From Factories to Future: Learnings from Geelong’s Economic Transformation through ‘Skilling the Bay’

Illustration of a vintage ford ute with pigs in the tray. Originally designed in Geelong. The header image is for Geelong Skilling the Bay. Logos across the top of the image feature: Deakin University, Victoria Government Department of Education and Geelong Skilling the Bay.

Geelong, nestled southwest of Melbourne in Victoria, Australia, embodies a resilient spirit shaped by its renowned industrial heritage and vibrant arts community. Geelong is known for many things, from the invention of the hills hoist, the clothesline, the birthplace of fashion retailers “Target” and “Cotton On”, a rich sporting history with the Geeong Football Club and the well-known invention of the Ford ute. In 1934, Lew Bandt, working for the Ford Motor Company, invented a vehicle that would later be nicknamed the “kangaroo chaser” by Henry Ford. The idea stemmed from a Gippsland woman’s request for a vehicle capable of transporting pigs to market on Mondays. This Geelong innovation has evolved far beyond its original purpose—it’s now a global icon that is used worldwide. Geelong has historically thrived on its innovative spirit, once dominated by Ford and General Motors, which formed the backbone of the local economy. The city also boasted textile mills that supplied textiles and clothing globally. However, with industrial transitions, Geelong needed to revamp its skills, employment, and education systems with an eye towards the future while preserving its innovative spirit.

In response to these challenges, Geelong embarked on a bold economic revival, exemplified by transformative initiatives like Skilling the Bay. This collaborative effort, supported by the Victorian Government, The Gordon, and Deakin University, has introduced new educational and workforce opportunities to the region, charting a course towards a knowledge-based economy.

Skilling the Bay 

Skilling the Bay emerged from extensive research and inclusive consultations involving diverse stakeholders. Over 100 contributors came together to assess Geelong’s skills profile, identify emerging industries, and identify strategies for economic renewal. This intuition has been spearheaded by The Gordon Institute in partnership with Deakin University and government bodies, empowering the community to shape its future. This resulted in the definition of priority action areas, and the three core goals of Skilling the Bay emerged:

  • Education: Enhancing educational attainment levels with a focus on employment pathways
  • Employment: Increasing workforce participation through training and reskilling
  • Skills: Developing targeted skills to support existing and emerging industries

The success of Skilling the Bay is underpinned by critical lessons learned and applied:

  • Broad-based consultation: Engaging stakeholders fostered a sense of ownership, aligning diverse agendas towards common goals.
  • Decentralised decision-making: Empowered management and advisory boards enabled nimble responses to challenges, driving effective local initiatives.
  • Global insights, local solutions: International best practices enriched planning and implementation, offering innovative approaches tailored to local needs of Geelong.


Storyfolk’s Involvement in the World of Work program

One notable initiative of Skilling the Bay was the 2023 World of Work program, which contributed to all three of the core focus areas. In this program, high school students from the region were immersed in emerging industries, providing invaluable insights into employment opportunities. Through industry tours, employer panels, and career discussions, students gained direct exposure to the professional world, nurturing connections and inspiration.

Sarah Gross, Creative Director/Partner of Storyfolk, was invited to deliver the inspiring keynote address to all the graduating high school students, sharing valuable insights under three powerful themes: process, passion, and perspective. Sarah highlighted the diverse pathways available to achieve one’s goals and the importance of embracing various learning styles. Through this partnership with Skilling the Bay, we support the region’s vocational education and workforce development, offering our insights and contributing to Geelong’s future growth and economic resilience. We are proud to contribute to the local community and share our knowledge like this. To learn more about our involvement within the Geelong community, read our blog post about being a Finalist in the Geelong Business Excellence Awards for 2023.

Image credit: Josie Collins – The Gordon TAFE

Skilling the Bay plays an important role in Geelong’s transition strategy, guiding young people towards vocational careers essential for future growth. As Geelong paves the way forward, its approach offers invaluable guidance for communities navigating workforce and skills transitions. This model fosters a lot to be learned from to understand and evaluate economic revitalisation and community sustainability, setting a precedent for robust engagement strategies. As regions worldwide grapple with economic shifts with the emerging workforce, Geelong’s story serves as a blueprint for resilience and progress, showcasing the enduring impact of unified action in shaping thriving communities.

Image credit: Josie Collins – The Gordon TAFE

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