Finding Big Talent in Small Places

18 September 2023

Do Regional and Remote Businesses Need to Think Differently to Bridge the Talent Gap?

Finding top talent in regional and remote areas has been a long-standing challenge and today it’s tougher than it’s ever been. The RAI’s Regional Ambition 2032 paper found that 77% of regional employers were having difficulty finding candidates in 2022, a sharp rise from 37% in 2019.

With stats like this, it’s easy to assume it’s all about the sheer number of available workers. Or, that the role itself isn’t attractive enough.

But perhaps it’s time for a shift in perspective.

Do business leaders and organisations have more power than they realise when it comes to attracting talent to their region?

We’re not talking about competitive salaries, token perks or flexible working arrangements – it goes beyond that. Organisations need to get creative and think outside the box if they stand a chance at finding the talent they need to grow their businesses.

Here are five examples of out-of-the-box ways rural and remote businesses can attract talent.

Look beyond traditional talent pools

Many organisations think there is only one way to hire – by placing a job ad or hiring a recruitment agency. But for organisations in rural and remote settings, the traditional path may not always work.

We recently visited a remote resort in the Northern Territory. They needed people to work only a few hours a week in return for a small payment and accommodation at one of the most beautiful – and remote – locations in Australia. They were never going to attract working professionals looking for competitive salaries. But you know who would want to work a bit and then spend the rest of the day fishing and swimming? Grey nomads.

It’s all about knowing who your target workers are and what matters to them – this is what we would call your Employee Value Proposition in HR speak.

Fill the growing childcare gap

A report from Victoria University found that 35.2% of the Australian population ‘lives in a childcare ‘desert”. And these numbers are much higher in regional and remote areas: 44.6% of those living in regional areas and 85.3% of people in remote Australia have no access to childcare.

Rather than ignoring this problem and missing out on valuable talent, is there something organisations can do to address this? One solution that some (albeit larger) organisations have done is to build their own childcare centres. Organisations such as Westpac, CBA, CSL and Lendlease have done this, but these are normally in city centres.

Further afield, mining companies are working to incentivise people to establish daycare offerings. For example, BHP is offering $5000 grants to people in Port Hedland, WA, to help start their own family day care services.

Could this be an opportunity for organisations to differentiate themselves and attract more people, especially women, to their workforce?

Address accommodation concerns

Accommodation is one of the biggest challenges in attracting people to regional and remote areas. If someone was going to apply for a job near you, can they afford to live anywhere near your workplace? Or are they going to have to commute for hours a day to get there?

Is there even enough suitable accommodation available?

There have been a number of reports of people being squeezed into unsuitable accommodation or turning down jobs due to the housing crisis in remote and regional areas. In one extreme example, a worker earning $200,000 a year had been sleeping in his car due to lack of accommodation.

There’s no point in offering someone a job if they can’t find anywhere to live. What role do organisations play in addressing this growing problem?

In a recent panel discussion we attended, we heard from Alastair King from The Arnhem Land Progress Aboriginal Corporation (ALPA). They recently built an $8 million accommodation complex to house workers in the area. This is a shining example of how organisations can positively influence communities and provide places to live.

Portrait of a young female carpenter using a laptop while working inside her workshop.

Get creative with job design

One way to make roles more appealing is the stick to people’s strengths. Job design plays a big part in attracting people to work in rural and remote locations. In smaller organisations, it can be tempting to lump a bunch of tasks together in one role. But this only serves to either turn people off applying or overwhelm them with a job they are ill-suited to.

Can you outsource parts that don’t make sense to be in the same role? Or perhaps distribute it to other people in the team that have these strengths? If you approach it from a functional perspective, rather than a “what needs to be done” perspective, you’re going to be able to attract people better suited to the role.

Another issue that many organisations in rural and remote regions face is the transient nature of workers. Accepting the reality that people are only going to stay for a short period of time – could you create roles that are designed to be short term?

Although job titles help us make sense of the type of job we’re recruiting for, sometimes they’re far too rigid. What if we broke free of the traditional roles we’ve all come to know (the HR managers and marketing assistants) and instead looked at the skills needed from a functional perspective?

Sell the benefits of learning on the job

While organisations in regional and remote locations may not be able to match the competitive salaries offered in cities, there is one thing they can offer: opportunity, and a broader variety of tasks and greater responsibilities.

Many people find that a role in a regional or remote location will expose them to things they don’t get in the cities. For example, we recently did an exit interview for a physio who flew from Darwin to remote areas to deliver services. She said she learnt more in 18 months than she would have learnt in five years in the city. This is because she wasn’t pigeon-holed into a narrow specialisation. She had to do anything that landed on her client list (with appropriate training and support), fast-tracking her clinical and professional advancement.

Redefining regional appeal

If you do really want the best people, organisations must put some creative thought and in some cases, investment, into attracting talent to their region. And those that do will reap the rewards because we know that people are our biggest asset – without them, your business won’t survive, let alone thrive.

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