Newsletter | Autumn 2023
6th March 2023
A MESSAGE FROM THE TEAM
This is our first newsletter in a while, a delay caused primarily by the long-term disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic. While the worst of the pandemic and the days of lockdowns may be behind us, we know that its impacts made life difficult for millions, including many former automotive workers. Currently, life is tough for many workers due to the cost-of-living crisis brought about by rising prices and interest rates, especially for those who are still paying off mortgages, paying rent or trying to help adult children get ahead in Australia’s high-price housing markets.
In these trying circumstances, we are especially grateful for hundreds of workers who have continued to participate in our project. Since our last newsletter, we have successfully implemented Waves 2 and 3 of our ‘Stream 1’ survey, yielding a terrific 886 and 783 responses respectively—an excellent result, following on from the initial 1277 participants in Wave 1, back in 2020. Wave 4 is currently being finalised for rollout in 2023. We have also involved dozens of workers in more in-depth interviews (Stream 2), included over 300 workers in our ‘Discrete Choice Experiments’ (Stream 3) and surveyed 812 people in closure-affected areas as part of our community-oriented surveys (Stream 4). For details of each stream of the project, including some of our key findings, please see below. We know from our first report (Stream 1 Wave 1) that former auto workers experienced relatively high unemployment and job insecurity but also a very high level of participation in labour market assistance. In addition, many workers reported that the knowledge and skills they gained from the auto industry were transferrable to new jobs. Future reports will enable us to paint the clearest picture yet of outcomes for the thousands of workers affected by the end of car manufacturing in Australia.
On an international scale, the easing of COVID-19 restrictions enabled us to link-up with our overseas colleagues in-person for the first time in three years. These new circumstances led to the organisation of a special workshop at the Australian Catholic University’s Rome campus in November 2022. Organised around the theme ‘Managing the Impacts of Economic Change in Cities and Regions’, the workshop was opened by Professor Patrizio Bianchi, former Italian Minister for Education, and included papers from leading European scholars (Professor Lisa de Propris, University of Birmingham; Professor Marco Bellandi, University of Florence and Associate Professor Sandrine Labory, University of Ferrara), as well as the FWFC team’s own Professor David Bailey (University of Birmingham) and, representing the team from Australia, project leader Professor Andrew Beer, Associate Professor Sally Weller and myself. Colleagues presented on a range of important topics, including Industry 4.0, manufacturing skills, the idea of ‘just transitions’ for workers and industries, and how we might achieve social justice for retrenched workers, to name a few. The main outcome of the workshop in practical terms was an application to establish a formal research network within the Regional Studies Association. I am pleased to report that this application was successful and that in the coming year we will be organising events for academics, practitioners and policymakers in Australia, Europe and beyond.
We are well into the second half of the project and look forward to announcing results from ongoing research from each stream. As always, our thanks and best wishes go out to all those former auto industry employees who have so generously volunteered their time to participate in this important project.
Tom Barnes, Chief Investigator
Conferences and Industry Engagement
Rome Workshop and London Conference
In line with Tom Barnes’ message, we held a successful workshop in Rome that involved esteemed academics and policy makers. The workshop explored the possibility of creating a broader research network with the aim of maximising the social impact of our project.
In addition, we also had the opportunity to share our insights on Australia’s auto-closures with a global audience at the Regional Studies Association’s London Winter Conference.
The presentations delivered at both events received a lot of positive feedback and can be accessed on their respective event pages (links provided below). Notably, you can also view the opening address by Professor Patrizio Bianchi at the Rome workshop by following the link to the event page.
Industry Engagement in Rome | 2022; Regional Studies Association Winter Conference | London 2022
FWFC Adelaide Workshop 4-6 July 2023
Preparations are underway for the FWFC Adelaide Workshop scheduled for July 2023. The workshop will bring together the project’s Chief Investigators, academics and stakeholders from across the sector to share their knowledge and discuss the latest developments related to the closure of Australia’s automotive manufacturing industry.
The workshop is expected to feature a number of presentations and discussions on topics of relevance to the project.
Participants will have the opportunity to share their own experiences and insights, ask questions, exchange ideas, network, and engage in informal conversations.
Please refer to our call for papers for more details
Our PhD candidate, Kathryn Anderson, plays a crucial role in the project by helping us gain a better understanding of the complex effects of restructuring.
Kathryn Anderson is undertaking research into how industrial sites, repurposed as innovation precincts, create ‘proximity’ for economic benefit. Her comparative case study takes in two sites in Adelaide, South Australia, that were created as places for innovation: Technology Park, in the 1980s, and Tonsley, in the 2010s, following the closure of the Mitsubishi car factory. The comparison allows a perspective of how connections are made and how a culture of collaboration is able to persist in innovation precincts.
In 2021, Kathryn was invited to participate in a panel discussion on innovation precincts at the Australia-Japan Forum on the Innovation-hub Ecosystem, where she shared her extensive knowledge and insights on the topic. In addition, she is scheduled to present her initial research findings to the Annual Meeting of the American Association of Geographers in March 2023.
- 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
- Jacob Irving, Andrew Beer, Sally Weller & Tom Barnes (2022) Plant closures in Australia’s automotive industry: continuity and change. Regional Studies, Regional Science. DOI: 10.1080/21681376.2021.2016071
- 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
- Sally Weller contributed to a report for the British Academy titled ‘Enabling a Just Transition in Automotive: Evidence from the West Midlands and South Australia’ (2022) https://www.thebritishacademy.ac.uk/documents/4205/Just-transitions-automotive-evidence-west-midlands-south-australia.pdf
- 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
- 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
ADMINISTRATION OF SURVEYS | 2023
As the project approaches its penultimate year, several major surveys are currently underway that will help to address the questions we set out to answer at the start of our research. Specifically, we are in the process of administering the fourth wave of the longitudinal workers survey (Stream 1), the second discrete choice experiment (Stream 3) and the second community survey (Stream 4). To provide a clear overview of our research goals for this year, we have organized our expectations by the respective streams of activity.
Stream 1 | Longitudinal Workers Survey
The fourth wave of the longitudinal workers survey aims to evaluate the changes that have occurred in the participants’ lives over the five years since the closures. Although there is a fifth wave of the survey to be completed in 2024, we anticipate that the long-term effects of the closures will begin to manifest, allowing us to observe more settled patterns in the trajectories of workers’ lives.
Stream 3 | Discrete Choice Experiment
In 2021/22, the initial discrete choice experiment survey examined how retrenched workers navigated the labour market. The subsequent survey is designed to examine how workers would approach retraining opportunities and their attitudes towards retraining. This will provide us with a deeper understanding of potential policy solutions for managing workforce transitions, which is becoming increasingly necessary in industries undergoing technological change and adopting machine learning.
Stream 4 | Community Survey
Our understanding of the views of the communities most impacted by the automotive closures regarding leadership during that period was significantly informed by the 2021 community survey. To further broaden our insights into managing large-scale job loss and industry transitions, we are planning a second community survey with a global scope, comparing the Australian case to those in Europe and America. By identifying the key distinctions, this research will enable us to deepen our perspectives on this important issue.
More information about our project and the team can be found at https://fwfc.com.au/about/
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If you require any further information or have any queries about the project, please contact us via email: [email protected]