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Job vacancies jump by a quarter in regional Australia, outstripping mining boom record

Rural areas now have 84,600 unfilled jobs, far exceeding the 2011 peak, despite constraints of limited housing

farmer sits next to grain silo
Data shows there are 84,600 job vacancies in rural Australia, with experts pointing to a shortage of workers with agricultural skills. Photograph: Jonathan Barrett/Reuters
Data shows there are 84,600 job vacancies in rural Australia, with experts pointing to a shortage of workers with agricultural skills. Photograph: Jonathan Barrett/Reuters

Ballooning job vacancies in regional Australia reveal the optimism that is driving growth outside capital cities, as the structural problems around a lack of services and housing constrain opportunities.

The latest data from the Regional Australia Institute shows that there were 84,600 regional job vacancies in April 2022 – up nearly a quarter (24.8%) compared to a year earlier.

CEO of the RAI, Liz Ritchie, said the numbers continue a trend over recent years of month-on-month record job vacancy growth far exceeding the peaks of the mining boom in 2011, where vacancies were about 60,000.

Ritchie said professional roles in health, legal and engineering services are consistently at the top of the vacancies lists.

She said the vacancies represented a real opportunity cost at a time when “businesses are wanting to grow and wanting to scale and that there is optimism and confidence across regional Australia”.

Outback Queensland’s vacancies shot up by 59.1% in April 2022 compared with April 2021, while the region also had the highest unemployment rate of 14.6%. The area is part of the electorate of new National party leader, David Littleproud.

Mark Collins, chair of the Ag Business Committee for Ag Force, Queensland’s peak body for agriculture, said he was not surprised by the figures as the lack of employees with the right skills was a big issue.

Collins blamed the shortfall of skilled workers in regional Queensland on the state government’s closure of agricultural colleges at Longreach and Emerald in 2019, and at Dolby and Burdekin nearly a decade ago.

“There’s nowhere to train young people for a future in agriculture,” Collins said.

He said the vacancies affect production, but also rippled through the whole supply chain.

“At a farm level, that’s a problem, and then you can’t find truck drivers with good enough skills to take our cattle to be processed … and then at that next level at a meatworks or even at a grain handling facility, they can’t find anyone,” Collins said.

The new federal Labor government has promised to establish Jobs and Skills Australia as a national partnership to drive vocational education and training and strengthen workforce planning, in addition to creating 465,000 new fee-free TAFE places in areas of demonstrated labour shortage.

Ritchie said Queensland’s unemployment and vacancy figures showed that skills needed to be aligned with the work available.

However she said it’s important to note that outback Queensland was one of the smallest areas in terms of actual job numbers, which can result in more significant percentage shifts.

Other regions with big jumps in job vacancies were Geelong & Surf Coast (54%), Sunshine Coast (38.9%), Central Queensland (37.5%) and Gippsland (36.1%).

Ritchie said Geelong and the Surf Coast told a very different story to outback Queensland.

“This is an area that’s one of the tier two cities and one of the fastest growing parts of the country,” she says.

Ritchie said all employment sectors in Geelong were on the rise due to enormous population migration.

While many of the jobs available were for professionals, as regions try to build up health and other services for a growing population, Ritchie said finding the right housing for potential employees remained a problem.

“Not just in Geelong but right across the country in regional Australia, housing approvals and construction have not kept pace with population growth in our regions,” Ritchie said.

“You’ve got government mobilising as quickly as they can, there’s not a silver bullet here,” she said.

During the pandemic, more people were moving to the regions accompanied by an even bigger rise in people staying in regional areas.

However, Ritchie said once a two way flow is re-established more housing will become available and regional Australia will be able to attract the key workers needed to take advantage of growth opportunities.