How to mobilise the ‘untapped’ labour force for the Northern development? Case study of Darwin, Northern Territory

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This report presents findings and recommendations from a pilot project that aims to inform strategies for increasing economic participation in the Northern Territory (NT). It is situated in the context of the tight labour market conditions in the NT and Darwin, the Federal Government’s White Paper for Developing Northern Australia (Australian Government 2015) and the NT Government Framing the Future strategy (NT Government not dated). It was conducted in 2014 and 2015 in Greater Darwin (thereafter Darwin) and focused on the engagement and retainment of locally resident ‘untapped’ labour force groups by local small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs). The three groups under investigation were: (a) recent migrants and refugees (those who arrived and settled in Darwin in 2010–15), (b) people with a disability and (c) people who were aged 50 and over at the time of securing employment. The key message is that many SMEs in Darwin already employ people from these groups. Largely, their experience with employing them has been successful and they have gained numerous benefits from these employment relationships. These outcomes have resulted from the personal and professional characteristics of the individuals they engaged and certain efforts made by SMEs.

The NT is experiencing an economic development boom but its capacity to seize the opportunities with which it is presented is constrained by a small and mobile workforce, high labour market participation rate, low unemployment rate, staff recruitment and retention difficulties and wide-spread skills shortages in many industries. With the Federal and NT Governments’ commitment to developing the North, further development is anticipated to occur. The growth and development of the northern workforce are key to the economic and social development of the region (White Paper) but the ‘untapped’ groups are not mentioned in this context. The Framing the Future document presents a vision of the NT where everyone can participate in the society and the economy. Specific objectives include improving productivity through training and skills development, achieving high levels of employment, and generating economic intelligence to support efficient investment-making. This project complements the Federal and the NT Government agendas by generating evidence on how the ‘untapped’ labour force resident in Darwin can be upskilled and supported in securing and retaining employment. This could help address the current limited employee market and expand the scope of the strategies for growing and developing the northern workforce.

The project analyses the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2011 Census data and the results from an online survey of SMEs conducted in March – April 2015 in Darwin. The Census variables selected for this project include age, gender, region of birth (for migrants and refugees), labour force status, the highest level of post-school qualification and occupational level. The report also considers the 2011 Census statistics on the three groups under review that are not in the labour force because by definition, the ‘not in the labour force’ comprise people who could be interested and available to take up employment: the marginally attached to the labour force and the discouraged job seekers. Seventy-five survey responses were received. The survey yielded a snapshot of employers’ experiences with recruitment, training, employment and retention of workers from these groups, what support they may need when engaging them and intentions for their future employment.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherNorthern Institute
Number of pages31
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2015

Publication series

NameTechnical Paper


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