01 June 2023

Insight from: Robbie Sefton

There are not enough medical professionals in regional areas. This will come as no surprise to anyone who lives in the regions – it’s been the case for some time and often makes navigating the health system that much harder and more frustrating. But, we now no just how dire the situation is and what may come as a bit of a surprise is the extent of these shortages.

Thanks to the latest report from the Regional Australia Institute (RAI), we know regional job advertisements grew three times faster than those in metropolitan Australia at the end of 2022, and that some regions have recorded five-year vacancy growth rates for medical practitioners and nurses of more than 500%.

RAI CEO Liz Ritchie spoke at the National Press Club in Canberra last week, highlighting this new report, Regional Jobs 2022: The Big Skills Challenge, which paints a stark picture of the roles struggling to attract interest from job seekers.

Liz said the demand for workers in regional areas reached record levels in 2022, “with the month of December recording a 10% annual increase in the number of roles advertised, outpacing growth in capital cities of 3%”. So, while many of our country towns and cities continue to grow – a trend that was particularly strong during the pandemic – the services local populations rely on are missing the personnel they need.

In the report, it shows in 30 of 31 regional areas, the most in-demand fields are medical practitioners and nurses; general inquiry clerks, call centre workers and receptionists; carers and aides; and automotive and engineering trade workers. Retail workers were also high on the list.

So, there’s a big issue here, that is clear, and there’s no time to waste in starting to resolve the situation. But the million dollar question always is, what can be done about it?

This part of the RAI’s report makes for some interesting reading, too, and it can only be hoped our policy-makers, and industry stakeholders, have a copy of it to help direct some meaningful action into the future. Among the key takeaways are incentivising regional employment; tailoring our migration system to fill vacancies; and investing in education and training in regional areas – how better to reduce vacancies than by training up people who already call regional Australia home.

Regional housing stocks and childcare availability are also highlighted as barriers to encouraging people to relocate to a country area and these are obviously other areas where more resources and policy decisions can make a huge difference to the fortunes of our regions.

I found the RAI’s specific targets and strategies to address skills shortages interesting reading too, with one of the targets to increase the school attainment rate of young people in regional Australia to 75% or above, and to boost post-school qualification completion to 65% or above. In 2020, the Year 12 certificate attainment rate for regional students, on average, was 65% and in very remote areas, the completion rate fell to 47%. In metropolitan areas, that jumps to 79%. So, it’s an admirable focus for the RAI, because if we can skill up more of our regional students, there’s an increased likelihood they’ll either stay in the country to pursue a career, or at least return some time in the future.

Regional Australia has opportunities like never before – and also challenges – but with a strategic focus, carefully-targeted resources and innovative thinking the potential is there to be fulfilled.

To read this article in The Land newspaper, visit  New job vacancies report a fresh reminder of need for increased focus on regional growth | The Land | NSW