Regional employers are struggling to find workers to fil vacancies

Innovation vital for regional jobs market

The ability to work from home is often cited as a key reason for tree-changers leaving Sydney or Melbourne and heading to a smaller, more affordable city to live.

Since the pandemic began in March 2019, the number of Australians working from home has exploded, with it no longer being a negotiated work perk, but a legally-mandated requirement during lockdowns.

The pull of enough space to have a home office, an easier commute and a smaller mortgage are all drawcards too hard to resist for many who've made the move. But not everyone who's switched the inner-city for Horsham, Launceston, Byron or Mudgee is working from home.

Roy Elder is a young man from Sydney who during the height of the COVID shutdowns last year was seeing work dry up. He'd always considered a stint in regional Australia and when the opportunity to take a job in Western NSW came along he seized the opportunity. He says that the move isn't just about taking a job, any job, it was a smart career move offering him the opportunity to progress his career and take a promotion he could wait years for in Sydney.

But for many the move has been about changing up careers entirely, starting a new business or embracing remote working. For many of us our career, our job is closely tied to our sense of self. So moving to the country and reinventing ourselves often comes with a reimagining of our work life too.

The question of course is, what impact is this having on regional communities? With housing being bought up by new residents, where does that leave the space for businesses that rely on casual or seasonal workers?

It's not just that there is a lack of available housing for employees, there's a lack of anyone to hire! With backpackers long gone, even the grey nomads have been limited by frequent and irregular border closures. The Federal government has attempted to lure residents from metropolitan areas to help with harvesting work by offering cash grants of up to $6,000 but even that hasn't eased the labour shortage.

What it means is that industries such as agriculture that rely on seasonal labour are having to get smart about meeting their needs. Whilst not everything can be automated, some are investing heavily in equipment to reduce their labour needs.

Looking to the future is a key consideration not just of the economists in Canberra, Sydney or Perth, state education departments are already focusing on the changing needs of the workforce. Whilst agriculture might need fewer season workers to harvest the crops, automation requires skilled trades to be able to maintain and repair the equipment.

Meanwhile others have seen the business opportunities available in new technology with renewable energy hubs offering the opportunity to replace ageing infrastructure. These new industries are being supported by our regional universities who bring a pragmatic and innovative approach to dealing with the real world and often unique issues faced by regional Australia.

For the MD of Bendigo Bank, Marnie Baker, she has always appreciated the benefits of being able to live and work outside of Melbourne or Sydney.

Unlike the leaders of other leading Australian companies, she has longheld the belief that if we can meet the infrastructure needs of regional areas, saying " communication and transport links are vital to ensuring that we build a firm and sustainable base for regional growth in decades to come. Our regions will require significant long-term investment to bring health, education and other services up to standards that city people often take for granted."

Ms Baker says that whilst the "COVID-19 pandemic may be a motivator for some in terms of shifting the way people think about where they live and work, many people have begun seriously looking for opportunities to relocate businesses or start a new life - and this time, connectivity is key."

Certainly, it is this connectivity that has allowed the majority of people interviewed for this series to make the move to regional Australia. Despite the teething problems brought on by this period of rapid change and the difficulties faced by businesses who rely on open borders the future looks bright.

This story Innovation vital for regional jobs market first appeared on The Canberra Times.