Current research projects

With a strong social justice theme, we seek to inform and engage in public debate. The following are some examples of our work in this area.

AU PAIRS IN AUSTRALIA

The number of families hosting au pairs is on the rise in Australia with au pair agencies unable to meet the demand (CAPAA). Most au pairs enter Australia on Working Holiday subclass 417 visas and, accordingly, tend to be aged in their 20s. Importantly, au pair work is seen to be a matter of cultural exchange, as opposed to employment. Au pairs receive ‘free’ accommodation and meals along with what is often termed ‘pocket money.’ This project examines the experience of au pair work, the intersections of reproductive labour, cultural exchange, home and mothering, and intersections with domestic violence. The research will assist relevant stakeholders to develop and implement new strategies to protect this under-researched cohort of vulnerable workers.

Project members: Robyn Mayes, Deanna Grant-Smith

 

GLOBAL PARTNERSHIPS FOR ACADEMIC TEACHING EXCELLENCE

The Global Partnerships for Academic Teaching Excellence program, led by Queensland University of Technology’s (QUT) Professor Abby Cathcart, is a teaching and learning collaboration between Queensland and Chinese universities. The program saw 10 Queensland universities work together to promote quality teaching and learning internationally. More than 180 academic staff from 49 separate Chinese Universities participated in three showcases of innovative university teaching practice, presented by award-winning academics from Queensland universities.

Following workshops in Hong Kong, Chengdu and Shanghai Chinese academics were mentored by Queensland academics as they developed applications for HEA Fellowship and more than 50 have now achieved recognition.  The program has created new communities of practice between Chinese and Queensland academics, and highlighted the benefits of HEA Fellowship in benchmarking teaching quality and rewarding those leading, delivering and supporting teaching. The program was co-funded by QUT, the Higher Education Academy, and with the support of Queensland Government’s International Education and Training Partnership Fund, managed by the International Education and Training Unit within Trade and Investment Queensland.

Project members: Consortium led by Abby Cathcart

TECHNOLOGICAL DISRUPTION AND THE PHOTOGRAPHIC INDUSTRY

An increasing number of Australian workers are thought to be deriving at least part of their income from work accessed through online digital platforms. Platforms operate on different scales but in general, they all connect individual workers, through intermediaries, with end-users who seek specific services. While a growing body of grey literature speculates about work trends in the gig economy, there is surprisingly little empirical evidence to support such conjecture. This project explores the extent, nature and impact of digital platforms in the photography industry in Australia. In an industry that has experienced significant technological disruption, the study has implications for how the contours of the gig economy are impacting employment opportunities, the experience of work, income security and the professional identity of creative workers.

Project members:  Penny Williams, Robyn Mayes, Paula McDonald

DIGITAL WORK PRACTICES: WHERE ARE THE JOBS, WHAT ARE THEY, AND HOW PREPARED ARE GRADUATES?

This collaborative project involving QUT, RMIT and UTS focuses on preparing graduates for digital work and how to embed this in the curriculum. Scaffolding learning experiences with students and educators using an interdisciplinary co-design process with industry, in addition to change strategies, delivers learning outcomes that prepare students for future employment. There are three drivers for the project: 1) lower employment levels in Melbourne than Sydney and Brisbane for recent graduates in Creative Arts, Communications, Business & Management, and Engineering, which may be indicative of changing industry needs; 2) the desire for ATN graduates to be leaders in the field, able to work creatively and collaboratively in the digital space; and 3) a need to re-imagine pedagogy across disciplines to support digital work readiness and inform future-oriented curriculum.

Project members: Fiona Paterson (Project Leader RMIT), Abby Cathcart (Institutional lead QUT), Peter Fray (Institutional lead UTS)

REGULATING THE UNSPEAKABLE

This research is concerned with the management of a specific class of wicked problem – unspeakable problems. Unspeakable problems are difficult for policy makers to engage with stakeholders around due to the high levels of psychosocial sensitivity and verbal proscription which characterise them. Unspeakable problems currently resisting resolution in public policy related to sanitation (such as the rejection of recycled water proposals) and death (such as controversies surrounding eco-burials and other forms of non-traditional interment). The successful management of such policy issues have potentially significant sustainability, social justice and economic impacts. This research agenda aims to advance policy understandings of wicked problems in general, unspeakable problems more specifically, and to shape associated stakeholder engagement approaches.

Project members: Deanna Grant-Smith, Natalie Osborne (Griffith University)

EMPLOYABILITY SUPPORT FOR AT-RISK YOUNG JOB SEEKERS

This research project explores young job seekers’ (15-25 years) pathways to sustainable employment. Partly funded by SYC Ltd, historical data was used to map pathways to employment and conduct in depth interviews to explore the stories and personal accounts of young people’s experiences whilst looking for work and maintaining employment. The research found that assessment of the key characteristics for job retention and the interventions required to encourage job retention and long-term employability requires responses that are tailored towards the individual’s circumstances. Effective outcomes are unlikely to follow a straight line sequence of assessment and predictable interventions but rather a ‘toolkit’ of support strategies with the job-seeker at the centre of the picture.

Project members: Katherine Moore, Deanna Grant-Smith, Paula McDonald

SUPERMARKETS, COSMETIC STANDARDS AND FOOD WASTE

Extensive research has been undertaken into the issue of corporate social responsibility and wastage of fresh fruit and vegetables from the perspectives of the fruit and vegetable industry, food rescue and food retail. The results revealed that despite Australian supermarkets’ zero food waste targets, large volumes of food are discarded. At a time when people globally experience hunger, as much as 50% of all food produced is thrown away every year. One of the main reasons cited for excessive food waste was strict supermarket standards that determine the cosmetic appearance of fresh fruit and vegetables, such as the curvature of a banana, or the size of an apple.

Project members: Bree Devin, Carol Richards

 

 

 

EFFECTIVE REWARD AND RECOGNITION SYSTEMS

Effective reward and recognition systems are essential for organisations to optimise employee engagement and to align employee performance with an organisation’s strategic objectives. The Work/Industry Futures Research Program is partnering with Suncorp on research designed to provide insights into employee’s perceptions of reward and recognition. The research is exploring the relationship between reward and recognition policies, practices and organisational strategy; identifying innovative approaches to reward and recognition in Suncorp; and informing the design and management of future reward and recognition systems.

Project members:Abby Cathcart, Paula McDonald

UNPAID WORK AND INTERNSHIPS

Internships and other forms of unpaid work experience are becoming increasingly common in Australia. Well-designed work experience programs can clearly play an important role in the transition from education to work. At the same time, however, numerous studies have highlighted a range of risks associated with the growth in such arrangements. This project involves a systematic review of the international unpaid work literature. It also explored, through quantitative surveys and qualitative interview data, the prevalence and nature of different forms of unpaid work in Australia. The research highlights the complexities of the practice for individual students and job-seekers and the implications for employers, universities, VET providers, parents and governments.

Project members: Paula McDonald, Deanna Grant-Smith, Dr Damian Oliver (UTS), Professor Andrew Stewart and Dr Anne Hewitt (University of Adelaide)

HOW DO RECREATIONAL FISHERS GET INFORMATION ABOUT CARING FOR WATER HABITATS?

In collaboration with OzFish Unlimited, this ongoing research examines what sources of information are trusted by fishers; what engagement strategies are best used; and how all those with a stake in fishing and riparian management can work together to better manage the environment around waterways. The research focuses on understanding how fishers get information about riparian and coastal environmental management, fish cycles and stocks, and ways of protecting and restoring waterways. This knowledge can inform effective campaigns and engagement to further conservation efforts.

Project members: Jennifer Bartlett, Deanna Grant-Smith, Dr Natalie Osborne (Griffith University), Craig Copeland (NSW Fisheries)

IDENTIFYING EFFECTIVE STRATEGIES TO GROW AND SUSTAIN A PROFESSIONAL EARLY YEARS WORKFORCE

Commonwealth legislation specifies that all long day-care centres must have a qualified teacher and minimum staff qualification of Certificate III. Yet high turnover, skill loss and failure to meet existing qualification standards persist. This study identifies the most effective strategies to reduce loss and increase professional engagement in the early years workforce. Partnering with the Department of Education, Training and Employment, C&K and Goodstart Early Learning on an ARC Linkage grant, a national survey of the early years workforce and in-depth interviews with early years educators have been undertaken. A report has summarised the initial study findings and drew on key points from symposium conversations which captured participants’ responses, observations and insights on emerging themes and their implications for ECEC policy and practice. The findings are being utilised by the organisational partners to improve retention, engagement and training in the early childhood education and care workforce.

Project members: Professor Karen Thorpe (QUT Faculty of Health), A/Professor Susan Irvine (QUT Faculty of Education), Paula McDonald, Professor Jo Lunn (QUT Faculty of Education), Professor Jennifer Sumsion (Charles Sturt University)

 

THE IMPACT OF PROFESSIONAL STANDARDS ON UNIVERSITY TEACHING

This scholarship of learning and teaching project explores the growing use of the UK Professional Standards Framework to underpin academic development for University teachers. Drawing on case studies in China, Thailand, the UK and Australia, the project examines the impact on students and institutions as well as individual staff members. Funding from the Higher Education Academy and Suranaree University of Technology in Thailand is supporting this research which is contributing to the skills and expertise of educators in different national contexts.

Project members: Abby Cathcart

MEGA FREE TRADE AGREEMENTS AND BIOSECURITY IN AUSTRALIA

In collaboration with the Australian Farm Institute, this research on mega free trade agreements and Australian biosecurity explores the shift from bilateral trade agreements to multi-lateral, mega Free Trade Agreements such as the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement. The research highlights how the neoliberal doctrine that supports both free trade and deregulation is incompatible with protecting Australia’s biosecurity.

Project members: Carol Richards, Associate Professor Vaughan Higgins (Charles Sturt University)

NOT JUST PART TIME, NOT JUST WOMEN: CHALLENGING THE MYTHS OF FLEXIBLE WORK

This innovative research challenges some of the myths surrounding flexible work. The project reconceptualises flexible work arrangements to explore the diverse and complex ways in which managers and employees customised the terms and conditions of standardised employment arrangements. It has had wide and varied impact on policy development, public debate and organisational practices. Direct beneficiaries of the research include a large finance sector organisation, the Australian Defence Force and several government inquiries. Policy impact is demonstrated through the use of research findings in various policy development round-tables and government inquiries, including in the Productivity Commission’s Workplace Relations Inquiry Report. The research has shaped training and employment practices in finance, community and Defence organisations.

Project members: Abby Cathcart, Paula McDonald

YOUTH WAGES AND CONDITIONS: AN INTERNATIONAL PERSPECTIVE

Funded by UNICEF, this project provided an overview of the published international literature concerning issues faced by young workers. It firstly mapped existing literature that addresses youth wage structures in several industrialised countries where such systems exist: Australia, New Zealand, UK, US, Canada, France, Spain, and The Netherlands. Secondly, the project reviewed the broader international literature concerning youth employment, summarising issues of current concern including breaches of International Labor Organization (ILO) Conventions 138 and 182 on child labour; work/study balance; working hours, conditions and pay; workplace sexual harassment; health and safety; and opportunities for collective representation.

The research informed UNICEF Australia’s organisational priorities and agendas around youth employment.

Project members: Katherine Moore, Paula McDonald

 

CLIMATE CHANGE AND THE FOSSIL FUEL DIVESTMENT MOVEMENT

This project examines civil society’s response to climate change. In-depth interviews in the UK and Australia reveal a frustration with the lack of decisive political action on climate change but also new and innovative approaches to effect change at the global level. Divestment, or the withdrawal of funds and investments from ethically questionable businesses, is a new tool in the climate activist repertoire. For example, the strategy has been effective in disrupting funding to controversial mining projects such as Adani’s Carmichael mine in North Queensland. The research also examines how new forms of citizen engagement increasingly act ‘through markets’ rather than through traditional avenues of engagement with parliamentarian politics.

Project Members: Carol Richards, Robyn Mayes, Professor Mike Woods (Aberystwyth University)

WIL WELLBEING: EXPLORING THE IMPACTS OF UNPAID PRACTICUM ON STUDENT WELLBEING

Australian universities are under increasing pressure to support students to develop the graduate skills and knowledge required to transition from education into professional practice. The adoption of a range of Work Integrated Learning (WIL) approaches to achieve this aim is an increasingly visible component of the tertiary education landscape. However, successes in increasing the participation of diverse groups challenge assumptions regarding students’ extra-study commitments on their capacity to participate in unpaid placements in particular. In research funded by the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE) and in partnership with the National Association of Field Experience Administrators (NAFEA) and researchers from the QUT Faculties of Business, Education and Health, this project examined student experiences of and institutional approaches to support student wellbeing in practicum. The research makes visible considerable levels of financial stress as a result of undertaking a placement due to the intensive unpaid nature of such placements; the additional costs incurred; relational stressors; and the financial impacts of lost wages.

Project members: Deanna Grant-Smith, Dr Jenna Gillett-Swan (QUT)

EVERYDAY SEXISM IN THE WORKPLACE

Gender inequality remains a persistent and pervasive feature of many organisational environments. However, the extent, nature and location of the problem often remain obscured, making it difficult to develop strategic interventions. The Victorian Male Champions of Change Group commissioned the development of a rigorous survey designed to ascertain how diverse organisations are tracking in relation to everyday sexism—a significant dimension of gender inequality. The survey which was subsequently developed enables the collection of experiential data on a range of sexist behaviours in the workplace. These may include behaviours generally associated with everyday sexism, as well as organisational and bystander responses. Components of the survey, several dimensions of which have not been utilised on a large scale in Australia, can be adapted and replicated across diverse organisational environments.

Project members: Paula McDonald, Robyn Mayes, Melinda Laundon (QUT PhD student)

 

 

 

SOCIAL IMPACT OF THE RED MEAT PROCESSING INDUSTRY IN AUSTRALIA

This ongoing research examines the social impact of the red meat processing industry in Australia. Funded by the Australian Meat Processing Corporation, the four stage research project will empirically describe, value, and measure the social impact of the red meat processing industry in order to better understand the role the industry plays in sustaining rural and regional communities.

Project Members: Dr Kim Johnston, Dr Amanda Beatson and Dr Anne Lane (QUT Business School), Bree Devin

 

MOBILITIES OF CARE, TRANSPORT AND WORKPLACE ACCESSIBILITY

This project investigates the mobility of women and children. In particular, the research focuses on the impact of transport accessibility and mobility on employment and other opportunities for women and strategies to address these at both the policy and practice level.

Project members: Deanna Grant-Smith, Dr Natalie Osborne (Griffith University), Dr Peter Edwards (Victoria University of Wellington), Dr Laurel Johnson (University of Queensland)

WORKPLACE SEXUAL HARASSMENT

This ongoing program of research adopts a critical, multi-level examination of the nature of sexual harassment, including the factors that shape how individuals and organisations perceive and respond to the problem as a workplace anti discrimination issue. New insights and contributions generated through the research include evidence of harasser tactics; a critique of the effectiveness of conciliation as an individualised form of alternative dispute resolution; the nature and causes of ‘atypical’ sexual harassment; and deficiencies in how organisations typically manage complaints. The research has substantially informed public debate and shaped organisational and policy responses. The research has also influenced Australian and international organisations and agencies through requests for expert advice and invitations to address policy-makers and thought leaders.

Project member: Paula McDonald

INTERSECTIONS OF TRANSNATIONAL MIGRATION, EDUCATION AND RURALITY

This research explores migrant women’s encounters with formal and informal education in new immigration rural destinations in Australia and Northern Ireland. Of interest are the ways in which these encounters shape migrant experiences and aspirations, and inform education migration flows.

Project members: Robyn Mayes, Dr Ruth McAreavey (Queens University, Belfast)

THE CONTESTED TERRAIN OF SOCIAL MEDIA AT WORK

The use of multi-platform, socially networked, and mobile technologies by both workers and employers is a significant contributing factor to a more flexible labour market. Debates about what is appropriate, normative or legitimate are being played out across popular media, and in courts, companies and employment tribunals. This project involves a survey of 2,000 working-age adults in the UK and Australia which examined three primary sources of contestation: employer profiling, disparaging posts and blogs, and private use of social media during work time. Evidence was found for the characteristics of organisations which have developed social media policies, and the extent and nature of strategies used by employers/managers to monitor and enforce expectations. More broadly, the findings point to wider moves by employers to codify and subsequently impose expanded spheres of behavioural regulation associated with online conduct.

Project members: Paula McDonald, Professor Paul Thompson (Stirling University, UK), Dr Peter O’Connor (QUT Business School)

EVALUATION OF A JOB COACHING MODEL FOR DISADVANTAGED JOB-SEEKERS

National youth unemployment is persistently high at double the adult rate and young people under 25 years of age have low rates of job retention. SYC commissioned the Work/Industry Futures Research Program to undertake research which examines the extent to which an evidence-based coaching service can lift the success rates of employment placements for young people. The service targets young jobseekers (18 to 25 years) who have been assessed by the Department of Employment as Stream B and C, meaning they have complex or multiple barriers to employment. This may include young people with indigenous or refugee status, disability or medical conditions, criminal conviction, or personal factors affecting the ability to work. The service utilises a coach support model for young people and their employer/s over a 60 week period. The research is having a demonstrable impact on the development of non-vocational skills in young people and addressing barriers to employment, such as home, health or relationship challenges.

Project members: Paula McDonald, Katherine Moore

THE CONCEPT OF MERIT IN THE AUSTRALIAN DEFENCE FORCE

This project is exploring how female and male personnel in the Australian Defence Force frame the idea of merit; a construct which sits at the heart of efforts to redress gender inequality. We are addressing several pertinent questions, such as How is merit defined and explained in a military setting?; How does gender identity shape understandings of merit, especially in relation to special treatment and stigmatisation?; and How do attributions of merit affect career development, promotion and retention? The findings will inform ongoing debates about how the notion of merit is defined and practised in the Australian Defence Force and in organisational settings more generally.

Project members: Paula McDonald, Abby Cathcart, Gill Kirton (Queen Mary University of London)