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MBA students tackle regional workforce challenge

A ground-breaking “live case study” offers Deakin MBA students a unique learning opportunity.

Deakin MBA students are set to provide real-world solutions for the shortfall in skilled workers across regional Victoria.

As the final unit in the MBA program, the Deakin Advantage Capstone will see students tackle a ground-breaking “live case study” that involves five regional organisations who are looking for innovative ideas to boost their employee ranks.

While a live case study has always been the unit’s feature, it’s the first time that multiple regional organisations have been involved – a concept proposed by Deakin MBA alum Ford Davis, former business strategist with Deloitte and now partner with a management consulting organisation.

Skills shortages are a state-wide problem

Based in Melbourne, Leongatha and Central Gippsland, Ford’s company Calm Consulting Group  works with aged care, health, and local government organisations to solve problems that range from people and culture to strategic design and business optimisation. 

Finding it difficult to attract regional-based employees to his own company, Ford discovered that his client organisations were facing the same issue, so he discussed with Deakin academics the potential of using the regional recruitment problem as an MBA live-case study.

‘We’re a small business but in talking to some of our clients, who are much larger organisations, I found they were willing to be involved as very real and tangible case study that could align to Deakin’s MBA students. The students will now work with one organisation on the assessment question “how can regional Victorian organisations attract a high-skilled workforce that is sustainable for their needs?”’ he explains.

Five Victorian regional organisations

Representing health, local government and industry, the five organisations participating in the study include Gippsland Southern Health Service, South Gippsland Shire Council, City of Greater Bendigo, Castlemaine Health, and Orbost Regional Health.

CEO of South Gippsland Shire Council (SGSC) Kerryn Ellis says that attracting workers to the region is vital, particularly as industry, tourism and hospitality attempts to bounce back after the impact of COVID-19.

‘With more people visiting the area, because they can’t get overseas or interstate for holidays, some of our businesses are really struggling to take advantage … it’s difficult without having the staff numbers, particularly skilled staff.’

She says that for SGSC, working with Deakin MBA students is a fantastic opportunity.

‘It’s a brilliant way to partner with academia to explore the real-world challenges that we’re experiencing, on the ground right now, and potentially to come up with really innovative solutions.’

With SGSC also currently in a key stage of development with expanding industries in dairy and agriculture, Ms Ellis says the project couldn’t have come at a better time.

‘We’re really open and thoughtful about how to work with those industries in the future, what their place might be in terms of the economic future of the shire, but also what support we can provide.’

Providing CEOs with options

Mark Johnson, CEO of Gippsland Southern Health Service (GSHS) says that attracting skilled staff to regional areas is an ongoing problem.

‘We cover the two towns of Leongatha and Korumburra and we’re constantly recruiting … it’s particularly difficult to fill senior to middle management positions. Although we get more interest from outside the area in these roles when you try to attract people to come and live here, it’s not so simple.’

For his organisation, being part of the MBA case study is a chance to explore other options.

‘It will be good to have new and different perspectives … having insight from students into what a rural area might offer will also be of interest. We’re happy to provide information and resources to help the students and we’re very open to looking at proposed solutions. There may be barriers that we can overcome or opportunities that we could be marketing more,’ he says.

A rare and valuable learning opportunity 

Unit Chair Dr Michael Callaghan says the final trimester’s case study presents students with a rare learning opportunity.

‘Live case studies can be very fluid, but with this one, we’re talking to a range of organisations and CEOs from across the state which means there’s a lot of factors in play.’

However in terms of student learning, he says confronting new situations is very effective.

‘It’s like working without a net. Being exposed to this situation, which is a very real problem for regional Australia, is a unique challenge. Due to the pandemic, we’ve also seen a reduction in opportunities to network across all industries so having the input of five regional organisations also provides a cross-pollination of ideas and development of strategic lines … it’s very valuable learning.’

Internationally-recognised, the Deakin MBA is one of Australia’s most prestigious programs and Dr Callaghan says the university is very proud of its reputation and students.

‘It’s a serious course and the reality is, that any student who completes the MBA capstone has the “Deakin Advantage”. This live case study, embedded with real-world problems talking to real-world industry professionals, is a rare opportunity for students and it’s an opportunity that’s only offered to Deakin MBA students.’


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