The University of New England is conducting research into how small businesses can grow, adapt and change their operations in uncertain market conditions.
Professor John Rice from the UNE Business School said the research has been made possible through a $75,000 grant from the Small Enterprise Association of Australia and New Zealand and the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
“We are interested in hearing from local businesses about their experiences in recruiting and retaining employees. What we are seeing in regional Australia is a very uncertain and difficult labour market conditions for both employers and employees. This has been accentuated by a slowdown in the mining boom,” Prof. Rice said.
According to Prof. Rice rural industries have adapted during the mining boom.
“Rural industries have been investing heavily in capital in recent years, creating a low employee business model after many workers left the industry to take up jobs in the mining sector.”
He says there has been a decline in well-paid and skilled jobs in the rural sector, while businesses have increased their spending on capital such as equipment and machinery, which are replacing both skilled and unskilled agricultural labour.
The research will also explore the concept of flexibility within small businesses.
“In Australia, some see flexibility as a win/lose situation. Flexibility for an employee, for example, has traditionally been seen as a net loss for employers. However, both employees and employers are increasingly more open to flexible work arrangements and technology-enabled working that can enhance productivity and help with the way people live.”
To inform their research, focus groups with small businesses will be held in Armidale, Tamworth and Parramatta.