The Regional Australia Institute (RAI) describes regional Australia as all towns, smaller cities and areas situated beyond major capital cities. RAI explains in The foundations of regional Australia that regional Australia is further defined by drivers that shape an area's economic future such as population, proximity or distance to major cities, and major industry and service hubs.
Critical to skilling in regional areas are people with an interest in gaining and developing these skills and capabilities - human capital. Human capital index: developing human capital across Australia emphasises the lower measures of human capital development exhibited in regional areas, highlighting a significant urban/regional divide. Overcoming barriers that influence learning outcomes in these areas, which in turn effect human capital development, is a major challenge. To combat these barriers the RAI recommends focussing on building a lifelong learning culture, one that encourages and provides accessible opportunities for people throughout the whole life cycle of education, training and employment. However, no two regions are the same and with such wide diversity, success may depend on a tailored approach that meets the needs of regions individually. This is particularly so when engaging with youth, whose motivations and aspirations are highly dependent on access to services, and who are at the heart of skilling in these communities.
Factors impacting on student aspirations and expectations in regional Australia reveals important questions for students considering education beyond year 12 in regional areas: Are skills being sought to remain within communities or to leave? Is relocation needed to gain these skills? Moving from one regional base to another appears to be more attractive than moving out of regional areas altogether, with data observed in Regional student participation and migration: analysis of factors influencing regional student participation and internal migration in Australian higher education showing a preference to stay 'close to home'. Engaging young people in regional, rural and remote Australia also suggests young people will stay within communities if they feel able to contribute.
Looking 'outward and onward' in the outback: regional Australian students' aspirations and expectations for their future as framed by dominant discourses of further education and training notes considerable optimism and willingness amongst regional students to commit to ambitions. Decision making around this commitment is complex and may begin early in their lives, with many influencing factors: transport costs, the logistics of moving, family history with tertiary education, options for employment beyond completion, socioeconomic status (particularly in relation to education costs), and personal beliefs about staying or leaving.
Pathways from rural schools: does school VET make a difference?, highlights VET in schools programs during a period when they were helping to develop skills, particularly literacy and numeracy, and enhance workforce development in regional areas. However, the availability of programs and facilities beyond VET in schools is questionable. The papers: Geographical dimensions of imagined futures: post school participation in education and work in peri-urban and regional Australia, and Geographical and place dimensions of post-school participation in education and work, discuss an evident urban/regional disparity in the provision of education and training. Whilst it is believed that better provision could lift regional aspirations in the short term, provision alone is unlikely to be enough overall. Real world outcomes: employment, job choices, career paths, these are what regional youth with aspirations are aiming for; whether close to home or requiring relocation. However, employment opportunities may be reliant on the type of industries operating in a particular region, as observed in Engaging young people in regional, rural and remote Australia, 'rural diversity means there is no single approach to rural youth engagement'.
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In common for these groups is the need for immediate skill attainment coupled with a need for recognition of existing skills and opportunities to transfer skills. Skilling a seasonal workforce: a way forward for rural regions and Partnerships for skilling a seasonal workforce are reports that focus on the seasonal industries that drive many regional communities. Industries that include agriculture, forestry, aquaculture and tourism, and which all contain a highly diverse seasonal workforce. Skilling seasonal workers can be a challenge, their current skills can be informal and unrecognised, employers are reluctant to invest heavily in a transient workforce, appropriate/customised training is often unavailable, and there may be a belief that seasonal work is unskilled. A recent report, Seasonal change: inquiry into the Seasonal Worker Programme discusses this topic in view of broader influences, such as skilled migration.
According to a recent report by the ABC, Migrants drive regional growth, Census data indicates that regional communities are experiencing a population boost by attracting migrants, a boost in economic growth in these areas is also occurring as discussed in Benefits of skilled migration programs for regional Australia: perspectives from the Northern Territory. Indeed, the Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme (RSMS) and State Specific Regional Migration (SSRM) scheme both aim to address skill shortages through attracting both skilled migrants and business people to the regions.
Upgrading and/or transferring skills to adapt to local job opportunities are also important for those who have experienced displacement due to industry restructuring in regional areas. Industry restructuring and job loss: helping older workers get back into employment observes that displaced workers often want to remain in their communities, but when jobs are not available they must move away for work, taking their skills with them.
Australian jobs 2017 and Changes in Australia's industry structure: cities and regions, 2006-2011 identify the highest growth in jobs for regional areas in health care and social assistance; professional, scientific and technical services; education and training; and accommodation and food services. Industry groups experiencing the highest job losses are identified as manufacturing and agriculture, fishing, and forestry. Whilst industries employing the highest proportion of young people (aged between 16 and 24 years) are retail; accommodation and food services; and construction. Chapter 3: Structural change (p. 67) of Progress in Australian regions: state of regional Australia 2015 refers to a widely-accepted theory as to why this is the case – as economies progress, employment shifts from predominantly agricultural, to manufacturing, and then to services.
Some regions appear to be experiencing increasing demand for community and home based care, causing challenges in the provision of these services. The Australian Social Trends, Sep 2011: Community workers and the Industry outlook: health care and social assistance attribute this demand to an ageing population countrywide, whilst Progress in Australian regions: state of regional Australia 2015, observes a trend in retiree migration from urban to regional areas.
The regional paradox: undersupply of skilled workers and over representation of unemployed and disengaged youth discusses the difficulties in attracting qualified workers and providing for both the skill requirements of individuals and those of industries in regional and remote Australia. Regional employers have identified reasons for unfilled vacancies; in some cases, there are no applicants, whilst in many cases there are no suitable applicants (through lack of experience or other attributes sought, even when holding qualifications). The report emphasises the need for a community-based approach to ensure that providers of education and training are meeting the skill needs of regional industry sectors.
Regional Development Australia (RDA), an initiative of the Australian government administered by the Department of Industry and Infrastructure, is a network of 55 regions determined on the basis of shared industry activity. Each of the region's committees is made up of local leaders who work with all levels of government, business and community groups to support the development of their regions. They are also responsible for producing a Regional roadmap aimed at progressing economic development and strengthening communities. It is a way for all stakeholders to have input into the future needs and direction of the region in which they live.
Further research in VOCEDplus
NCVER published research
Straight-talking women unite to boost skills(Source: NIT, October 2017)
Toowoomba's booming, but skills shortage is looming(Source: The Chronicle, October 2017)
Jobs 4 Murraylands helping region's biggest food producers find a sustainable local workforce by training unemployed(Source: The Advertiser, October 2017)
Food revolution on the way to Daylesford(Source: The Courier, October 2017)
Is Australia too focused on sending country kids to university?(Source: ABC News, September 2017)
A taste of India in Australia's hinterland(Source: Inter Press Service, September 2017)
Regional communities invited to have their say on skills, training and jobs needs(Source: SA Premier’s Department, August 2017)
Independent review into regional, rural and remote education - community forums(Source: Department of Education and Training, August 2017)
Budget 2017: STEM education in rural Australia gains AU 30m(Source: ZDNet, May 2017)
Flexible approach to training helps find farm hands for outback stations(Source: ABC News, February 2017)
Published: October 2017
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In the Australian Government's recently released policy for rural, regional and remote Australia, Regions 2030: unlocking opportunity, initiatives are being put in place to ensure regional communities have access to better opportunities to learn, (re)train and gain qualifications including:
The Skilling Australians Fund is prioritised towards apprenticeships, traineeships, pre- and higher apprenticeships with one of its priorities focusing on rural and regional areas.
Existing skill, employment and economic development initiatives include:
An independent review into regional, rural and remote education is currently underway with public submissions and community forums being conducted across regional Australia. The final report and recommendations is expected to be delivered by the end of 2017.
Some jurisdictions are conducting reviews and consultations, whilst others have already introduced initiatives, programs and strategies for skill development in their regional areas, for example:
Migrants drive regional growth(Source: ABC - The World Today, July 2017)
Skills shortage crippling rural Australia(Source: ABC News on YouTube, April 2011)