Researchers call for study participants: How do workers in Illawarra respond to industrial change

Dr Chantel Carr begins four-year project exploring experiences of region’s coal and steelworkers

Researchers call for study participants: How do workers in the Illawarra respond to industrial change?

Since the late 1800s, the Illawarra has been linked with coal mining. The metallurgical coal found in the region has supplied the steelworks at Port Kembla and international markets for generations.

However, there have been many changes during that time that have prompted employment crises in the Illawarra.

And there is more change to come, said Dr Chantel Carr, a researcher in the University of Wollongong’s (UOW) Australian Centre for Cultural, Environment, Society and Space.

Dr Carr, whose PhD focused on the post-retirement lives of former steelworkers, is researching how current employees of the region’s coal and steelmaking industries are planning for the future.

“For more than a century, the Illawarra’s fortunes and economic hopes have ebbed and flowed with the global steel and coal markets,” Dr Carr said. “But it’s not over yet. The Illawarra is a region based on industry and resources, and like all regions that rely on these two pillars, the Illawarra needs to begin planning for a future that looks markedly different to the present.

“The consequences of not planning for change, of not recognising that a shift is underway, will be borne heavily by the region’s workers and households.”

In a research project that looks set to span the next four years, Dr Carr is investigating how households will respond to the coming change. She is searching for participants to take part in the study, with a focus on how workers will make decisions about their future.

“The home is where decisions are made about jobs and about careers. We are really interested in how workers talk to their families about their roles and about the future of their jobs, and how they plan for that future.”

Working with UOW PhD student Natasha Larkin, Dr Carr is exploring the nuances of industrial transitions and the factors that influence a worker’s decision to make a change in their employment.

“We are really interested in the intergenerational nature of employment, and how parents discuss their futures with their children. Changes in employment have a huge impact on the family life, but they are often only viewed through the impact on the workplace. It is about so much more than the individual.”

Dr Carr and Ms Larkin are aiming to interview 70 households in the Illawarra, with the hopes of their findings from their research informing governments and institutions on how to better support regional workers and manage transitions in areas like the Illawarra, that have traditionally been built on the back of industry and resources.

“If you are a coal worker or a steel worker, or you are connected to those industries, we would love to hear your experiences,” Dr Carr said.

Born and raised in the Illawarra, Dr Carr is an experienced qualitative researcher and ethnographer. She began her career as an apprentice electrician at Bluescope (formerly BHP), an experience that has deeply influenced her research and interest in how households adapt to change in energy-intensive regions and industries.

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