Fourth-generation Ballarat business Nicholson Construction has become a leading member of a new Ballarat economic development program.
Business director Richard Nicholson has committed to local procurement and inclusive employment as a member of GROW Ballarat, a state government program facilitated by learning and employment network Highlands LLEN.
It is focused on building the economy as a long-term solution to providing employment opportunities for target groups and encourages businesses to source their goods and services locally and consider employing people who may otherwise struggle to secure work.
We are encouraging employers to give a hand up, not a hand out.Rob Croucher, GROW Ballarat
Mr Nicholson said his business had long-focused on having a positive impact in the community, but the introduction of the state government's Social Procurement Framework last year created a need to formally record that impact.
"Twelve months ago we started to receive questionnaires in the tenders we received for the state government around what we are doing in the social procurement space," he said.
"There were all these new words we had to learn and answer detailed questionnaires that had a weighting on our tender score. Government is serious about this. We build a lot of state buildings and need to comply."
Nicholson Construction has worked on major state government projects, including the construction of Ballarat's GovHub in partnership with Kane Constructions.
Mr Nicholson said being a part of GROW Ballarat had assisted his business to focus on the state government's preferred social outcomes.
"We have done this in the past by employing people with mental health issues, substance abuse, the long-term unemployed and Indigenous people," he said.
"In the past we ticked a lot of the boxes without officially defining them or calling them a cohort... If we can officially achieve some of these outcomes hopefully it will put us in a better position when we are tendering for state government contracts."
Victoria's Social Procurement Framework was introduced in September 2018 and applies to all of Victoria's procurement activity, covering goods, services, and construction.
The framework aims to create opportunities for Indigenous people, people with a disability and disadvantaged people and create sustainable regions in Victoria, meaning tender applications from companies must meet these aims.
Social procurement is an evolving space and one businesses need to stay on the front foot of.Rob Croucher, GROW Ballarat
In line with the state government framework, GROW Ballarat has identified key priority groups for employment in Ballarat as disengaged young people including young mums, mature-age female job seekers, and Indigenous people.
Program leaders hope targeting employment for these groups will also contribute to a reduction in homelessness and place-based disadvantage in areas of Ballarat, according to the GROW Ballarat Regional Action Plan 2019-2021.
GROW Ballarat project manager Rob Croucher has supported Nicholson Construction to create its own social procurement framework.
The company has also signed on as part of GROW projects in Geelong, Bendigo and Shepparton, meaning it will focus on creating positive social outcomes for communities in each region through the use of suppliers and hiring staff from target groups.
Mr Nicholson said he was working to set up partnerships with employment agencies to provide a pathway for employment for people in target groups interested in construction and laboring.
"In the past we employed an Indigenous apprentice in Hamilton. He was a shy kid, we took him on board, put him through an apprenticeship and got him qualified," he said.
"He won an apprentice of the year award and left us after about six years. He started his own company and he is now working on the wind farms north of Hamilton running his own crew. That's a great story and a great outcome. They are the kind of outcomes we love to replicate."
Mr Croucher said he was targeting businesses involved in the construction industry to become GROW members, while assisting them to understand the social and financial benefits of adhering to the Social Procurement Framework.
The program focus will expand to target other industry areas in coming years.
"GROW is a vehicle to make a difference, record your difference and maximise your impact," he said.
"There are benefits for the organisation and people within the community as a whole.
"We are encouraging employers to give a hand up, not a hand out. It is not charity - there are still commercial outcomes that need to be hit - but it is about opening your eyes and practising inclusive employment so that people who wouldn't otherwise get a chance at least get considered.
"Social procurement is an evolving space and one businesses need to stay on the front foot of."
Economic modelling shows even a small shift in the way the region buys its goods and services can generate significant investment and increased job opportunities in Ballarat, according to the GROW Ballarat Regional Action Plan.
"For example, a 1 per cent shift in spend from non-local to local contributes more than $85 million in economic value and creates an estimated 295 new jobs," the report states.