The CEO of a north-eastern Victorian business support network, the agricultural sector in the north-east of Victoria is starting to embrace digital inclusion, but much needs to be done to upskill farmers on understanding online programs.
After a six-month research project conducted with the Australian Digital Inclusion index, north-east based innovator enterprise Startup Shakeup says small businesses with four or fewer employees - including those in the agriculture sector - should look to improve digital capacity.
The idea for the workshops came after the index - which comprises Swinburne, RMIT, and Telstra researchers - who have conducted their latest national survey.
Managing director of Startup Shakeup Ilena Young said there were considerable efforts to improve low levels of digital literacy through the north-east.
"Northern Victoria... has always been very low in terms of digital inclusion, and the [researchers] look at geographical and demographic factors focusing on access, affordability and ability," Ms Young said.
"The bit that lets us down is the ability factor.
"We have had poor access but we're addressing that now and that has shifted"
After some further funding for more specific research into their region, industries and age groups, Ms Young said still are concerns over digital inclusion.
That research found that for those working in the small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) workforce, those living in the north-east of Victoria scored 9.9 points behind the metropolitan Melbourne 2021 index score.
"Other interesting factors that came forwards were the average age of people completing that survey," Ms Young said.
"The average age was 52 and everybody over the age of 55 came below our regional scores, so half the workforce are below the regional average, and that means that they really struggle [with it] it is very age-dependent."
The research into sectors showed less than impressive signs for the agricultural industry.
"The weakest sectors were agriculture, accommodation and hospitality," Ms Young said.
"Now, neither of those are a surprise, but it's nice to have concrete evidence on which we can base things like these workshops."
The workshops, subsidised by the Indigo and Mansfield Shires and the City of Wodonga, have been put together to support business growth, with each session including practical small business tips.
"We found that people are doing a lot more online, but they're not necessarily investing in better access or better skills, which means that they're doing a lot more when it's taking them a lot longer," Ms Young said.
She also highlighted quotes from a survey from Digital consulting company McKinsey & Company that said digital activity and skill uptake jumped five years ahead because of the COVID pandemic.
But she also highlighted a natively creative way that the agricultural sector can innovate, but farmers want the chance to dip their toe in the water without actually having to commit a lot of money.
"I think automatic cut offs on water stations for stock would be a classic example where the industry now knows them to be something that saves you driving around, checking your paddocks," she said.
"These things are now well known, which means that a farmer has a much more realistic idea of what they do, what they don't do, and what it's going to take to put them in."
"There are many other things out there that there isn't much knowledge on too, but farmer."
The workshops are not just aimed at the agricultural sector but different industries, with face-to-face beginners skills workshops running over six weeks in Mansfield, Beechworth, and Wodonga.
Intermediate workshops are held online and focus on digital advertising and the grant funding application process.