Unis and childcare key for regional talent

·2-min read

Country universities and quality childcare are "honey pots" that will attract skilled workers to regional areas, Australia's chief scientist says.

Dr Cathy Foley said the regions play a key role in the nation's ambitions to expand sectors like biotechnology, clean energy, agriculture, defence and the space industry.

Regional research hubs are critical to quickly scaling jobs of the future, with estimates the nation will face a shortfall of 200,000 people in the technology workforce by 2030.

"Regional Universities have an important role to play, each with its own area of world class research," Dr Foley told the Regional Australia Institute's national summit in Canberra on Tuesday.

"Well-supported regional universities can build expertise and also be honey pots helping create critical mass and economic activity.

"They help solve workforce challenges in regional communities and they lift local wages."

Dr Foley said accessible quality childcare will help address skills shortages and keep women in science and technology.

"Quality childcare is actually the basis for being able to work," she said.

Jennifer Westacott, chief executive of the Business Council of Australia, said regional areas deserve "first dibs" in new models of early education to build the evolving workforce.

"It will be very difficult to get the jobs of the future if kids don't get those digital competencies," she said.

The summit comes as the Regional Australia Institute launches its ambitions to attract more than 1.5 million people to the regions by 2032, a shift estimated to add $13.8 billion to the national economy.

The institute's plan is built on 11 years of research. It identifies housing, jobs, healthcare, education and climate resilience among the top priorities for growth.

Regional Universities Network chair, Nick Klomp, said the federal government had recently ignored the voices of regional Australia.

He said its recent announcement that universities will competitively bid for 20,000 extra Commonwealth-funded places targeting students from regional areas or low socio-economic backgrounds was a terrible idea.

"All it does is hold up the regions," Professor Klomp said.

"I'm in favour of everyone having choices, but don't provide incentives that hold up the regions and take away the youth.

"We know that when they move away from regions, they're much less likely to come back."