The road back: a helping hand for Gippsland’s bushfire-affected businesses

Many Gippsland bushfire-affected businesses are getting back on their feet via an MBA course at Federation University that will help them upskill and reskill.

When walls of fire ripped through East Gippsland on 30 December last year, entire communities were left devastated, with many losing property or cashflow overnight. Towns were cut off, tourism dried up and many local operators hit the wall.

But the path to recovery is underway.

Key to Gippsland’s recovery will be improving employment avenues and investing in local talent.

To help bring that recovery plan into being, the Victorian Government and the Gippsland Regional Partnership – one of nine partnerships established by the government recognising that local communities are in the best position to understand the challenges and opportunities faced by their region – has subsidised 15 Federation University scholarships, reducing the cost to students by 80 per cent.

The program that kicked off in September – whose intake includes farmers, forestry workers, small business owners, manufacturers, a vet, winery operators, traditional owners, educators, real estate agents and social enterprise managers – is addressing a shortage in Gippsland, when measured against state averages: namely a lower percentage of people with post-graduate qualifications.

Initially offered online until physical restrictions ease, the 18-month Master of Business Administration (MBA) will eventually operate full-time from Federation University’s Gippsland campus located in Churchill, 240 kilometres east of Melbourne.

Co-designed with entrepreneurial hub Runway, the course will develop skills in innovation, network-building and start-up-thinking that participants can then apply to their line of work. As well, it will feature business guest speakers and culminate in an experiential project where students tackle a real-time problem facing their business. Can’t get more practical than that.

Q&A: Maree McPherson, Chair of the Gippsland Regional Partnership.

What's the mood in Gippsland at the moment?

Maree McPhersonIt’s challenging for many businesses as in the past 18 months the region has seen ongoing drought, extensive bushfires and the pandemic.

And how will this MBA course help?

The cost of tertiary education is prohibitive for many, so we see the MBA program as an exciting opportunity: it will enhance accessible education options for Gippslanders, particularly during this challenging transition period. More than 120 program applications were received, and such intense interest is evidence that Gippslanders want to study at the post-graduate level. [The strong interest in the program comes as Federation University was recently rated the number one university in Australia for Postgraduate teaching quality in the Good Universities Guide 2021.]

Who are the scholarships for?

For all Gippslanders, including those impacted by fire, drought, coronavirus (COVID-19) and also those who are navigating industry transition and seeking a new career in emerging sectors. Right now is the time when many of our business owners can take up learning opportunities - the downtime caused by restrictions has led people to reflect on other pursuits such as study.

To what extent will the course unlock new job opportunities for locals?

Education and skills are the keys to our recovery: improving employment pathways and investing in local talent is crucial. This program provides individuals with the skills to tackle real-world business challenges, giving them the confidence to create change in their organisations. This is about building a stronger sense of self and taking control of the future after a volatile, uncertain and ambiguous year.

What is it about the course that makes you most excited?

Our region needs support more than ever. Yet it's not just about money. Transformation occurs when we invest in embedding change. We're thrilled to back Federation University with this program which will support regional business recovery and the reskilling of our workforce. It's great to work collaboratively with our local university – to see them adapt and deliver leading-edge academic programs in a new, unique way. And having a large new cohort of MBAs running about the region is pretty cool.