Pages tagged "Business Stories"

Australia's island state supplying ships to the world

HOBART shipbuilder Incat has gone from building local boats four decades ago to now supplying the world’s best and fastest ferries to markets stretching from Trinidad to the Canary Islands, with its success helping grow a network of business suppliers in Tasmania.

Incat started building ferries with less than five employees from a site the size of a quarter acre house block in the 1970s – fast-forward more than 40 years and they are building boats about the length of a football field, from a site bigger than five Melbourne Cricket Grounds.

“The multiplier effect is very significant, where we’ve got 650 people [full-time employees] at the moment, there’s probably at least 500 others that are supplying us with all the nuts and bolts that we need,” Incat chairman Robert Clifford says.

“We do have a strong relationship with all the supporting businesses around Hobart. The engineering firms, the structural fire protection people, the people who supply the nuts and bolts, the plumbers, the painters.”

Tasmania’s economy is growing at its fastest pace in a decade, wages in the private sector are growing faster than any other state or territory and Tasmanian businesses are the most confident in the country.


“We do have a strong relationship with all the supporting businesses around Hobart. The engineering firms, the structural fire protection people, the people who supply the nuts and bolts, the plumbers, the painters.”

Robert Clifford, chairman of Incat 


There are more than 36,500 small businesses powering the Tasmanian economy and these enterprises are responsible for employing almost half of Tasmania’s total private sector workforce.

Sales from small and medium businesses to larger companies helps them invest more and employ more Tasmanians.

Hobart’s Liferaft Systems Australia, which manufactures marine evacuation slides and liferafts, is part of this ecosystem of businesses – and their managing director Mike Grainger says they are not the only business to come from Incat’s ascension.

“We started our company because of Incat, as did many other satellite companies that are still in business today,” he says.

When they started manufacturing their liferafts for Incat almost three decades ago they employed about six people. They now employ about 70 people full-time and supply their marine evacuation systems to navies across the world.

“Liferaft Systems is a very successful business, it came from our need to have a better product, the product we were buying from Europe was not good enough,” Mr Clifford said.

“We found that out many years ago and we decided we ought to help Liferaft Systems Australia set up business and produce a better liferaft.”

CBG Systems, a fire protection manufacturing company, was a second local business which emerged as a result of Incat’s growth.

They started supplying Incat 40 years ago with two full-time employees. Today they employ 60 full-time staff.

“CBG Systems has leveraged from the success of innovative shipbuilding companies like Incat for decades,” CBG Systems managing director Javier Herbon said.

“Our relationship supplying to Incat has helped our business grow and become recognised around the world for our fire protection technology.

“We have become a leading global manufacturing company because we strive to identify and develop high-tech solutions for innovative customers like Incat.”

Trade between small, medium and big businesses is worth about $500 billion to the Australian economy every year.

Understanding their customers has also been vital to Incat’s success.

“We have supplied ferries and been instrumental in talking to ferry operators all around the world for the last 40 years … we understand what the customer wants,” Mr Clifford said.

“Being an island state, we’re a little bit different to the rest of Australia but that’s part of the success of Incat, we are an island and we are supplying ships to the world. Most of our ships are going to places and serving islands.

“We have boats in South America, Trinidad, North America, Canada, all through Europe, the Canary Islands. The sun doesn’t go down on the Incat empire.”


“We put a lot of emphasis on training the people to increase their skill levels in all areas.”

Robert Clifford, chairman of Incat 


About 50 of nearly 90 ferries that Incat has built since 1977 are in operation overseas. By 2003, four Incat-built ferries had been used in military support operations for the Australian and US navies, including the Hurricane Katrina relief program.

While their supply chains provide the “nuts and bolts”, many of Incat’s employees have been trained through a TAFE course directly across the road from their Derwent River base.

It was a partnership and initiative that Incat also helped develop.

“It is very important to have a TAFE-type system in place to teach all the skills. We really couldn’t do without that,” he said.

“In the very early days, we did have our own training system but that was taken over by TAFE to our advantage. So, we work very closely with them because it is an integral part of the business.

“We put a lot of emphasis on training the people to increase their skill levels in all areas.”

'Tasmania's brand awareness unsurpassed'

WHEN Liferaft Systems Australia first started manufacturing marine evacuation slides and liferafts 26 years ago they had about six employees and a single local customer.

Almost three decades later and they are employing about 70 people full-time and supplying their marine evacuation systems to navies across the world, including BAE Systems for the Australian Navy’s nine new frigates.

The business grew from supplying one local business with the world’s first “dry-shod” marine evacuation system, which lets passengers evacuate a vessel into a large liferaft without having to get their feet wet, to manufacturing their equipment for passenger ferries, cruise ships, military vessels and large yachts across the world.

Liferaft Systems Australia managing director Mike Grainger said his business originally set out to provide Hobart shipbuilder Incat with a safer and more compact and lightweight system suited to their high-speed ferry, but the business expanded with demand.

The original designs of the company’s slides and liferafts have remained much the same despite improvements to the engineering and manufacturing processes during the past 26 years.

But the most noticeable change is the company’s growth.


The customer is getting a world-class product built here in Hobart and we’re employing Tasmanians and keeping the money that we make in Tasmania.’’

Mike Grainger, the managing director of Liferaft Systems Australia


The business grew from six staff to about 15 within its first six months and evolved from being a local Hobart supplier to becoming a globally recognised brand, especially among defence industries.   

“We’ve forged very professional relationships with a number of major companies like BAE Systems, BC Ferries, Washington State Ferries, different navies, the US Navy for example, Royal Dutch Navy. We’ve forged partnerships with companies like that over the last 25 years,” Mr Grainger said.

“The customer is getting a world-class product built here in Hobart and we’re employing Tasmanians and keeping the money that we make in Tasmania.” 

These types of supplier relationships between small, medium and big businesses are worth about $500 billion to the Australian economy each year.

“We recently installed our systems on the two brand-new UK aircraft carriers. One was launched last year, and the second one will be launched in a couple of months. Those brand-new very large aircraft carriers will have our systems on board, built here in Hobart,” he said.

“We also are supplying to the new BAE Systems’ Type 26 vessels which are being built in the UK and also in Australia, so the navy market is expanding for us and  it’s good long-term business.

“Dealing with a company like BAE is very rewarding for us. It gives us longevity. They understand the importance of quality, and they're very good to deal with.”


“We rely on each other to keep investing, growing and employing more Australians. Businesses of all sizes benefit from new investment.’’

Nigel Stewart, BAE Systems Australia ASC Shipbuilding managing director


Nigel Stewart, BAE Systems Australia ASC Shipbuilding managing director, says Liferaft Systems Australia’s products are world-class.

“The products built right here in Australia’s backyard by Liferaft Systems Australia are world-class and they’re lifesaving for defence personnel who rely on them,” he said.

“We share in the success of our local suppliers like Liferaft Systems Australia and they share in ours.

“We rely on each other to keep investing, growing and employing more Australians. Businesses of all sizes benefit from new investment.”  

As Liferaft Systems Australia goes from strength to strength, the Tasmanian economy tells a similar story.

The latest CommSec State of the States report released in January 2019 shows Tasmania in fourth position on the economic performance rankings.

Tasmania’s employment growth in 2017-18 was the strongest growth in nine years and wages for the private sector in Tasmania are up 2.8 per cent through the year to September 2018, the fastest growth in the country.

“Tasmania has gone through some significant change and the level of brand awareness that Tasmania is now enjoying is unsurpassed,” Mr Grainger said.

“People are understanding that this island state is a very special place. It is certainly the flavour of the month.

“We’ve seen things like Mona, we’ve seen food and wine, manufacturing, all the major industries, tourism, growing very well in the past five to 10 years. And the fruits of that growth are starting to be presented to the state. And it’s an incredibly exciting time to be in Tasmania and be a Tasmanian and I think the future looks absolutely fantastic, providing we can stay on the roll and do what we do best.”

There are two vital staples within Liferaft Systems Australia’s advanced manufacturing processes that ensure their slides and liferafts are ironclad when it comes to safety and reliability.

The first is the business’s culture and the second is the skills they equip their staff with as part of an in-house skills and training regime.

“We have a very onerous, comprehensive training process that starts when you walk in the door. And that starts with culture and with attitude and it goes right through until you’re fully qualified to do what we do here,” he said.

“We have our own skills register and training processes so we employ people mainly on their culture, their attitude, and we put them through a very onerous process for three months and then a further three months, before we accept them into the company.

“It may not be so cost effective initially but if we’re looking to the future, we need to look at a digital future, a wireless future, and improve on our manufacturing capability from a technical perspective.”

Cadetship sparks a passion for business


When Noor Aljabury stepped into the Perth offices of Programmed, a door opened to a world of opportunities she had never before imagined.

Gaining invaluable hands-on experience during a paid internship at the leading management services company helped Noor realise her passion for business. It also ignited her ambition to one day own a business and scale the heights of senior leadership.

The 21-year-old will complete her bachelor degree in engineering science and management at the University of Western Australia this semester, and has already started a master’s of professional engineering.

As one of the top students in mathematics and physics at high school, her teachers encouraged her to study engineering at university.

When she was invited by The Smith Family, the nation’s largest education focused children’s charity, to take part in the Cadetship to Career program, in partnership with the Business Council of Australia, she discovered an affinity for business.

“Doing the cadetship made me realise my passion for business which is what I ultimately want to do in the future,’’ she says.

"I gained a deeper insight into the corporate world and I feel better equipped to take on the next stage of my life within the corporate sector.

“From my enriching experience, I realised that business is about leading teams, dealing with various stakeholders, meeting your clients’ expectations and thinking outside of the box,'’ she says.

Cadetship to Career is a national program that supports disadvantaged but talented and determined young Australians to complete a tertiary qualification and gain skills and experience that will help them successfully transition from education to the workforce.

“Doing the cadetship made me realise my passion for business which is what I ultimately want to do in the future. I gained a deeper insight into the corporate world and I feel better equipped to take on the next stage of my life within the corporate sector.’’ Student and Cadetship to Career participant Noor Aljabury, 21.

The program targets young people starting their first or second year of tertiary education who are part of The Smith Family’s Learning for Life scholarship program.

The Smith Family’s Strategic Engagement Manager John Gelagin points out some young Australians, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, can find the transition from high school to university or tertiary studies difficult, as well as the move into the workplace.

These challenges can include lacking what is called ‘social capital’ – the social and professional connections and personal support that help students get a foot in the front door to gain on-the-job employability skills.

“This initiative does help to level the playing field,’’ says Mr Gelagin. “It helps to position people that overcome great odds to make it into tertiary study.’’

“The great support of Business Council employers provides them some of that social capital and connections so they can build those skills and increase their prospects of career and future success,’’ he says.

For today’s graduates and job seekers, having the broader set of skills that employers are looking for means they can hit the ground running in the workplace.

Noor agrees, saying: “I had little knowledge on how business operates and how organisations work, although I did study management, however the job is different to what you study.’’

“I had to learn about the organisation’s structure, how it works out, how you talk to your manager, teams, basically everything.

“I didn't even know how to use two (desktop computer) screens so that was fascinating to me.’’

A cadetship runs for the length of a cadet’s qualification, typically two to four years. It offers cadets eight weeks per year of full-time paid employment with a Business Council member. Last year, 19 companies offered around 50 cadetships.

It also ensures cadets receive financial support to assist with living and educational expenses, training and development in the skills needed to succeed in a modern workplace, and ongoing pastoral care to support their transition from school to tertiary education.

Taking part in the Cadetship to Career program has boosted Noor’s confidence.

“I’ve learned a lot about myself including my strengths and weaknesses. Doing the cadetship helped me grow not only as an employee, but also as a person.

“I feel like a different person now – more confident, more mature, more experienced.

"With the broad range of experience I acquired during my journey, I can better handle and approach work tasks and I can say I took one step up the long ladder."

Noor was invited to take part in the cadetship program during her second year at university.

“I would like to thank The Smith Family for giving me this great opportunity which I would not have any other way.’’

James Sherlock, the Group General Manager People at Programmed, said the organisation had been delighted with its decision to be part of the Cadetship to Career program. 

“Noor and her colleagues in other states have shown enormous commitment to working in the Programmed business and are making a great contribution to the teams in which they are working,’’ Mr Sherlock said.  

“We are so pleased with the success of the program at this early stage that we have committed to engage a further two cadets in the next intake.’’

Programmed is a leading provider of staffing, maintenance and facility management services. We directly employ more than 20,000 people across a broad range of industries to provide services for over 10,000 customers.

It operates through a network of more than 100 branches, often delivering multiple services from across our business.

Determination, grit and united family ties

It’s the essence of a migrant dream: the type of multicultural success story that contributes to the diverse fabric of Australia.

When Gaetano Ripepi left Italy for Australia in 1959, surely, he couldn’t have imagined the family-owned and run business standing in his footsteps today.

Through hard work, sweat, grit and the determination to overcome setbacks, the Ripepi family has ensured that Australian Strawberry Distributors has grown from strength to strength.

ASD is owned by Gaetano’s sons, Rocco, who is known as Rocky, and Joe.

As a third-generation member of this close-knit family to be working in strawberries, Rocco’s son Jim Ripepi is the general manager.

“My grandfather (Gaetano) came out from Italy and spent a couple of years working, in those days for the Board of Works. Within a couple of years, all the family decided to come out. My grandmother (Michelina) and all the kids, and that was in 1961,’’ Jim says.

“They worked on other farms for about five years where they did a bit of picking and packing and general farm work.’’

Now, nearly 60 years on, ASD directly employs about 30 people, including nine family members. During peak picking and packing times the workforce expands to about 200 people working on farms and in packing sheds in Victoria and Queensland to provide fresh and in season strawberries almost all year round.

“We grew with Woolworths from the early 1980s when back in those days they were Safeway stores here in Victoria. As Woolworths business grew, our business grew.’’ Jim Ripepi, general manager Australian Strawberry Distributors

“We’ve got a successful business, but the most exciting part is being with family every day,’’ says Jim.

“I grew up with my cousins, they’re like brothers. We’re very close-knit. We couldn’t do what we’re doing without the family.’’

They produce just under one million trays of strawberries a year, which is about 18 million punnets including the Albion, Monterey, Festival, and Fortuna varieties as well as the new and popular Australian bred Red Rhapsody.

About 60 per cent of their strawberries make their way to the supermarket shelves of Woolworths, Aldi and Costco stores. The rest is sold to independent fruiterers across Australia.

Their operations have blossomed in tandem with the growth of the supermarkets.

Jim says the relationship with the supermarkets is critical.

“We grew with Woolworths from the early 1980s when back in those days they were Safeway stores here in Victoria. As Woolworths business grew, our business grew,’’ he says. “We further grew when Aldi and Costco expanded into Australia.’’

“The amount of fruit we produce today, there’s no way you could sell just off the market floor. We are geared to supply the chain stores. It’s a very important relationship.’’

Woolworths began campaigning as the Fresh Food People, ASD was on hand to back them up.

“Whenever they needed a fruit, especially back in the day, you didn’t have the supply you have today. We went out of our way to fill orders when there wasn’t much fruit around. They really appreciated it – we did as well,’’ Jim says.

Paul Turner, Woolworths Supermarkets Head of Produce, says: “Woolworths values long-term collaborative business partnerships like the one we have with Australian Strawberry Distributors (ASD) and the Ripepi Family.’’

“We have been working with ASD for 36 years now and it is thanks to the support of families and businesses like ASD that we are able to deliver high quality, 100 per cent Australian, fresh strawberries to our customers every day,’’ Mr. Turner said.

These types of supplier relationships between small and medium sized businesses and larger businesses are the backbone of the Australian economy, and each year are responsible for about $555 billion in activity.

Jim says in the 1960s his dad Rocco – who was 12 when he came to Australia – was adamant the family needed to buy acreage and plant their own produce. It was a decision which would change their lives.

They poured their savings into 10 acres in Mount Evelyn, Victoria and planted their first strawberries along with carrots, potatoes and other vegetables.

At 17, Rocco started selling their produce and soon became a commission agent for neighbouring producers. He then tried his hand at a restaurant and a couple of fruit shops before being coaxed back to work as a commission agent.

When Jim was 13, his dad Rocco bought 15 acres in Wandin East.

“Just to keep us busy, me and my brother, we put in a small amount of strawberries that we looked after with my mum. In those days there were about 25 to 30 growers growing for dad.’’

It was the mid-1980s and customers were becoming more discerning. Rocco and his family started growing a lot more of their own produce.

In 1991, Rocco re-joined forces with his brothers Tony, who has since passed away, and Joe. Tony’s children are still involved in the business.

“We bought another 100 acres in Seville. We grew a lot more of our own produce to ensure the quality and consistency for the supermarkets.

“The business really took off from there,’’ says Jim, now 45.

In 1998, the brothers changed the name to Australian Strawberry Distributors. From that time on, we approached Queensland strawberry growers to supply us at our new warehouse in Caboolture. We also started our own Queensland farm for the same purpose. This gave us the capacity to supply Woolworths nationally 12 months a year.’’

Later the business invested in 100 acres in Catani, near Pakenham in Victoria, which operated for about a decade.

Three years ago, the family purchased 300 acres in Coldstream which is now the only farm where they grow strawberries in Victoria. 

Jim agrees their success has come from constantly evolving, and it is paramount that Australian businesses are able to work in an environment where taking a risk is rewarded.

“We’ve always been pretty much frontrunners in the industry, especially the strawberry industry and when we’ve had to put them on the line we did and will continue to do so,’’ he says.

“We are never ones to hold back. We are still doing that today. We’re always reinvesting into the business. We’re very innovative whether it comes to new growing practices, varieties and packaging. We’ve got the best varieties you can grow, and we are always at the forefront with packaging.’’

The business has continued to invest whether it is equipment, trucks or cool rooms. It is now looking at installing protective cropping, where the strawberries would be out of the elements, and hydroponics.

Jim credits the success of ASD to hard work and determination but most of all being a united family.

Families Embrace Booming Busselton

Unlike most working dads, Kelly Smith can often be found volunteering in the primary school classrooms of his two children on his days off.

“The teacher will say: ‘You can look after the arts and craft table over there today’,’’ Kelly says.

“They’ll be doing things with noodles and string.

“I’ll say to the teacher: ‘So, basically you want me to make bracelets and necklaces? Yeah, I can do that. Put me over there.’’’

The fixed plant mechanical maintainer with Rio Tinto has been able to strike a balance between work and home because he’s part of the mining giant’s fly-in fly-out (FIFO) workforce.

Kelly, 43, concedes that while the lifestyle doesn’t suit everyone, it works for him and thousands of others.

His roster of eight days on and six days off means he can devote his time at home to wife Simone, 45, and children Finnley, who is 11 and in grade six, and seven-year-old Harper who is in grade two. Their four-year-old border collie cross, Roxy, is never far from the action.

“As a south- west hub, Busselton is linking the expanding population of the South West with employment opportunities in the Pilbara and enabling our employees and their families to live in the region and contribute to its vitality.’’ Rio Tinto’s Managing Director Australia Joanne Farrell

The family has the added advantage of living in Busselton, where they’ve been for almost the past four years. It’s a regional city built and thriving on a backbone of mining, but not a residential-style mining town which means it is easier to switch off from work.

Kelly works at Rio’s Greater Brockman operations. In about 10 minutes he’s out his front door in Busselton and at the airport. A direct flight of just under two hours lands him at work.

“You fly up on a Wednesday morning and come back the following Wednesday morning,’’ Kelly says. “So, as we're waiting at the airport the guys that have flown up there have already landed and gone to camp.

“It’s the ideal roster for us and many other families.’’

There are 10 scheduled Rio Tinto charter flights from Busselton a week totalling 520 flights a year. In 2017, there were 23,898 passenger movements, with 13,204 departures and 10,694 arrivals.

Rio Tinto’s Managing Director Australia Joanne Farrell says the mining giant pioneered the use of regional FIFO in 2006, initiating the first commute from Geraldton with 26 employees.

It later expanded to include Busselton and Broome – which celebrated a decade of regional FIFO last year – then followed by Carnarvon, Exmouth, Derby, , Meekatharra and Albany.

“Today there are over 2000 employees commuting directly from regional Western Australia to Rio’s Pilbara operations, supporting the business to maintain a skilled workforce,’’ Ms Farrell says.

Regional FIFO offers employees a lifestyle choice, allowing them to remain in their home communities and still have a career in mining.

“Regional FIFO has been embraced by these source towns, offering a diversity in employment while assisting to spread the benefits of mining throughout rural and remote Western Australia,’’ she adds.

“Our Busselton workforce supports six of our inland Pilbara mines, drawing from an employment pool that extends throughout the South West from Australind, Boyup Brook, Manjimup and Augusta back to Busselton.’’

In 2016, Rio Tinto’s regional FIFO programme provided a regional economic impact of A$425 million.

Ms Farrell says: “As a south- west hub, Busselton is linking the expanding population of the South West with employment opportunities in the Pilbara and enabling our employees and their families to live in the region and contribute to its vitality.’’

Kelly and his family, like most in Busselton, shop locally and find there’s almost everything they need in town. Kmart is moving in and they’ve just got an Aldi. There’s no shortage of investment.

Councillor Grant Henley, the Mayor of the City of Busselton, says Rio’s FIFO workforce has transformed his community.

“We've seen quite a shift in the demographic of people who are relocating to this region over the last 10 or so years,’’ Councillor Henley says.

“A lot of that is driven by the opportunities to FIFO directly out of this area. We have, I think, 550 workers a week now who travel out of our airport to the various mine sites without having to do that round trip. But their families live in our growing suburbs, and their kids go to our expanding schools.’’

Before Rio Tinto based one of its regional FIFO hubs in Busselton, it was a coastal retirement community. Now, there is an influx of young people adding to the vibrancy of the city.

“We see especially a lot of young FIFO families have been setting up in Busselton and Dunsborough who have that choice that FIFO offers them,’’ Councillor Henley says.

Kelly and his family have put down roots in Busselton, investing in a house, attracted by the lifestyle and good schools. Most of the local community are supportive of the Rio FIFO workers.

About two and a half hours drive south of Perth, Busselton boasts the longest jetty in the Southern Hemisphere that stretches out over the sparkling blue ocean. There’s white sand, great beaches, and Margaret River and its wineries are only 40 kilometres down the road. There’s no shortage of activities with boating, bike trails, camping and fishing.

Before Busselton, Kelly and Simone lived in Wickham in the Pilbara for nine years. “We love that we can have our own home here, so that was another drawcard,’’ Kelly says.

When you’re based in a residential mining town work is always present but it is much easier to switch off with fly-in fly-out work.

“As soon as you get out of there, you leave it totally behind you,’’ Kelly says.

When Kelly is at home, he doesn’t spend time checking his phone for work messages and can focus on the family and their activities.

“There's a lot more choices down here. It's a much bigger community.”

Finnley and Harper both do swimming; Finnley also does cubs and Harper does NetSetGO, the forerunner to netball.

“Everything is just at the Geographe Leisure Centre,’’ Simone says. “Everything is just so easy. It’s just such an easy lifestyle down here.’’

Rio’s regional source towns of Geraldton, Carnarvon, Broome, Derby, Albany and Meekatharra are also an important source of Aboriginal employees, contributing to the business’s diverse workforce while significantly bolstering the 12 per cent Aboriginal employment target recently achieved in the third quarter of 2017.

Rio Tinto also supports numerous partnerships in the city including funding a trainee youth development officer, supporting the Busselton Family Centre, Busselton Jetty and big events such as CinefestOZ and Busselton Ironman Volunteers. One of the other great ties for Busselton and Rio Tinto lies in the Busselton supporter base for the Royal Flying Doctor Service - one of Rio Tinto’s largest community partners.

Says Councillor Henley: “Our community partnership with Rio extends beyond just the workforce. We have the biggest film prize in Australia for an Australian film at our CinefestOZ in August, and Rio Tinto are major partners in that event. We have one of the world qualifiers for the Ironman held here in December each year. Over 2000 athletes and lots of family and friends come down for that event.’’

And, the 1000 strong volunteer program is supported by Rio Tinto.

Luring Talent Back To Business

If Jane Holt wasn’t already slightly nervous about the challenges of re-entering the workforce after an extended career break, she had to contend with her hot water service going on the blink and both her children breaking their arms in separate incidents.

This all happened in the first fortnight as Ms Holt began taking part in the pilot of Deloitte’s Return to Work program last July in the firm’s Consultancy division as a data manager in the Melbourne office.

The program, which is about to welcome its second intake of applicants, is designed to attract experienced senior staff, particularly women, back into the type of serious roles they left before life and the challenges of caring for children and others intervened.

Some people call the balancing act of work and family a juggle. Ms Holt has a more apt description.

“I tend to use the analogy of spinning plates because when you’re juggling, at some point, the balls rest in your hands whereas the plates are just constantly spinning.’’

“If one crashes, the whole show stops,’’ she laughs.

“I would never underestimate how difficult that is because it is really, really tough.’’

Deloitte embarked on the program as part of its ambition to reach 50-50 representation of men and women in senior roles, without having to wait a generation for a cultural sea-change.

Deloitte’s People and Performance Partner Tina McCreery says the organisation had been looking at ways to increase gender diversity at a leadership level and realised they had an untapped market of talented individuals who had long stretches out of the workforce.

“Taking the CV out removes some of those inbuilt biases that would have potentially precluded people like me joining the program. It feels fantastic that companies are waking up to the talent that is out there. It feels fantastic to know that I had this opportunity. It was very exciting.’’ Jane Holt, Data Manager Consultancy Division Deloitte

The men and women, however, lacked confidence and needed a safety net.

The Return to Work program is designed to help them with the transition, Ms McCreery says. The 20-week program is structured to ensure recruits receive support getting “across new technology, new terms, new skills, new capabilities, but also ensuring from a home perspective you have the support that you need’’.

“So, we’re putting things like external coaching around how to get that work–life balance. We locked in core hours, we locked in core days. Putting that structure around it really enabled us to attract women and men who would not have applied without this.’’

Ms Holt, 50, worked in IT focusing on data for about 14 years for some of the nation’s largest companies.

Her background is in information technology, database performance management, data warehousing and business intelligence.

After her first child, Gruff, was born in 2002 Ms Holt returned to work for an IT company.

But as so many working mums before her, she ran into difficulty securing child care.

Her managing director wanted her back in her old role which included extensive travel around Australia as well as to New Zealand and Asia.

“I simply couldn’t do it, particularly because my husband Marc is Welsh, with no family in Australia. Although my parents provided some assistance, they were both working as well, so help was limited.’’

And besides, Ms Holt, points out “you don’t have kids to not be there’’.

Faced with competing demands, Ms Holt left. She eventually found child care and a fulfilling part-time job in the innovation space with a Victorian government-funded organisation.

During her second pregnancy with Arwen in 2006 Ms Holt was ill and scaled back her work commitments. She worked from home, consulting to small businesses on customer engagement and marketing.

In 2013, the family moved to the United States. Ms Holt worked for a start-up summer camp in Boulder, Colorado learning new skills. Over the years, she became certified in marketing, art and design, interior design and training.

There was never a dull moment as she volunteered at her children’s kindergarten, volunteered in the classroom, was President of the school Parents and Friends Association, chaired the local Owners Association of 900 households, and volunteered for the Junior Achievers program that teaches financial literacy to US primary schoolers.

“You have to find things that you can be passionate about and that keep you thinking and challenge you. I think that’s really important as a mum because when you do those things, you’re a better mum.’’

The family returned to Melbourne in late 2015 and Ms Holt began the grind of searching for work.

“I was getting a lot of comments like: ‘You’re too senior’.

“I even got told I was too old, which I know they’re not supposed to say. Too ‘high flying’ was one I also got. “You’ve travelled the world, you’ve done all these things, we think you’ll be bored.’’

At the start of last year, she spotted an advertisement on LinkedIn for Deloitte’s Return to Work program. She has never looked back.

The application and interview process convinced Ms Holt there was a genuine recognition of the value of her experience as well as a real desire to embrace the diversity she offered.

The program’s key difference is that the recruitment process is not résumé based.

“Taking the CV out removes some of those in-built biases that would have potentially precluded people like me joining the program,’’ Ms Holt says.

“It feels fantastic that companies are waking up to the talent that is out there. It feels fantastic to know that I had this opportunity. It was very exciting,’’ says Ms Holt.

Ms McCreery says Deloitte chief executive Cindy Hook is “an incredibly strong advocate of diversity and inclusion and the firm has been on that journey for a long period of time’’.

“So, for us finding innovative ways to attract and retain diverse employees is one of our top two or three priorities from a people perspective across the firm. That’s why this, for us, is so important because it does allow us to bring different skills in and tap into that market where as previously, as I said, those people wouldn’t have even applied,’’ she says.

The Return to Work program not only values the skills of women who are returning to work and enables them to re-enter at senior levels, but it ensures experienced, dedicated and skilled workers are not falling through the cracks.

“Allowing people to return to the workplace at roles of a comparable level, it not only allows us to use our skills but it also has additional benefits,’’ Ms Holt says.

“There is more and more research saying women are very productive, that most working mothers will get done in three days what other people will get done in five because we’re very conscious of our time and the value of our time.’’

She also points out there is value in diversity and it leads to more creativity and innovative thinking.

“You have that little bit of worldly wisdom,’’ she says, adding “there’s also the advantages of empathy, emotional intelligence, and crisis management.”

“If you can manage a screaming toddler with your internet provider on the phone and dinner on the stove, a problem on the IT system isn’t going to blow your day.’’

Communication skills are enhanced because parents are often conscious about how language needs simplicity and clarity.

Ms Holt, who relishes the intellectual stimulation of her role, also praises Deloitte’s ethical stand on a range of issues, which fits in with her own code of ethics.

And then there are the friends.

“The other thing, and I cannot overstate this one, has been the impact of our cohort,’’ Ms Holt says. “They could not have picked a better matched group of people. We’re all different, we all have different experiences, we all have different ages from about 54 down to 32 and we have got on like a house on fire.’’

She says the support from the group – which includes nine in Melbourne and six in Sydney – has been invaluable.

During the 20 weeks of Return to Work, each of the participants was allocated a partner sponsor who helped get them with advice and getting project work. They each also had a career coach and a buddy to help them navigate the administrative side of the firm.

The success of the program is measured on whether participants, such as Ms Holt, wanted to stay on at Deloitte. So far, the initiative is exceeding expectations.

The second intake will see the numbers of participants double, the backgrounds of applicants diversify even further and the options of teams, which individuals could choose to work, in widen to include Consulting, Technology, Risk Advisory, Tax, Audit and Financial Advisory.

Sun Shines on Port Augusta Investment

About 1000 kilometres from Melbourne’s Flinders Street Station or about 16 hours’ drive from the heart of Sydney lies an oasis surrounded by parched earth.

The large truss of vine tomatoes found on the shelves of Coles supermarkets across Australia are grown at Sundrop Farms on the outskirts of Port Augusta in South Australia.

The $200 million agribusiness, located in one of the sunniest spots in Australia and one of the most arid, is a feat of innovation, ingenuity and vision.

The decision by Coles Supermarkets to enter a pioneering 10-year supply agreement with Sundrop gave the project the certainty to fast-track its scale of production.

Sundrop Farms Chief Operating Officer Dougal McOmish says the supply arrangement strengthened the relationship between supplier and retailer, giving both a greater level of confidence and stability.

“It also allowed a greater investment by the supplier into the technology,’’ he says. “Without that contract, we couldn’t have invested so much into what we’ve built at Port Augusta.’’

The result is staggering and represents the future of horticulture. Under clear skies, Sundrop combines different types of technology – solar energy, water and greenhouse systems – to produce high quality tomatoes every day of the year. They produce up to 15 million kilos a year or about 100 million single tomatoes.

“The greenhouse technology allows us to have a more controlled, stable environment and optimise that environment for tomatoes,” Mr McOmish says.

Construction of the 20-hectare solar-powered greenhouse, located at the top of the Spencer Gulf, was completed in 2016. It uses a state-of-the-art solar tower to produce energy to power the growing systems and to heat and cool the greenhouses.

The tower, which can be seen from kilometres away, is 127 metres high and has approximately 23,000 mirrors pointed at it. Sundrop’s water comes from the Spencer Gulf, and is desalinated using a Multiple Effect Distillation system.

Plants are grown hydroponically and flourish on nutrient-rich substrate. The greenhouse environment allows Sundrop to control the climate and irrigation, ensuring optimum levels of nutrients, light, water, temperature and carbon dioxide.

Water is reused and there is minimal waste. The tomatoes are tended to by hand, and Sundrop even controls pests through an integrated pest management plan which includes ‘good’ bugs eating ‘bad’  bugs.

“If I think about what other people have done in Australia with a greenhouse who don’t have a contract, what they’ll typically do is they’ll build five hectares,’’ Mr McOmish says.

“Then, they’ll run five hectares for a couple of seasons, make some money off that and then they’ll expand to 10, then 15, then 20 hectares. Then they’ll add a bit of technology around that but they take multiple years to reach critical mass.’’

With the Coles contract, Mr McOmish says, Sundrop was able to “go straight to 20 hectares with all the technology and investment up to $200 million into the project from day one’’.

The partnership not only accelerated development but lessened the risk so Sundrop was able to attract high calibre and quality investors, including leading global investment firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts. Sundrop was also supported by the Commonwealth Bank, which has a deep understanding of the corporate agribusiness sector and offers specialised project finance to support innovation and growth.

The decision to invest means Sundrop is now one of the largest employers in Port Augusta and it has stepped into the void that was created when the power station closed.

Each day there are at least 200 people on site, and during peak times this swells to 260 workers. Just over half of the workforce are local with others from outside the area, which includes the federal government’s seasonal worker program for Pacific Islanders.

Regional Development Australia Far North chief executive officer Claire Wiseman says Sundrop is an important business to Port Augusta and South Australia’s far north region.

“It brings diversity and new technology and has assisted in opening the region up to being a renewable energy hub,’’ she says. “The use of alternative energy such as solar thermal to grow tomatoes all year round in such a harsh outback environment has opened the door to other similar prospects as well as showcasing what the region has to offer and the possibilities that exist here.’’

“Employment-wise, Sundrop Farms is a significant employer in the region, and we note the business has worked extremely hard in focusing on local and regional employment opportunities,’’ Ms Wiseman adds.

“Sundrop Farms, both in its original pilot plant construction and then expansion, has been a good supporter of local content which has seen significant benefits to our local businesses in supplying services and goods both in the construction phase and now in their ongoing operations.’’

Mr McOmish agrees that in general the broader Australian community has little understanding of the risk a business takes to embark on a venture of Sundrop’s ilk. “I think it did take a huge amount of vision and a huge amount of courage to invest $200 million into a regional area that has no history of tomato or horticultural production.

Ms Wiseman points out that a few years ago the closure of big employers, the Port Augusta power stations and the Leigh Creek coal mine, hit the region hard and many smaller businesses folded.

“When such a major employer closes its doors the effect isn’t just felt by the employees, it has a flow on to local businesses, with consumers reducing their ‘luxury’ spending, resulting in the confidence in the local economy decreasing,’’ she says.

“This in turn creates many social issues and decreases the vibrancy of the town and region.  However, when new businesses such as Sundrop Farms come into the region and offer diversity of industry and diversity of job opportunities, it creates a more positive environment and the town and region gains confidence and starts to spend money again locally, supporting local businesses.’’

Ms Wiseman says two years ago there were many vacant shops in Port Augusta’s central business district but “over the last six months we are seeing a number of new businesses starting up filling those vacant shops in the CBD.  This is a direct result of business and consumer confidence encouraging existing businesses to keep their doors open and the confidence in the economy for new ones to open up.”

One of the other blind spots is education and preparing the next generation for the skills they will need in a changing workforce, particularly with specific tertiary courses to address advances in horticulture and agribusiness.

“We certainly view greenhouses as the way forward … high intensity mass production through greenhouses for food is absolutely the future,’’ Mr McOmish says.

“You can do more production, you have less footprint and you can have a higher degree of confidence around all-year supply so I think that’s certainly the future. You’re already starting to see it.’’

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