If our employment system is 'broken', could this learning and innovation hub be the answer?

Regional Development Australia's Ben Fee hopes the support now available to Murraylands university students will make a difference.

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Ben Fee, Adrian Pederick, Tony Pasin, Brenton Lewis and Michael Sedgman open Murray Bridge’s learning and innovation hub. Photo: Peri Strathearn.

A learning and innovation hub now open in Murray Bridge may be an answer to Australia’s “broken” employment system, Ben Fee hopes.

The hub, on the city’s TAFE campus, exists to help university students succeed while studying online, whether they need a quiet workspace or a chat with an educational advisor.

In the years before it was built, it was described as the gateway to a more prosperous future for Murray Bridge and its residents.

Now, in the innovation-fuelled world brought on by COVID-19, it would really come into its own, predicted Mr Fee, a Regional Development Australia executive.

“In 2020 we saw an unprecedented number of business pivots, such as distilleries making hand sanitisers and dentists manufacturing face masks,” he said.

“COVID definitely helped us crank the innovation cycle, but innovations don’t just happen – innovation comes from a foundation of knowledge, from partnership and purpose.

“That’s why this learning and innovation hub is so important.

“We’re working with our partners to lay the foundations for innovation.”

For example, businesses were working hand in hand with universities to make sure that the courses available locally matched employers’ needs.

Murray Bridge’s rapid economic growth would be for nought unless locals were able to reap the benefits, he suggested.

Federal MP Tony Pasin hoped that making support available to students who could not afford to move or commute to Adelaide would make a huge difference.

On average, he said, someone with a degree earned $1 million more in his or her lifetime than someone who did not.

“Anyone who wishes to undertake tertiary education should be entitled to pursue it,” he said.

“This facility is a step in that direction.”

Council chief executive Michael Sedgman hoped the hub would also stem the flow of young people to Adelaide.

Businesses such as the new Bridgeport Hotel, Monarto Safari Park, The Bend Motorsport Park and Thomas Foods International would benefit if they did not have to look outside the region to find workers with the qualifications they needed.

About 40 people gathered at the learning and innovation hub on Monday afternoon to celebrate its completion, following on from the opening of the Murray River Study Hub – its most important component – in 2019.

The number of students enrolled in university courses through the hub is still modest: around 50 or so between Murray Bridge and a second site in the Riverland.