at USQ, I have a 17-year working history, having lead and managed vocational education institutions in Australia including a period within the higher education sector.

My general research topic interests include Work-based Learning (WBL), Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and Higher Education: where teaching and learning are the set of integrated planning processes that guide the development of policy and guidelines for practice.

My research is focused on the impact of 'Regional Universities' (ie. RUN) in Australia, where 'Regional Universities' are well-placed to provide collegiate environments for (i) Innovation and Entrepreneurship, (ii) Facilitates access and equity and is a (iii) highly collaborative environment for the transfer of acquired knowledge, skills and conceptions into educational behaviour.

Through a combination of vocational (VET) and higher education concepts; society, individuals and collaborators should be able to bridge the gap the between learning, knowledge and access to higher education taking into account their experiences and achievements. My research paper seeks to proposing different possibilities for presenting the existing recognition systems and ways of mapping their different characteristics either by contrasting them with one another.

For example, there are the 'lifelong learning' variables such as participation in adult learning activities, attainment at the upper secondary education level or at the tertiary level, participation in Vocational Education and Training (VET), and qualifications distribution of the population. Starting from existing typologies and classifications, my paper will propose for comprehensive ways to strike a balance between concrete quantitative data on recognition of non-formal and informal learning systems.

By focussing on 'Regional Universities', bring out the true nature of regional engagement and trigger discussion more generally, from those taking part in the recognition of non-formal and informal learning.

In my view, many issues will ultimately come out from such a discussion, for a regional focus 'generally corresponds with economic and societal challenges, E&I (Entrepreneurship & Innovation) development triggered by a desire to stimulate regional economic growth, and thereby create graduate jobs, research opportunities and broader avenues for university support through the creation of a vibrant localised entrepreneurial ecosystem.

I hope to share with you, through this forum the outcomes from my research and the topics that will fork out as a result of this endeavour. Similar to this forum, please feel free to visit www.twelve-76.com for a detailed summary of my skills and other recent contributions to the knowledge economy - regionally focused and otherwise.

 

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Introduction to Outsource Institute of Technology

Introduction to Outsource Institute of Technology

Allow me to introduce myself and my company, Outsource Institute of Technology. Outsource Institute of Technology is a premium provider of “advanced trade” training to some of Queensland’s and Australia’s largest engineering and mining companies including Anglo America Coal, New Hope coal, Bechtel, EDI Downer, McConnell Dowel and a range of smaller organisations such as Custom Fluid Power, Austin Engineering and Stoddart Manufacturing.

I have managed Outsource Institute over the last eighteen years and have found major barriers to providing advanced trade and para-professional engineering training in remote settings such as mine sites and regional towns. This includes their remoteness and the inflexibility of traditional training providers such as universities and TAFE colleges to meet the specific needs of the companies and individuals requiring the skills.

Outsource Institute has removed these barriers by offering on-site, on-time delivery methodologies that are designed to meet the growing need for advanced trade skills in the mining and engineering sector. The role of the tradesperson is changing from “the dirty, greasy hands” model to dealing with information technology and automated control systems. These new skills and knowledge requirements are placing new demands on tradespeople and their employers, particularly in the areas of Fluid Power, Instrumentation and Mechatronics. Even in the agricultural sector, swarm farming and automated “driverless” harvesters are emerging to increase the return on investment of expensive farm machinery.

The Federal and State governments across the nation have recognised the requirement to support a lifelong learning approach for technical and trades employees and handsomely support their national productivity objectives with training incentives and state based funding. What is most alarming is the intake of new apprentices that has dropped by 45% nationally over the last few years. Of course, we can blame the end of the mining boom and global financial markets but regional employment is at a critical level for regional towns and their communities.

The Queensland Government’s Youth Boost employment incentive offer of $20,000 for employers hiring staff aged between fifteen and twenty-four years in regional Queensland was originally meant to end on February 28, 2017. However, following representations from employers and regional Members of Parliament, the Queensland Government has extended the Youth Boost employment incentive until 31 October 2017 to re-energise the employment of trainees and apprentices

In the coming years we will see up to $90 billion worth of projects commence in Queensland alone in mining, infrastructure and construction. I urge regional employers to become part of the solution to building a highly skilled, up-to-date, and tech-savvy workforce by taking advantage of the federal and state based training incentives and the flexible delivery methods available to all regions nationally. If we fail to do so, regional employers will take a step back to the mid-mining boom years and experience yet another national skill shortage that drives wages up and reduces their opportunities to fulfill their project contractual requirements.

 

Carl Spruce

Outsource Institute of Technology Website: www.outsourceinstitute.com.au

Youth Boost Payment Website: https://backtowork.initiatives.qld.gov.au/youth-boost-payment

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What infrastructure would your region develop if you already had access to the money?

THERE is so much opportunity to enhance particular regions throughout Australia with astute development of major infrastructure. The problem, as we all know, is funding that infrastructure.

I know we can change that.

Australia has traditionally relied upon State and Federal Governments to take the lead in this area, but I can see that Australia has an even greater opportunity to get major infrastructure happening through private-led investment.

Region-changing projects such as rail (and fast rail), airports, ports, energy developments, tunnels, dams, major integrated agriculture projects … you name it … can happen faster, at lower cost, and with no impost on the taxpayer. That’s right – no project funding is needed from the government that ‘designs’ and facilitates this infrastructure, yet the government bodies that help create it still ‘own’ it.

At this point I usually hear the words, “it sounds too good to be true”. In Australia, it does sound too good to be true, because we have not seen, or perhaps understood, a financial infrastructure trading platform before.

To my understanding, there are only two infrastructure trading platforms in the world today that organise this type of funding and I have lobbied hard for one of them – based in the United Kingdom – to modify its foundation funding levels so that Australia can access it. My company, Infrastructure Financial Opportunity Pty Ltd, is helping this platform to find suitable infrastructure projects around Australia.

The system is simple and elegant, is closely audited by world financial compliance authorities – including the European Central Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the Federal Reserve, with the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) overseeing the regulations and legalities of profit as a business venture – and the funding principle has been utilised for more than 60 years in Europe and for certain projects in Asia.

Greater portions of Japan’s fast rail development, for example, have been funded in this way – because it gets economy-changing major infrastructure supported and built more effectively than any other financial system.

The Governments, including their Statutory Bodies, and Private Enterprises that back this infrastructure funding method can more rapidly open up new economic growth areas, I believe.

I can see a day when several local governments would get together to develop, say, a rail loop that linked key agricultural production and tourism areas with a regional airport or port, and this loop could be augmented by solar panels to become an energy production system in its own right.

It’s possible, with the right kind of regional leadership.

I have been working for more than 15 years to introduce this type of infrastructure funding to Australia and the hurdle has been that the ‘price of admission’ has been too high for Australian companies.

Up until the past year, the bank guarantee required to open up this funding had been set at US$500 million – but through a lot of negotiations we have now been able to set it at €100 million (in the A$ equivalent).

This level of bank guarantee – an instrument required to demonstrate and prove the infrastructure developer’s worthiness, by way of a secure communication to his prospective business partner, in a process I will describe in my next blog – could generate enough cash to support a project of more than $1 billion.

At the completion of the trading period contracted, usually just a few years, that infrastructure would be debt free and effectively owned by the government entities that commissioned the project.

The reason the platform has been re-organised for Australia is that the European financiers see enormous prospects for our national infrastructure development and can see that a great many projects would get off the ground, given the right financial opportunity.

I’m thrilled about the advent of The RED Toolbox because I have had some difficulty explaining these prospects to authorities and commercial partners across Australia. I think The RED Toolbox can help to bring innovative infrastructure projects to the fore that will be of long-term benefit to regional economic and social development.

I hope I will be able to play a role in bringing at least some of them to fruition through this highly innovative secure audited financial system.

-          David Wallader.

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