How to Win the Struggle for Regional Talent in Australia

Posted on Sunday, August 29, 2021 by Tim O'Brien (7 minute read)1 comment

As I write this at the end of August 2021, we are in the middle of the unprecedented global COVID-19 pandemic, with lockdowns currently in place throughout NSW, Victoria and ACT.

Life and attitudes have changed markedly as a result of what we’ve all endured with COVID-19. That’s as sure as eggs are eggs, apples are apples, and the star of “Skippy” was not the same kangaroo through all the episodes!  Stay with me on this one 🦘

The Current Regional Economy

Since the pandemic began, sectors of the Australian regional economy (e.g. Tourism, Hospitality, Entertainment and Leisure) have generally been enduring a significant downturn with lots of financial and emotional pain, occurring as a result. Whilst there have been some much-needed government financial stimulus measures, I fear these are nowhere near sufficient and there will be an abundance of businesses that won’t survive and recover from this, which is devastating for the hardworking business owners, employees and their families. 

On the other hand, there are many industries in regional locations that are thriving. The problem here is that these sectors and regions are experiencing a significant shortage of skilled workers, holding them back from being able to take advantage of their opportunities. 

Increased Demand for Regional Living

Before COVID-19 there was already a growing trend of demand for regional living, but the pandemic has been the catalyst for a further shift of mindset, with many more Australians now seriously considering living and working in regional or remote locations, and most notably, taking solid action to make the move. 

The key reasons for this include the opportunity for a lower cost of living, more space, less stress, enhanced family lifestyle and of course potentially less COVID restrictions! Not to mention an abundance of access to Australian flora and fauna like bush kangaroos which provides me with a seamless link back to Skippy. 

Did you know that apparently there were at least 9 different Roos who starred as Skippy over the duration of the TV series? On first learning this, I assumed they all must have come from the same specialist breeder, to be that skilled and intelligent. But then I figured that the producers must have used skills, aptitude and psychometric tests within the recruitment process, which is strongly recommended as a highly reliable and scientific way to identify top talent and potential! 

High Demand for Skilled and Talented People

From my daily work in regional recruitment, I am seeing that these skilled and experienced sea-changer or tree-changer candidates, are being snapped up within a matter of days from coming onto the employment market. Quite simply there are far less skilled people available than required, hence “The Struggle for Regional Talent” is extremely real. 

The Regional Australia Institute recently revealed some data showing there were more than 54,000 jobs available in the regions. The institute reported there are opportunities for engineers, accountants, lawyers and doctors

The current in-demand sectors I am seeing throughout regional Australia include 

  • Construction Management
  • Engineering
  • Resources
  • Healthcare
  • Disability/Aged Care Support 
  • Accountancy & Financial Planning
  • Legal
  • IT 

The impacted regions include Central Queensland, the Sunshine Coast and Gold Coast in QLD, as well as the Hunter, Central Coast and Illawarra regions in NSW, plus many more. 

Even before the pandemic, the growth of job vacancies in Australia’s regional areas was proportionately higher than in the metro cities. 

What can you do?

Are you an Owner, Manager or Director in one of these industries and professions, in the regions? 

Or are you in another sector of the economy that is also fortunate enough to be in a growth phase? 

If so, here are 7 simple strategies you can implement, to help ensure you can make the most of the opportunities you’re facing and overcome “The Struggle for Regional Talent”:

1. Plan Ahead   

It is far more difficult to obtain a quality outcome in recruitment if you can’t take a planned and methodical approach, with sufficient time to source a good pool of candidates, thoroughly evaluate, select and secure them.

Developing a Strategic Workforce Plan will help you to proactively anticipate your business’s current and future hiring needs. This will ensure your organisation has the resources required to meet your business goals.

2. Fully Tap into your Network

With a skills shortage it is necessary to be proactive in approaching potential employees, because there will not be many candidates with the suitable skills, actively applying for jobs in the market. By leveraging your well-established network of contacts, you will be able to identify people who are passively interested in hearing about career opportunities, even though they are not actively applying for jobs right now. 

If you do this, please be careful to still have a very rational and skills-based approach to the recruitment. Never make the mistake of hiring just on personal recommendation without fully evaluating that the candidate can meet the requirements of the role and be a good fit for your business culture and values. 

3. Distinguish Your Brand

In a competitive market, it is especially important to be clear on your Employee Value Proposition (EVP). In a nutshell, your EVP is what you offer to your employees, in return for the skills, capabilities and experiences they bring to your business.

It is well worth spending some time getting to grips with precisely what it is that you do and don’t offer your employees, so this can be clearly articulated and promoted. In a tight talent market, your employer brand will be crucial to ensuring you attract and retain suitable candidates.  It is vital to be able to clearly state what you reasonably expect from your employees and what they can expect from you.  

4. Invest in your Existing Workforce

Please do not overlook the importance of regular quality “check-ins” and career conversations with your team members. It amazes me how many businesses of all sizes fail to do this well! Too often, if they are done at all, Employee Reviews are a tick box exercise, or dare I say it, a conversation to pretend employee feedback is listened to and to communicate decisions that have already been made by management regarding pay reviews, promotions etc.

Engaging well with your existing staff through regular check in meetings, employee feedback surveys, 360-degree feedback, regular team meetings and all other practical means available, is the best way to ensure good communication of your business goals and challenges, avoiding surprises to your employees, or to you as the leader.

Ask your staff about their future aspirations and, where these match your future business needs, consider investing in the necessary skills development, education, coaching and mentoring. When this happens, I generally find organisations are repaid with loyalty, lower overall long-term cost and improved business results. 

5. Turn all of your Employees into your Recruitment Team

The most successful companies do this extremely well.  It involves effectively communicating with all your employees about the opportunities you have available. When your employees become genuine advocates for your business and brand, they may be the best recruiters you will ever find!

The law of attraction dictates that your existing employees are likely to know like-minded people and become one of your best channels for attracting others with a similar attitude and values.

A recruitment bonus, extra leave days, or other appropriate incentives, are well worth introducing, to reward your employees for helping to grow your team. 

6. Clarify which Roles you will Hire for on Attitude not Aptitude

Whilst there are many roles where a specific skill, qualification or licence is essential (e.g. Brain Surgeon or Kangaroo that can communicate with humans), I do often find employers insisting on certain qualifications or experience, which someone with the right attitude, motivation and support, could pick up quickly and become a more effective long-term employee.

The most important trait you need to be successful is your attitude, not your skills. I believe ultimately you should hire people with good skills and an excellent attitude over rock stars with a superiority complex. If an employee has the right attitude, they can be trained to have the skills you need, as long as you are prepared to make that investment. 

7. Invest in the Right Support

As I run a recruitment business, you could rightfully argue I am biased on this one, however it is important for organisations to recognise the capabilities they have “in-house” and invest wisely in the ones they don’t.  If your business or organisation has a sophisticated talent acquisition function, with the things I’ve covered above already in place and perhaps more, it is likely you can do a solid job of attracting and retaining your required skills and are well on your way to winning “The Struggle for Regional Talent”.   

However, it’s well documented that the cost of a bad hire can range from the equivalent of 30% of the person’s annual salary to as much as 2.5 times their annual salary in some cases! This is not an area of any business to be taken lightly because this degree of financial cost can have a significant effect on your profit and loss statement. 

Apart from the directly attributable financial cost of a bad hiring decision, there are many other indirect impacts to your team that can compound, including time being wasted on hiring and training the new employee, a decrease in team morale, lower productivity, increased stress levels of supervisors and the list goes on. 

If you use the services of a specialist recruiter, it can be a highly worthwhile investment as long as you choose your recruitment partner carefully, negotiate a competitive rate and choose a recruiter who is prepared to back up their placement with a solid replacement guarantee.  For a permanent employee I would suggest this should be for at least 6 months, or equivalent to the probation period.  

There is obviously an investment involved but this cost will be considerably less than the cost of a bad hire and enables you to focus on your business operations, instead of riding the recruitment rollercoaster on your own.

Thanks for sticking with me

I hope you have found something useful from reading this first edition of my blog and most importantly, please stay safe and don’t get stuck in any mine shafts!

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If you have any specific Recruitment/HR needs and requirements, please contact me to organise a chat over the phone or via an online video meeting and to obtain your personalised quote/proposal. 

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The Author

Tim O’Brien is a Regional Business Talent Scout. Tim’s focus is to support commercial businesses and not-for-profit organisations, to attract and retain high-calibre talent, in Australia’s regional areas. 

Tim is the Founder and Director of JobSkillsNetwork™, which offers a range of Regional Recruitment and HR services. JobSkillsNetwork™ also manages a network of niche digital employment and skills platforms, dedicated to strengthening local employment in specific regional areas. 

The latest platform to be launched is JobsInCentralQueensland.net.au which is dedicated to the Central Queensland region, including the major centres of Gladstone, Rockhampton and Mackay. 

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