Employment self-sufficiency (ESS) is a metric that is without doubt a useful planning tool, but nonetheless cannot be turned to every task.
ESS measures the quantity of jobs available in a given area as a proportion of that area’s labour force. For example, the North-West Corridor of Perth has 41 percent employment self-sufficiency (2006 Census), meaning that 41 percent of the labour force living in that sub-region have the potential to gain a job there.
This is a valid measure at the sub-regional level as it provides a good baseline indicator of economic sustainability. It helps answer questions about whether a population can be sustainably supported in the long-term.
Where ESS falls down is when it is applied to individual developments. Increasingly authorities are requesting its application in this manner. Pracsys recently looked at a proposal for 2000 dwellings in an in-fill residential subdivision of Perth. Part of the requirement for the project was that it include a statement of employment self-sufficiency with a view by statutory authorities that a higher percentge would be more desirable.
In this context the use of ESS does not take into account the economic role that a particular development will play within the sub-region. Focussing on ESS creates an impetus on developers of residential activity to ‘design in’ s jobs where there is little logic for them to exist. This is ultimately destined to fail as the provision of land is only one component of an economy, and therefore unlikely to soley determine an enterprise’s location.
A focus on local ESS for developments also moves the emphasis of statutory authorities away from supporting sub-regional activity centres in the creation of agglomeration economies, and ultimately knowledge intensive, export orented clustering.
A much more relevant measure for individual developments is a determination of how it will contribute to the overall sub-region’s economy. To answer this a series of questions need to be asked. These include:
- How will the development interact with major employment nodes?
- What knowledge, skills and abilities will the development’s population bring to the sub-region?
- How will developers support investment in knowledge infrastructure within the sub-region?
- How will the development support the economic activation of population-driven activity in surrounding activity centres?
Measuring the potential of a particular development is much more than a numbers game and ESS is not the catch-all.