Australia is facing an increasingly worsening skills shortage, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Employers are being forced to reconsider how and where they source talent. And regional Australia is coming up trumps, writes Alex West, CEO Swoop.
Migration and sourcing overseas workers have served as a quick fix for skills shortages prior to the pandemic. With Australian borders effectively closed, and predicted to remain so until 2022, local businesses have limited access to overseas talent. As a result, businesses will have to look within their own borders to source skilled staff.
Remote work widens talent pool
The pandemic has led to a rapid emergence and normalisation of remote working. The traditional practice of restricting recruitment to the major capital cities has become largely redundant. Companies are now able to extend their search beyond urban areas to access broader talent pools. Namely, to those living in regional areas.
The pandemic and the shift to remote working has provided a critical policy solution for governments on how to stimulate growth in regional areas. Lockdowns have halted the long-term trend of people migrating from regional areas to cities for opportunities. Instead, the trend for population growth appears to be reversing, as cities become less attractive with the rise of remote working and learning. Now, more and more white-collar professionals, unconstrained by the need to live near an office, are actively considering relocating to regional areas.
Seachange and treechangers add to regional talent
Outside metro areas, there has been a surge in interest in city-dwellers looking for property in regional Australia. Tired of the expense and strain of juggling professional and personal lives, many are looking to make that sea or tree-change. According to ABS data, there has been a 49 per cent increase in people migrating to regional Australia between Q3 2019 to Q3 2020.
That is not to say that working and living in regional Australia doesn’t come with its share of obstacles. Many regional areas are still not served by robust internet connections and accessing customers physically can provide logistical challenges. Regional populations also don’t have easy access to technical training and many major educational organisations are located in capital cities. While remote working is now an accepted work practice, it is likely that many employees will need to split their time between home and office post-COVID. Additionally, the rate of population growth in these areas will present an interesting challenge for governments. Can they keep pace with the necessary schools, health facilities and other critical infrastructure?
More affordable housing and a simpler lifestyle are driving a resurgence in the working-age population in regional areas. As skilled professionals continue to re-evaluate how they work and live the trend is likely to continue. For Australian businesses, this means that regional areas will become an important source of key talent moving forward.
As a technology business that provides high-quality internet access to regional Australia, we have hired many highly skilled workers living outside metro areas. Currently, 95 per cent of our workforce work from home, with 50 of 80 employees living and working outside capital cities.
By including regional Australia in a business growth strategy, companies can access a wider talent and customer pool. For Swoop and other technology-focused companies, there are definite benefits to setting up and running a business in regional areas. Underpinned by an improving standard of digital connectivity in many areas and competitive operating costs, regional hires can drive value to the bottom line and make it more cost-effective to service customers.
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