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Report Promotes New Ways To Connect 50,000 Regional Australians With Work

16 November 2023

Trialling a ‘gap year connector’ program, extending the Aged Pension’s work bonus measure and supporting local migrant resettlement strategies are among some of the recommendations to come out of the latest report from the Regional Australia Institute (RAI), focused on growing the local workforce.

RAI CEO Liz Ritchie said Against the Odds: Realising Regional Australia’s Workforce Potential, examines regional employment ecosystems across the country, and the local efforts underway to connect workers to work.

“With unemployment below 2% in many regions and housing very tight in most regions, it is more important than ever to make the most out of people already living in our regions or who are available to rejoin the workforce with the right support,” Ms Ritchie said.

“We need to acknowledge our regional communities’ innovative, localised strategies have resulted in sophisticated outcomes. But there are still many broken links in the chain and connecting them will strengthen regional economies and help fill some of the 92,500 jobs currently on offer across the regions,” Ms Ritchie said.

“While tight labour markets have emerged recently in Australia’s capital cities, regional Australia has been challenged by increasing workforce shortages for some time. This report confirms that regional labour market systems are sophisticated, showing high levels of collaboration and creative approaches to help fill roles in regions.”

The report analysed six key demographics including, young people (15-24 years), older people (over 55 years), migrants (overseas born and low English proficiency), people with disability, people with dependent children and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Ms Ritchie said it found in regional Australia, the labour force participation rates in three demographics (young people, low English proficiency and people with dependent children) outperformed those in metropolitan Australia, despite the challenges many regional areas face.

“Well-known long-term physical and social infrastructure deficits, including access to childcare and local education, represent some of the greatest hurdles faced by regional Australians in participating in the local workforce,” Ms Ritchie said.

“By changing the way we think - shifting our gaze - we could further strengthen those participation rates to include the more than 50,000 people within these demographic groups who reported a desire to be in the workforce.”

Against the Odds: Realising Regional Australia’s Workforce Potential also identified strategies being used by government, business, education and community organisations in regional Australia to build skills in the regions.

“A human-centered approach is necessary to overcome barriers to employment and create workforce connections. This report highlights the work being undertaken at a local level across regional Australia.”

The report has identified several policy recommendations to support workforce growth in the regions, including:

  • The development of a Regional Australia Jobs and Skills Roadmap to enhance the region’s human capital that meets regional employment needs and opportunities now and into the future. The Roadmap should include integrated planning for the essential supporting employment ecosystem including housing, childcare and transport links.
  • A pilot Gap Year Connector Program to keep regional young people connected to career and study pathways during their gap year/s.
  • Extend in perpetuity, the Work Bonus measure for older pensioners giving the option to engage in more paid work without reducing their Age Pension.
  • Reform of the Activity Test required to access the childcare subsidy in recognition of the limitations the test places on shift and seasonal workers; the barriers it creates for vulnerable families and children accessing early childhood learning. 
  • Support for regional communities to develop their own community-led migrant settlement strategies, a template for which is provided in the RAI’s Steps to Settlement Success toolkit.

Invest in education and awareness programs to educate and empower employers to be inclusive hirers who build diverse teams and to communicate this in their recruitment messaging. 

“Governments can support regional communities by implementing policies that address structural barriers to participation and partnering with communities to support local initiatives that create genuine, place-based change,” Ms Ritchie concluded.

A copy of the report can be found here.

Against the Odds: Realising Regional Australia’s Workforce Potential was funded by the Australian Government through the Department of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development, Communications and the Arts, and the Victorian, South Australian, Western Australian and Queensland Governments.

The report will be launched at the RAI’s Regions Rising NSW event in Orange, NSW today.

Melinda Hayter
Regional Australia Institute
Ph: 0498 373 300  
E: [email protected]