Findings & Publications

Survey Reports

Wave 1 Report from the Longitudinal Survey of Retrenched Workers

This report has been developed for partner organisations and key stakeholders of the University of South Australia Future Work, Future Communities project. It has two parts. The first documents key government and industry responses, policies and schemes leading up to the end of car manufacturing in Australia. The second part presents data from Wave 1 of the project’s Longitudinal Workers Survey on the circumstances, household compositions, work histories and self-reported health status of workers affected by the closures. These data relate to workers’ circumstances in May-July 2020, about three years after the closures. It includes information about former employers from both the lead firms (Ford, GM Holden and Toyota) and supply chain firms. The Australian Research Council (ARC) has supported this project financially through its Linkage program (LP170100940) as have our South Australian and Federal Government partners.

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Irving, J., Dinmore, H., Beer, A., Weller, S., Barnes, T., Ratcliffe, J, Onur, I. and Vij, A. (2020) Wave 1 Report from the Longitudinal Survey of Retrenched Workers, UniSA Business, The University of South Australia. ISBN: 978-0-9953829-7-8

Journal Articles

Labour Market Preferences of Retrenched Australian Auto Industry Workers for Job Quality and Meaningful Work

This study uses stated preference experiments to examine labour market preferences of 309 workers retrenched by the Australian automotive industry for non-pecuniary job attributes denoting job quality and meaningfulness. We find that autonomy and employer reputation for good work policies and practices are the two most important non-pecuniary job attributes, with compensating wage differentials of roughly $5 per hour for greater autonomy and better employer reputation. Job security and skill utilisation are also important, but less so, with compensating wage differentials between $1 and $3 per hour for greater security and fewer training requirements. Workers’ strongest preference is not for a particular type of work, but rather for a particular type of employer, suggesting that labour market policy might pay more attention to regulating the quality of workplaces.

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Akshay Vij, Lynette Washington, Sally Weller, Jacob Irving, & Ilke Onur (2024) Labour Market Preferences of Retrenched Australian Auto Industry Workers for Job Quality and Meaningful Work. Econ Rec. https://doi.org/10.1111/1475-4932.12797

Just transitions in the Australian automotive sector?

The closure of the Australian passenger vehicle industry in 2017 ended an important phase in the nation’s economic history. Closure affected up to 100,000 employees working across the Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) and the supply chain, with the impacts concentrated in two Australian states. This paper examines both the processes and the outcomes of this closure, making use of a Just Transitions lens to assess the wider impacts of this change. It reviews the measures put in place to assist workers displaced by plant closure, while also drawing on three waves of data from a survey of retrenched workers. The paper argues the process of transition for former employees was shaped by the distinctive characteristics of Australia’s system of industrial relations and the ambition of its governments to have as many affected workers find employment as possible. This objective was prioritised over quality of employment or the emerging skill needs of industries. The paper finds that while former auto workers have been able to re-establish themselves in the labour market, the management of this major change does not meet the expectations of a Just Transition as too little attention was directed to the wider societal impacts of this transformation.

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Beer, A., Weller, S., Dinmore, H., Ratcliffe, J., Onur, I., Bailey, D., … Sotarauta, M. (2024). Just transitions in the Australian automotive sector? Contemporary Social Science, 1–21. https://doi.org/10.1080/21582041u.2024.2322132

Rethinking job loss in an age of assetisation: lessons from the study of precarious older workers

Studies of job loss and deindustrialisation have tended to reproduce findings of long-term disadvantage for people and places. Far from purely reflecting matters of historical interest, recent studies have found that deindustrialisation exhibits a ‘half-life’ in which effects linger for generations after major closures. But these literatures are yet to fully consider job loss in contemporary societies where workers’ lives have been transformed by assetisation. Historical studies of deindustrialisation have tended to focus on times and places where assets were marginal to working-class peoples’ lives. Combining insights from parallel literatures on deindustrialisation, job loss and assetisation, this article addresses the questions: How important is asset ownership for workers during mass closure events? And to what extent does asset ownership generate new fault-lines of inequality between workers when confronted with job loss and its aftermath? These questions are addressed by quantifying financial outcomes, home ownership, and retirement arrangements for a group of nearly 900 older workers whose long careers were extinguished by major plant closures in 2017. While findings demonstrate that workers with greater asset ownership were relatively protected from the negative impacts of unemployment and precarious work, they also contribute to recent debate about the role of labour in the asset economy by pointing to the dynamic interaction of assets and employment over the working life course; that outcomes from job loss are shaped by the interaction of assets and employment, not assets or employment.

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KEYWORDS: asset economy, assetisation, deindustrialisation, job loss, older workers, precarious work

Tom Barnes (2023) Rethinking job loss in an age of assetisation: lessons from the study of precarious older workers, Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space. https://doi.org/10.1177/0308518X231214937 

Agency and the structural determinants of regional growth: towards a retheorisation

This paper addresses debates on the role of agency in shaping the economic future of regions. Scholarship on agency departs from the earlier focus of evolutionary economic geography, which highlighted the role of pre-existing structural conditions. This paper challenges the notion that agency is only found in intentional action and is limited to key actors within a region. It questions exclusive focus on the impact of entrepreneurial leaders, place leaders and government, and identifies agency in the accumulated micro-decisions of multiple decision-makers, using the example of workers affected by the closure of Australia’s passenger vehicle industry. In so doing, it underscores the twin roles of collective vision and meaningful implementation in the successful transformation of regions.

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KEYWORDS: agency; Australia; economic transformation; regional pathways; plant closure; policy intervention

Helen Dinmore, Andrew Beer, Jacob Irving & Markku Sotarauta (2023) Agency and the structural determinants of regional growth: towards a retheorisation, Regional Studies, DOI: 10.1080/00343404.2023.2259944

Left-behind neighbourhoods in old industrial regions

This article focuses on the neighbourhoods and people that have been left behind in the economic transformation of two now-diversified old industrial regions: Geelong (Victoria) in Australia and Oshawa (Ontario) in Canada. Political discontent has found expression in different ways in the two locations. This, we contend, reflects policy frameworks that dampen the extent to which socio-spatial inequality and entrenched disadvantage generate discontent within regions. In assessing the factors producing this outcome, this article clarifies both the whowhat and where of ‘left behindness’ and related regional policy responses.

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KEYWORDS: left-behind places; inequality; old industrial regions; discontent

John Tierney, Sally Weller, Tom Barnes & Andrew Beer (2023) Left-behind neighbourhoods in old industrial regions, Regional Studies, DOI: 10.1080/00343404.2023.2234942

Leading Change in Communities Experiencing Economic Transition: Place Leadership, Expectations, and Industry Closure

This paper considers the nature, origins and expression of place leadership in communities undergoing large-scale economic transformation. It examines where people look for leadership in the management of the places where they live, and how their perspectives are affected by an adverse event. It documents community attitudes on the influence those who occupy positions of authority have been able to exert on this transition, drawing on perceptions from places affected by the shutdown of the Australian automotive industry in the second decade of the twenty-first century. It seeks to understand which individuals and roles were seen to be influential in leading this process of change. This article gains insights into how leaders have an impact, and where this ability to effect change comes from. It does so with reference to the structural conditions embedded within Australian political life and the way leadership finds expression in periods of uncertainty and transformation. The paper finds communities are acutely aware of where the power to lead change resides, but concerns with the efficacy of that leadership have contributed to discontent. A greater focus on further empowering local leadership while delivering on long term expectations would have resulted in more positive perceptions.

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KEYWORDS: place leadership; economic restructuring; followership; structural adjustment; automotive industry

Andrew Beer, Markku Sotarauta & David Bailey (2023) Leading Change in Communities Experiencing Economic Transition: Place Leadership, Expectations, and Industry Closure, Journal of Change Management: Reframing Leadership and Organizational Practice, DOI: 10.1080/14697017.2023.2164936

Regional assets and value capture trajectories: the growth and demise of an Australian automotive supplier

This article examines the relationship between regional assets and value capture with a focus on knowledge and intellectual property assets. It traces, over an extended time horizon, the upgrading and later downgrading path of a single supplier firm in a peripheral location to illuminate the degree to which value capture trajectories are shaped by the power geometries of regional, network, and macroeconomic forces. The analysis suggests that functional upgrading does not insulate firms from the risk of downgrading and exclusion, but rather that it changes the nature of their vulnerabilities. In this case, functional upgrading was associated with ownership changes, a progressive disassociation of intellectual property assets from their underlying regional knowledge resources, the relocation of production activities to hubs in global networks, and eventually to the redirection of captured value from the region. The analysis contends that regional assets are assets that capture value in the region, and that when knowledge-based regional assets are created by interactions within firms, firms should be considered as regional assets. The conclusion considers the implications for regional development.

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KEYWORDS: regional assets; value capture trajectories; intellectual property; upgrading

Sally Weller & Al Rainnie (2022) Regional assets and value capture trajectories: the growth and demise of an Australian automotive supplier, Review of International Political Economy, DOI: 10.1080/09692290.2022.2127119

Career degradation in Australian cities: globalization, precarity and adversity

This paper explores the impact on urban labour markets of the closure of the Australian automotive manufacturing industry through a qualitative analysis of ex-automotive workers’ experiences of redundancy and precarious work. We locate the experiences of workers inside a multidimensional concept of precarity that can be both objectively measured and subjectively produced. These findings show the need for strong policies directed at boosting the economies of affected urban communities alongside labour market programmes able to provide secure work after large-scale plant closures. Through the voices of affected workers, we demonstrate the complex ways their lives have been affected.

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KEYWORDS: urban labour markets; economic change; unemployment; precarious work; outer urban

Helen Dinmore & Andrew Beer (2022) Career degradation in Australian cities: globalization, precarity and adversity, Regional Studies, Regional Science, 9:1, 371-385, DOI: 10.1080/21681376.2022.2078737

Plant closures in Australia’s automotive industry: continuity and change

This paper explores the possibility of using diachronic case study comparisons to shed light on continuity and change in policy interventions to manage plant closures. It compares the early results of a survey of workers retrenched in the 2017 closure of Australia’s passenger vehicle manufacturing industry with the results of a similar survey of workers who lost their jobs in the 2005 closure of Mitsubishi’s Adelaide engine-casting and components plant. Despite the 12 years of accumulated expertise in plant closure and structural adjustment management, this comparison shows remarkable similarities in the profile of the cohort of retrenched workers and remarkable similarities in their employment outcomes. The discussion reflects on conditions that produce continuity and change.

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KEYWORDS: plant closure; redundancy; automotive industry; policy intervention; Australia

Jacob Irving, Andrew Beer, Sally Weller & Tom Barnes (2022) Plant closures in Australia’s automotive industry: continuity and change, Regional Studies, Regional Science, 9:1, 5-22, DOI: 10.1080/21681376.2021.2016071

Place-based industrial strategy and economic trajectory: advancing agency-based approaches

Agency-based approaches represent a fundamental advance in how researchers and policymakers can address questions of place-based industrial strategy, including issues of governance, leadership, new technology and regional assets. However, these approaches can be advanced further by recognizing the centrality of discourse in regional change. This paper does this by synthesizing two conceptual frameworks: Grillitsch and Sotarauta’s trinity of change agency and Moulaert et al.’s framework of Agency Structure Institutions Discourse (ASID). Deploying two Australian case studies to shed light on drivers of change at the local scale, this paper demonstrates that discourse is a necessary component of transformative regional processes. Furthermore, it contends that successful transformation is presupposed by the extent to which local discourse overlaps with local opportunity spaces and forms of agency. Successful place-based industrial strategies need to mobilize these multiple elements of regional change in order to maximize their potential for success.

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KEYWORDS: agency; place-based leadership; economic transformation; regional pathways; Australia; industrial strategy

Andrew Beer, Tom Barnes & Sandy Horne (2021): Place-based industrial strategy and economic trajectory: advancing agency-based approaches, Regional Studies, DOI: 10.1080/00343404.2021.1947485

The urban and regional impacts of plant closures: new methods and perspectives

Work on large-scale plant closures has provided a rich vein of scholarship and academic debate. This paper articulates a new set of methods and concepts for understanding how large-scale redundancies associated with the closure of manufacturing plants affects society and the economy at the local, regional and national scales. It posits the need for a more comprehensive exercise in data collection and experimentation with previously unused methods, including the application of discrete-choice experiments in order to understand better the choice and decision-making frameworks adopted by affected workers. The paper argues there is a need to integrate community-wide policy responses into the core of the analyses.

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KEYWORDS: plant closures, mass redundancies, precariousness, structural adjustment programmes, place leadership

Andrew Beer, Sally Weller, Tom Barnes, Ilke Onur, Julie Ratcliffe, David Bailey & Markku Sotarauta (2019) The urban and regional impacts of plant closures: new methods and perspectives, Regional Studies, Regional Science, 6:1, 380-394, DOI: 10.1080/21681376.2019.1622440

Becoming Precarious? Precarious Work and Life Trajectories After Retrenchment

Much of the large literature on precarious work has largely tended to assume that precarity is shaped by job quality: that precarious work leads to precarious lives. This paper adds to the literature by questioning this line of causality and highlighting the broader range of influences shaping the lives of older workers who enter precarious work after retrenchment from secure, long-term careers. Drawing on a study of Australia’s automotive manufacturing industry, which closed in 2017, this article finds that for older retrenched workers, exposure to precarious employment sharpened life precarity for some but did not lead to precarious lives for others. Instead of a uniform transition from security to precarity, these workers’ life trajectories diverged depending on their household-scale financial security. Key issues influencing the likelihood of older workers’ lives becoming precarious were enterprise benefits and asset wealth accumulated through their previous careers.

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KEYWORDS: Sociology of work, precarity, precarisation, precarious work, precariat, retrenched workers, older workers

Barnes, T, & Weller, S 2020. ‘Becoming Precarious? Precarious Work and Life Trajectories After Retrenchment’, Critical Barnes, T., & Weller, S. A. (2020). Becoming Precarious? Precarious Work and Life Trajectories After Retrenchment. Critical Sociology46(4–5), 527–541. https://doi.org/10.1177/0896920519896822

Online Articles


Agency, structure, discourse and entrepreneurship: Understanding the transition of former auto regions

This paper sets out to better understand how regions that have experienced a major economic shock can establish a new economic future. It examines the recent writings of Grillitsch et al (2019) to better understand the drivers of agency, focusing in particular on the capacity of entrepreneurs to drive innovation leading to growth; the role of institutions as critical actors in change processes, and the part played by place leaders. This perspective is considered alongside the work of Moulert et al (2016) and the emphasis they have placed on the role of discourse. These ideas are then applied to the examination of the community impacts of the closure of Australia’s automotive sector.

KEYWORDS: automotive industry, industry closure, economic shock, innovation, place leadership

Beer, A 2019, ‘Agency, structure, discourse and entrepreneurship: Understanding the transition of former auto regions’, presented to The University of Bath: School of Management, The University of South Australia, Adelaide.

Mitsubishi Research

HSRIP Report – An evaluation of the impact of retrenchment at Mitsubishi focussing on affected workers, their families and communities: Implications for human services policies and practices

This report presents the findings of stage one of a longitudinal study into the health, housing and labour market impacts of job loss at Mitsubishi Motors Australia Limited (MMAL). The research aims to understand how the loss of employment arising from the closure of Mitsubishi at Lonsdale, a significant manufacturing plant, and voluntary redundancies at Mitsubishi at Tonsley Park, affects the well-being of workers and their families. The research examines the processes of adjustment and change – health impacts, loss of job and possible loss of income – affecting workers and their families who have been made redundant or accepted voluntary redundancy packages.

KEYWORDS: Redundancy; Retrenchment; Unemployment; Social aspects; Wellbeing

Beer, A, Baum, F, Thomas, H, Lowry, D, Cutler, C, Zhang, G, Jolley, G, Ziersch, A, Verity, F, MacDougall, C & Newman, L 2006, ‘An evaluation of the impact of retrenchment at Mitsubishi focussing on affected workers, their families and communities: implications for human services policies and practices’, Flinders University, Adelaide.