Scott Morrison pledges to create regional jobs ahead of federal election, but vacancy rate hits record high

The prime minister has promised a regional jobs boom, but a record number of jobs are up for grabs across the country and employers are resorting to desperate measures to attract staff.

There were more than 84,400 regional vacancies in March, according to data from the Regional Australia Institute (RAI) released this week.

RAI said this was a record and a 27.5% increase from 2021.

The number has almost doubled since before the pandemic – there were around 43,612 vacancies in the Australia region in April 2019.

Mother-daughter beauticians Brooke Wuersching and Sharon Saunders want to expand their business in St George, South Queensland.

But after 12 months of searching, they still haven’t found a single suitable candidate.

“We’ve been advertising since May last year and we’ve been promoting on Facebook, word of mouth – it’s been really difficult,” Ms Wuersching said.

She said moving to the area could be a big lifestyle change, especially for families.

More than 50 jobs are advertised in St George in multiple sectors, from agriculture to education, from health to hospitality.

Brooke Wuersching and Sharon Saunders struggled to employ beauticians in St George.(Supplied: Shea Beauty)

‘Real battle’ as vacancies soar

The latest RAI snapshot shows that the main growth poles are in Queensland, with 24,235 vacancies, and New South Wales, with 23,987 vacancies.

Outside of Brisbane, the regions seeking the most workers are the Gold Coast, with 6,768 vacancies, and Far North Queensland, which has 6,483 vacancies.

In both regions, the highest number of advertised vacancies were for doctors and nurses.

Vacancies in Outback Queensland increased by 55.9% between March 2021 and March 2022, with Sunshine Coast increasing by 40.2% and Central Queensland by 36.9%.

This week, Scott Morrison pledged to create more than 450,000 jobs in regional Australia over the next five years.

A smiling man sits in his office with his back to his computer.
Ben Lyons says more investment is needed in regional areas.(ABC Southern Qld: David Chen)

Associate Professor Ben Lyons, an economist at the University of Southern Queensland, said unless significant investment and incentives were offered, employers would continue to struggle to fill regional and rural vacancies.

“It’s been a real battle, to the point where companies have really had to drastically change the way they do…this basic processing and harvesting,” he said.

Dr Lyons said the labor shortage in the regions was reaching the point where companies were offering high wages.

A man in a blue shirt stands in front of vines.
St George winemaker David Blacket says he had to offer $1,000 bonuses to attract workers.(ABC Southern Qld: Georgie Hewson)

“A driver’s license and a heartbeat”

St George winemaker David Blacket used $1,000 bounties to entice workers, on the condition that they stay for three months.

“Rare as chickens teeth to bring good backpackers here,” he said.

Balonne Shire Mayor Samantha O’Toole said it was difficult for rural areas to compete with large employers in the city, where people preferred to live.

“I joked publicly that you need a driver’s license and a heartbeat to get a job in the Balonne Shire,” he said.

“I think we probably need a bit of a change of attitude in the Australian labor market, where people might be thinking, ‘What are the other benefits of moving west?’ »

After years of drought and pandemic, business should be booming for Ms Wuersching and Ms Saunders.

But Ms Saunders said they were losing customers who couldn’t get a reservation due to lack of staff.

“We’ve gotten to a point where we’re just hoping word of mouth might help us out,” she said.

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