Ben Hughes has made the sometimes-slippery concept of local content his business.
The Brisbane-based founder of Hughes et al has been networking, gathering data, speaking at regional forums and acting as a local content advisor on major projects in the Surat Basin region for about eight years.
Now he has teamed up with Strategenics managing director Chris Mills to develop EconomX – a project that aims to create better local content strategies and use technology to foster closer links between major project proponents, economic development groups and local suppliers.
Mr Hughes, who hails from Somerset in England, said his previous career path had seen him running major recruitment exercises for large corporations.
“I came to Australia in 2002 because Suncorp had to find about 2500 people a year and my role was to build the process and the strategy and the team,” he said.
He worked in Melbourne for ANZ and Hewlett Packard before being based in Brisbane to work in the mining sector.
“Then I got a phone call one day from a matron at the Proserpine hospital who told me off as one of my team’s recruitment activities had resulted in two of her nurses leaving to go and work on a mine site,” he said.
Mr Hughes said that encounter had given him food for thought about the social impact of major corporations’ recruitment and procurement policies on regional centres.
It came at a point when he was looking for a new career direction.
“I wanted to work in regional development and a mate mentioned Dalby was a good place to start,” he said.
“So over the next few years I drove into the region and learnt to be a business consultant, learnt about small business, volunteered for the chambers and just basically involved myself in as much economic activity and detail as I could so that I could understand how it worked.”
The impact of the flood disaster of 2010/11 on his Dalby and Chinchilla clients wiped out his budding enterprise and saw him snap up a reference-checking job in Brisbane as a standby.
In a twist of fate, people in the next office pod were working for a major CSG-LNG project contractor and were seeking someone with knowledge of Surat Basin networks and employment to help write a local content plan.
Mr Hughes said he had put up his hand and was later asked to come on board to deliver that plan for what was then Transfield.
“Since then I have been moving around major contractors developing better local content plans, particularly in procurement,” he said.
Mr Hughes said he was convinced that everyone he had worked with wanted to do the right thing – buy and employ locally – but there were many challenges not least in the fact that ‘local content’ was still being defined and interpreted differently.
“I agree that local content is a shared responsibility and that everyone has a role to play, the question is how do those responsibilities and roles interrelate?” he said.
“The focus of local content should be to engineer out the inefficiencies in local procurement and employment to generate commercial benefits which in turn generate social dividends.”
Mr Hughes said he had teamed up with Mr Mills last year, finding a like mind in many respects and a complementary skills set to create EconomX.
“We are trying to start off a renaissance of local content conversation – so much has changed in the market, in the supply chain and in the community, that we believe there is a need to consolidate the lessons we have collectively learned, redefine what local content should now be and then drive participation in a strategy that we think can meet shared expectation,” he said.
He described EconomX as an online marketplace that would make it easier for regional businesses to access supply chain opportunities and jobs, and make it easier for major projects and corporations to find cost-effective and reliable local supply.
“However a system implemented in a region that doesn’t have a strategy and that doesn’t have the support of the parties that share in the local content responsibility won’t work. Our priority is to get the analysis right first, develop the strategy and coalesce the support, the system implementation comes after that due diligence”
One of the venture’s incubator projects – localworkers.com.au – is due to launch around July.
Mr Hughes described it as a FIFO mitigation strategy. “Step 1 is to build a body of evidence that shows that skills are available in regions,” he said.
- Mr Hughes will be guest speaker at the Surat Basin Expo Industry Forum at the City Golf Club, Toowoomba, on June 14 and the CHDC Business Breakfast in Emerald on June 17.
- See the IQ Events page for more information on these forums – https://www.i-q.net.au/events