It was a cold evening in Bendigo on 18 July 2023, but the atmosphere was warm, if not a little melancholy, as the GROW Bendigo signatories and the Be.Bendigo team gathered at Red Energy Arena to recognise the end of GROW Bendigo Program.
With Be.Bendigo as the auspicing body, Grow Regional Opportunities for Work (GROW) Bendigo has been working to tackle place-based disadvantages by fostering growth and employment in the Bendigo region since 2018.
Sadly, the funding for the program was not renewed in the latest Victorian Government budget which has brought the program to an end when it was really making great strides in connecting businesses with employment organisations and potential employees from disadvantaged groups.
GROW Bendigo had 59 signatory businesses signed up to the program and facilitated over 240 employment outcomes, including 40 pathways to employment via TAFE, apprenticeships and training programs, as well as seeking to help get people employment ready.
“We believe the strong partnerships that have been forged by GROW Bendigo will continue into the future, which is a great legacy for the program,” said Rob Herbert, Be.Bendigo CEO.
Outgoing GROW Bendigo Project Manager, Rob Murphy encouraged program signatories to continue to collaborate. “Just because the program stops, doesn’t mean the need stops – let’s keep the conversations going to take tangible action for people who need a bit of extra support to enter the workforce,” he said.
At the event, a few signatories shared testimonials about the positive impact had in their organisations.
Ben Dillon, Downer Operations and Environmental Services Manager, which looks after integrated facilities services at the Bendigo Hospital said: “Participating in the GROW Bendigo program has been an extraordinary experience for Downer that initially started as a reaction to the staffing challenges caused in part by the global pandemic; but has since become a new way of working resulting in record high employee retention rates, excellent employee and customer satisfaction, and over 100 employment opportunities”.
Dan Douglas, Heathcote Health’s CEO shared the outcomes of the Heathcote Employment Expo which was held in May and the role GROW Bendigo had played to make the event a huge success with multiple job placements being as a result. It is a shame that a program as good as this didn’t get further funding, but we have learned a lot from being part of it, which we will continue to try and build on,” he said.
Tori Warde Business Development Manager at WDEA Works, which helps people with disabilities to find work, also sang the praises of the program: “It was great to have the GROW Bendigo team there to connect us with potential employers and help with mock interviews – it all helped to move our clients one step closer to employment,” she said.
Rob Herbert and Rob Murphy thanked all the signatories and others that had been involved with GROW Bendigo during its time, encouraging everyone to keep an open mind and to continue to implement some of the programs spearheaded by the program.
“Diversifying our workforce to accommodate previously disadvantaged groups requires us to think creatively and revisit our employment processes, in order to solve the employment imbalances in our community. GROW Bendigo has shown how it can be done … so it is now up to us to keep the momentum built up by the program going,” Rob Murphy concluded.
Photography by: Tom Bailey Photography