Illawarra's brave new future in diverse online world

• Illawarra workforce make-up continues to change

• Keira ranks near top in educational job stakes

A broader range of employment options is helping to shield the Illawarra from the shockwaves  of a downturn in specific sectors.

The mayors of Wollongong, Shellharbour and Kiama all say they are seeing more diversity in employment areas  compared to the dominance of the steelworks and manufacturing industries in years gone by. 

‘‘In lots of ways Wollongong is far more resilient today than it has ever been,’’ Wollongong Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery says.

‘‘When you have all your eggs in one basket you can suffer the consequences of losing the lot. It can be a bigger impact, like the downturn of the steelworks in 1985 – it went from employing 25,000 to less than 10,000. They were tough times.’’

Shellharbour Mayor Marianne Saliba agrees.

‘‘It is really important for our community that we don’t rely on one type of employment because when there is a downturn there is a huge impact,’’ Cr Saliba says.

As for the jobs that provide this diversity, all three mayors believe the aged care industry will be a growth industry in the years ahead.

‘‘That is a big employer,’’ Kiama Mayor Brian Petschler says.

‘‘For every bed licence you get in the aged care facilities, I understand it can be worth up to 2.5 jobs.’’

Tourism is another area with good future employment prospects, but there are other distinct job opportunities in each LGA, according to the mayors.

For Wollongong, Cr Bradbery says the land releases at West Dapto, Calderwood and Tallawarra as well as investment in the CBD will create a lot of jobs in construction.

The University of Wollongong and TAFEs are also ‘‘major players’’ in terms of employment opportunities and there is a growing focus on ‘‘highly specialised’’ engineering.

Cr Bradbery says it is part of his job to sell the region to investors and that job is becoming easier.

‘‘I think we’re slowly chipping away at the negatives in terms of the image of the city as an industrial city,’’ he says.

‘‘That’s slowly being wound back and it’s now more of a lifestyle city with a diversity  of opportunities for investment and business.

‘‘Part of that is also that people want to live here because it offers an alternative to the metropolitan areas as far as congestion is concerned.’’

In Shellharbour, the service industries around aged care will be huge job generators, given that Bureau of Transport Statistics show the number of people over 65 living in some parts of Shellharbour City is tipped to more than double by 2026.

‘‘We’ve got  a situation where we have an ageing population and there is going to be greater need for in-home services and support for older people,’’ Cr Saliba says.

‘‘With the changes to the disability insurance scheme, that’s going to make a difference. There’s going to be more people who are going to be able to purchase services in home.

‘‘One of the things that we have found is we’re becoming much more community service-focused. Community services are certainly one of our major employers in the Illawarra region.’’

Cr Saliba says the council is also looking in the areas of retail and tourism for jobs growth.

She says in the  1980s downturn  Shellharbour councillors decided to buy land and go into a public-private partnership with the then Walker Corporation  to build the marina, with subsequent jobs  in the construction phase and retail, hospitality and tourism.

When it comes to jobs growth, Kiama has an asset Wollongong and Shellharbour can’t match –  the National Broadband Network, with entrepreneurs working from home.

‘‘I’ve spoken to a number of people recently who have set up home businesses or work largely from home rather than spend part of their day commuting to Wollongong or Sydney.’’

Cr Petschler says the NBN will create a rise in jobs in high-end service industries like finance and computers.

Working in virtual rather than actual real estate will be important in Kiama, where employment lands are at a premium.

‘‘We have a significantly smaller land bank suitable and appropriately zoned for commercial or industrial development,’’ he says.

‘‘We will rely a lot more here on the person-based industries, with the high-tech internet access that we have here now. It will be in that area I think that we will see considerable growth in the future.’’

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