Regional business culture needs work

·2-min read

Many Australians will know Don Smallgoods for its 1990s ads which comically proclaimed: "Is Don. Is Good."

Three decades later, the company is being held up as an example of how to strengthen the regional workforce, offering parents desirable school-friendly hours and predictable rosters.

Kadi Taylor, from the job recruitment website Seek, told the Regional Australia Institute's national summit employers need to create a workplace culture that attracts and retains employees.

Ms Taylor said the meat processor's factory in Castlemaine, Victoria, gives the option of morning and afternoon shifts for parents.

"That gives people the confidence to go out and get childcare, even if it's grandma looking after their kids in the afternoon or morning. They know they can drop them off and pick them up," she told the summit in Canberra on Tuesday.

"If you can have security of rostering, you can plan in your life. It's not rocket science."

The Victorian government last year created a $3.7 million partnership with Don's parent company, George Weston Foods, to create 200 jobs for young people, women over 45, Indigenous people and others facing employment challenges.

Inclusive hiring that accounts for the cultural needs of Indigenous workers and accessibility for disabled employees are also good for business, Ms Taylor said.

"If we can keep some of those things in mind, we're going to have a much richer labour market and workforce."

The summit is exploring the institute's vision for attracting 1.5 million extra people to the regions by 2032 through improved job opportunities, education, health, digital technology and climate resilience.

Ron Maxwell, chief executive of training and apprenticeships provider Verto, said a recent survey of regional NSW employers found there were more than 1000 vacancies, with 3.5 positions to be filled in every business.

Verto's survey of 400 employers suggests businesses are prepared to downgrade their skill requirements to fill jobs and often rely on local networks and word-of-mouth.

Mr Maxwell said migrants can fill some of those gaps, but they need to feel welcome and supported.

"People need to want to move to the regions, not be forced to. And they want to move if it's sustainable," he said.

The summit heard visa processing has recovered since COVID-19 border restrictions eased.

Department of Home Affairs assistant secretary Karin Maier said 1.7 million visa applications had been approved since June, and there were more than two million temporary visa holders at the beginning of the month.

That's compared to 2.4 million at the start of the pandemic and 1.6 million at the peak of the COVID-19 slowdown.

"Processing visas is something the government has been very clear is a priority," Ms Maier said.

"We're seeing really positive steps."