Barwon MP, Roy Butler, has emphasised the need for greater transparency and balanced needs of regional communities in the state government’s approach to addressing workforce shortages across NSW.
“Labour shortages across the Barwon electorate affect all industries and communities. While Barwon is not the only electorate faced with this issue of attracting and retaining workers for our communities and accessing the essential workforce training, other parts of NSW have a clearer advantage over inland regional areas,” Mr Butler said.
“This labour shortage has been building for quite some time and a lack of real action has led, in some cases, to the sort of critical and crippling shortages we are seeing with Registered Nurses.”
According to the report Jobs and Skill Australia: Labour Market Update, Registered Nurses are number one in the top 20 occupations in demand in NSW and across the nation.
From October to December 2022, there were 8377 Internet Vacancies (IVI) in Australia, with 2443 of those positions in NSW.
“This is a nationwide issue and NSW needs to get ahead of the curve to make real change,” Mr Butler said.
“Outcomes across health and education and general business growth are not going to improve without a strong short, medium, and long-term approach to securing the staff we desperately need.
“The previous state government had in some cases even denied there were workforce shortages in certain sectors, despite research showing otherwise.”
Mr Butler identified several key programs the state government could use to bring more workers to the regions, both in terms of overseas and local employment, and learning opportunities.
“Genuine consultation must occur in the development of criteria. Sydney-based departments cannot continue to make decisions for regional communities without an understanding of what’s required from those on the ground,” Mr Butler said of the Skilled Regional Visa.
“This is a key program that the NSW government can use to bring people to regional, rural, and remote communities immediately. In the past, the program starts with a strict criterion and then relaxes. This causes undue stress and this year there have been many cases of regional communities losing skilled migrants to other states. This can’t continue to happen.”
Mr Butler says the NSW government also has the ability to advocate for change and a more streamlined process to fund and support trainers and assessors to work with industry and small businesses overseas, fast-tracking the process to work in Australia. Targeted offshore recruitment would also help allow this to happen, he says.
“Campaigns solely focussed on attracting individuals from metro areas of NSW or Australia to regional are good, but will not solve the long-term issues.
“Recruitment for specific occupation needs, and targeted to like-for-like communities overseas, may result in more opportunities to bring new people to regional communities,” he said.
“By targeting similar size offshore communities and similar training or skill sets, it is a more effective approach to attracting skilled individuals who are more likely to fit into our workplaces and communities and have long-term settlement success.“
As for tertiary education, Mr Butler says CRICOS courses in regional areas are barely existent, with only three inland regional centres offering a CRICOS course through TAFE NSW – and each only has one type.
“The NSW government could work with providers including TAFE NSW to increase their delivery, even in smaller communities. This would provide opportunities for people to study, work and live in regional communities and increase the likelihood of embedding in these communities for the long-term,” he said.
“Pathways from high school should be targeted to meet future demand. There are clear projections of where we will need our workforce in the next five years and further, these should inform where school students are shown opportunities for further education and career pathways that are likely to result in meaningful employment. Particularly around health and community services and awareness of trades.
“With the availability of online learning, place-based programs that encourage training and employment in communities is key.
“Genuine and regular industry consultation is needed to understand supply and demand of workforce and adequate projections for planning purposes,” he said.
“The government should always utilise existing organisations and agencies with expertise in regions to deliver services. It should be common practice to work with other departments within NSW and other levels of government to understand the need at a state and national level.”
Thinking of new ways to entice workers while encouraging people to take up a range of different roles is difficult, Mr Butler realises, however, thinking outside the box with incentives and further considerations should be addressed early to plan for the future, he says.
“$10,000 is not enough to entice the average person to pick up their entire life and move locations. Consult with people in the occupations that are needed and find out what might make them consider a change,” he says.