While eight in ten Australians are members of at least one co-operative or mutually owned business only 16 per cent can name one. There is an acute lack of awareness of the co-operative business model as a successful, contemporary business practice.
Co-operatives and mutuals are under-represented in professional education and training programs and in publicly provided information about the options for new business ventures according to the new report commissioned by the BCCM: “A Comprehensive National Education and Training Strategy for the Co-operatives and Mutuals Sector” (University of Sydney, June 2014).
The reports found the gap between the social and economic contribution of co-operatives and their national visibility adversely impacts the capacity of the sector to access relevant education and training and to therefore grow and reach its potential. It is also critical for professionals in the legal, accounting and financial services areas to study the co-operative model of business in order to equip them with sufficient information to assist the sector.
To address the current gap in awareness co-operatives and mutuals will need to be included as part of the mainstream teaching of business law, management and accounting courses. This will recognise that co-operatives sit alongside companies in the Australian market. Co-operatives, just like any other business organisation, need legal, financial and management skills to flourish as they face the issues of operating and competing in the Australian economy. Professionals with skills in solving these issues for all business organisational types will better be able to serve an economy comprised of diverse legal structures.
The BCCM recognises that an articulated and relevant education and training system is important to the further development of the sector. Furthermore, the BCCM believes that increasing awareness and understanding of member owned business in academia and the public arena will not only be of great benefit to co-operatives and mutuals but to the whole of Australian society.
The values, principles and structures of co-operatives and mutuals (C&Ms) provide these organisations with their competitive advantage in the marketplace (Davis 2004). Failure to educate and train management, employees and the membership base in the C&M (Co-operative and Mutual) “difference” represents an untapped resource that can be strategically harnessed to enhance the growth and benefit to the membership and community of these types of businesses. This report establishes the strategic premise for future considerations regarding education and training. The report took into account training and education needs within the Australian C&M business sector and drew upon a comparative analysis of current Australian provisions with their UK and Canadian counterparts to develop recommendations for future education and training provisions.
- Lack of focus on teaching the values, purpose and fostering an in-depth understanding of what C&Ms are;
- Lack of national industry bodies that focus on developing education and training programs and providing business assistance to C&Ms specifically;
- Insufficient tertiary level education courses (although there are a number of courses that are currently being developed and will be offered from 2015 onwards, the variety of courses is limited when compared to Canada and the UK);
- Lack of work placement opportunities as part of tertiary level courses; and
- No national code of governance (unlike the Code in the UK).
Industry survey responses:
- 91% of respondents said there was a need for C&M specific education and training in the workplace. Cost was a barrier to education and training and staff moving on with built up knowledge contributed to a skills drain.
- “If I had the money, I would access everything. But we don’t, so we rely on the organisation’s internal knowledge, which is hard especially when you have staff moving out.”
- 40% of Top Managers currently rely on their inherent skills and understanding of C&Ms with no additional access to C&M specific professional development.
- “I think my staff might understand how the organisation functions… [But] I think if staff understood how it impacts them, that (education and training) would be useful.”
- 67% said there was a present gap in the understanding of C&Ms amongst non-managerial staff.
- “Their (frontline staff’s) understanding of mutuals and what it means…that is what differentiates us as an industry. Being able to explain that to customers and potential customers will bring in more business, which [again] increases profitability”.
- 67% thought there was a gap in the C&M knowledge of future staff which effects hiring.
- “People could hit the ground running if they had that (University/TAFE) qualification. Being a growing business, there is going to be more demand from us in the job market, and if that (University TAFE qualification) was a distinction to benefit us, it would be a fantastic thing.”
- 64% agreed there was a lack of specialist consultants available to conduct workplace training.