SOUTH-WEST businesses are calling out for employees a year after Warrnambool City Council flagged hundreds of jobs needed filling.
Experts and educators have called for a community-led plan to identify precise jobs, while employers expressed frustration with ongoing vacancies.
Warrnambool City Council's economic growth director Andrew Paton told The Standard this week that the region's labour shortages were yet to be met after the council projected about 1000 jobs needed filling last year.
"Current labour market indicators and reports from employers suggest that workforce challenges persist," he said.
The federal government launched its Designated Area Migration Agreement (DAMA) last week, giving employers crying out for workers including farmers access to an increased pool of migrant workers.
But Mr Paton warned the agreement was "only one of a number of mechanisms our region must utilise to fill workforce shortages".
He pointed to industry, tertiary and secondary school educators as also "integral" to securing the region's skills and labour needs.
Worker shortages were in blue-collar industries such as agriculture, manufacturing, transport but also tourism and hospitality, Mr Paton said, adding the region's unemployment rate was 3 per cent, well below Victoria's 5 per cent and Australia's 5.4 per cent rates.
Labour market indicators and reports from employers suggest that workforce challenges persistAndrew Paton
Job ad website Seek's south-west coast data, inclusive of Geelong, showed government jobs had the biggest increase in ads since August last year, followed by trades and services, and healthcare and medical industries.
"Major reforms such as NDIS and an ageing population are predicted to continue to trigger high demand for services and workers in healthcare and social assistance," Mr Paton said.
'WE NEED WORKERS'
Warrnambool Toyota dealer principal Matthew Burgess said he had struggled to employ qualified automotive technicians since taking over the dealership five years ago.
The dealership employed a migrant worker for two years, but Mr Burgess said the worker had failed a literacy assessment during a permanent residency application and now planned to return home.
"We're sad to see him go, he was a great worker," Mr Burgess said.
He said the dealership considered using a Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme to secure the workers it needed, but could not afford to pay migrant workers the scheme's higher salary.
Mr Burgess left school in Year 11 to learn to become a mechanic at Warrnambool's Pat Gleeson dealership, but he said interest in the career path from today's apprentices had wavered.
"The building industry seems to have more appeal to it than the automotive industry," he said. "Low unemployment is good for Warrnambool, but it doesn't make it easy when you are trying to fill roles."
Mr Burgess said attracting skilled workers from cities was a challenge for all regional dealerships, because it involved selling a "big picture" and lifestyle change to job seekers.
"We don't pay city salaries, but they can't get their head around that housing and living costs are less," he said. "It is difficult to entice someone out of the metropolitan areas for our industry, and it is difficult to employ from our own area."
National Patient Transport (NPT) team leader Anton Sanseviero said he moved to Warrnambool from Melbourne to oversee drivers supporting the region's health services, including South West Healthcare.
"From Melbourne it's a big move trying to put down roots in a community you have never lived in before," Mr Sanseviero said. "Even though there's a worker shortage there has to be some sort of understand how secure the work is going to be into the future."
He said NPT also struggled to employ qualified staff, and needed at least another four casual drivers.
"At the moment when people get sick or have a day off for one reason or another it means either a car is not fully crewed or that car may have to be dropped all together," Mr Sanseviero said.
NPT business development manager Kim Petrou said the company was a registered training organisation and tried to attract south-west residents to do training and return to the region.
She said population growth had put pressure on the health sector and increased workforce demands.
"That's impacting very much on the public health sector, and they're busier and they need more resources to move patients in a timely manner," she said.
'SOLUTIONS BEST LED LOCALLY'
Victorian skills commissioner Neil Coulson completed a skills demand profile for the region last year.
The commissioner's report estimated by 2021 the region needed to fill between 2450 and 7550 jobs, with the biggest growth expected in healthcare and social assistance.
Mr Coulson said attracting migrant workers to fill vacancies could help in specific cases, but was ultimately a "short-term solution".
He said the region's unemployment rate was low but there was a comparatively high youth unemployment rate.
"The community's bigger challenge in the longer term is how do you come together and align the education and training institutions with the students and employers to ensure you have a greater capability to feed your local industry demand," Mr Coulson said.
He said young people leaving for university was also a challenge to employers in all regional areas.
"Parental aspirations for students and their children are not always aligned to what the real job opportunities are locally," Mr Coulson said.
"Perhaps there is a job for the community to convince more young people to stay locally and take up the positions which are available, which not only contributes to those skill and labour gaps, but helps the region grow."
He said he believed the south-west was yet to fully enact the report's recommendations.
"Ultimately the solutions to those issues are best led locally," Mr Coulson said.
"I certainly haven't had any feedback of recent times to indicate there is a coming together around the strategy."
South West TAFE chief Mark Fidge said free courses were addressing skill shortages, but he wanted to do more to understand precise south-west job vacancies.
"I have been given a broad overview there is jobs in certain fields. I want to be able to provide a service so we can direct people to an employer when they finish a course," Mr Fidge said.
"We need to take that piece of work to the next level."
Mr Coulson said a decade ago regional Victoria was not competitive with metropolitan areas, but soaring house prices, congestion and job availability had changed that.
"If there's something that might hold people back from moving, it's whether or not they can secure ongoing reasonably paid employment," he said.
"I think many of the regions which have skills and labour shortages also have very real benefits they could sell to Australia."
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