The Challenge

Mount Gambier is the second largest city in South Australia. It has a population of approximately 26,000.  Employment statistics show a clear trend to decreasing full-time employment in the region. There are two main disadvantaged groups.

  • Disengaged youth (15-24): Over 12% are not studying, and unemployed or not in the labour force. The impact is more severe for women. Nearly 20% of this group are on some form of income support, the highest level in the region and among higher levels in the State.
  • Jobless families: 26.8% of families in Mount Gambier are jobless. That is, no income from employment is being generated for these group by any of the working-age members. This is in the upper band for the State and for the region.  2011 statistics identified 10,515 households in Mount Gambier, of which 37.4% were households with children, so the number of jobless families is probably more than 2,800.

These figures indicate a real challenge for Mount Gambier in the area of workforce participation. The number of jobless families speaks for itself. Moreover, five-year analyses indicated that these trends are strengthening and have so far been resistant to existing policy and programs. In these circumstances unemployment is in danger of becoming systemic. As vulnerable groups are shut out of the workforce for extended periods of time, even across generations, it becomes appropriate to speak not of lack of workforce participation but of workforce exclusion. It presents a threat to the heart of community cohesion.

A community-based approach to solutions

In partnership with the Australian Centre for Community Services Research, Flinders University, we are implementing a community program to address workforce exclusion in Mount Gambier. We are working closely with families and communities to initiate, research, develop and implement workforce inclusion projects in the city and district. As is consistent with the core RCA philosophy, we believe this can be done most effectively by the communities themselves, with proper support. We are not looking to external bail-outs but to our own people: together we can develop and implement the best solutions for the challenges we face.

Community-Based Research (CBR)

Supporting that program will be an innovative Community Based Research initiative. For the practical projects to be most successful, good research is often needed. CBR is an approach that has been implemented in the US and in Europe, in which the community itself takes charge of the research project, with the support of academic institutions.  This not only helps the projects to succeed, but builds capabilities and skills in the community that can be applied to other social challenges as they arise.

The program is scheduled to run for 12 months, beginning in January 2016.  We are working to develop links with local government, local service providers, local businesses and local community groups. This is a program that is urgently needed in Mount Gambier, as the basis for its ongoing social well-being.

Moreover, we have been speaking with other communities in the state and in other parts of Australia who are facing similar problems, and are very interested in the outcomes of this program. It is the first time CBR has been implemented in a project of this kind in Australia. If it is as successful as we believe it will be, it can be replicated in rural communities across the country.