Understanding the social and economic effects of the forest industry in regional communities (SAE003-1516)
The forest industry in Australia contributes to jobs and economic activity in many communities. However, in 2016 it was identified that there was little current information available on how the industry was changing in different regions, including change in the number of jobs generated, dependence of communities on the industry, the type and quality of work generated in the industry, and how residents of forest-industry dependent communities view the industry and its effects.
This project addressed this gap through (i) reviewing availability of socio-economic data from existing sources, (ii) producing a series of reports for different regions that provided up-to-date information on the socio-economic impacts of the forest industry, with specific reports produced for Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania, Queensland, Western Australia and parts of New South Wales, and (iii) examining and trialling methods for assessing a wider range of socio-economic impacts than have been traditionally examined. The original project was limited to examining a small number of case study regions in Western Australia, South West Slopes of New South Wales, the Green Triangle and south-east Queensland. Support from the Australian government enabled expansion of the study to include all parts of Victoria, and Tasmania with two detailed reports produced for these regions as a result. Support from the Queensland government enabled inclusion of all parts of Queensland.
The study produced up to date, comprehensive data on employment in the forest industry for all local government areas in the study regions. It also produced detailed estimates of economic value generated by the industry in each region, including both direct and flow-on effects. The findings highlighted that the forest industry, similar to others highly reliant on manufacturing jobs, has experienced a decline in total employment over time while increasing overall volumes of production (the mix of products produced has changed over time, for example there has been decline in newsprint and growth in production of paper packaging products).
A detailed comparison of socio-economic conditions in communities with differing levels of dependence for jobs on (i) the forest industry, (ii) agricultural industry, and (iii) mining industries found that the forest industry typically operates in communities with high levels of ‘liveability’. Those living in forest industry dependent communities were significantly more likely than average to find their communities good places to live, and had higher than average sense of safety and positive landscape amenity. While the agricultural industry is associated with higher than average rates of population decline, and the mining industry with population growth, forest industry communities were neither more or less likely to experience rapid population change. Forest industry dependent communities typically have better access to a range of services and infrastructure than agriculture dependent communities, reflecting that they are often located relatively close to major regional population centres. While the presence of the agricultural industry was consistently associated with higher levels of social capital in communities, the forest industry and mining industries were not. This is an important area of difference and suggests an area the industry can invest in to increase liveability of the communities it operates in.
Overall, the forest industry typically operates in highly liveable communities. This high liveability is likely to result from a wide range of factors: the presence of the forest industry is only one of these. The industry can work to further support the high liveability of communities it operates in through investment in contributing to the social capital of these communities.
The project findings suggest a need for:
1. More consistent long-term investment in collection of accurate employment data for the forest industry, in order to produce regular data across all forestry regions.
2. More consistency in methods used to produce employment estimates by different surveys conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics
3. Further investment in understanding and addressing barriers to recruiting a more diverse workforce (particularly women) with the skills needed by the industry
4. More research on how factors specific to the forest industry influence worker wellbeing, to provide more specific guidance to industry on how best to maintain and grow wellbeing of the workforce, and through this increase worker retention
5. Invest in communicating to potential workers the typically high liveability of forest industry dependent communities as part of strategies to address skills shortages and recruit workers to forest industry dependent communities.
6. Industry investment in contributing to social capital in the communities it operates in, an action that can both help to address the often low recognition of the importance of the forest industry in some forest-industry dependent communities, and can further contribute to increasing liveability of forest industry dependent communities.
The full report will be published shortly.