Some south-west businesses have been forced to scale-back operations as the state's economy reboots because of a labour shortage caused by near record-low-unemployment and high demand across the region.
With nation-wide demand for staff reaching pre-pandemic levels, Prime Minister Scott Morrison this week urged Australians to fill positions, stating more than 280,000 jobs would soon be up for grabs, 123,000 of which would be in Victoria.
But data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics released on Friday showed regional Victoria's unemployment rate (3.3 per cent) was well below the regional average nationwide (4.2 per cent).
In the three months to October 2021, the unemployment rate in regional Victoria also fell by 0.3 percentage points.
Warrnambool-based Westvic Staffing Solutions chief executive officer Dean Luciani said this "double-edged" situation put the south-west in a unique position.
"We're better off in terms of people who are unemployed, so if you're looking for a job then there are plenty of options out there but if you are looking for staff, then we're worse off than the rest of Victoria because we just don't have the pool," he said.
With a growth rate of one per cent each year, about two-thirds of Warrnambool's new residents came from overseas in 2020.
Mr Luciani said the domestic labour market shortages would likely continue into the new year.
"Until we see skilled and semi-skilled people coming in, we're probably going to be putting up with this for a while," he said.
With residents spoiled for choice, one south-west security company said it hadn't received a single application for at least three positions, while another said it had lost up to a sixth of its team.
CQ Recruitment head Stephen Cartwright said he was "at a bit of a loss" after spending months trying to fill security guard roles in Warrnambool.
"We're struggling," he said.
"We're not even getting people applying or making inquiries. We're just trying to fill roles in Warrnambool and surrounds.
"We've been advertising and gone on social media to get that out there in community groups and south-west job pages, but there's just nothing.
"We're at a bit of a loss as to where it's all going to end."
CQ Security guard Morris Pring said the region's shortage was critical.
"There's only about three of us down here in Colac with a security licence," he said.
"I've been in the security industry since I was 22 and I'm 56 now and we used to have guards here but all of them are gone. They need to bring guards down from other areas because there just aren't any here."
Warrnambool's R and M Security operational manager Natalie Smith said the company had lost five of its 30 staff in recent months but was thankful she could still cover all clients unlike many others.
"It's made it a little bit more difficult," she said.
"We've had a few staff say 'hey, I've decided to hang up the boots - it's been fun but I enjoy spending time at home with the kids'.
"A lot of our staff are part-time and have other jobs so they were sort of working on weekends like an extra shift here and there.
"But I think during COVID they just came to the decision that spending time at home and that weekend quality time with family, they sort of didn't miss working on the weekend."
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She said the backlog of training service providers coming from Melbourne created a shortage of new, qualified guards in the region.
"I think it's because the training was limited during COVID lockdown because a lot of the RTOs are based in Melbourne, which was in complete lockdown," she said.
"So there's a backlog of students wanting to do training but I suppose the training service providers coming from Melbourne have their own backlogs.
"I think that has added to our issues. We've got more than enough staff to service our contracts but I've noticed we've had to say no a little bit more to clients who haven't used us before.
"We're getting lots of calls to provide COVID marshals and extra security which is a little bit harder now."
After a series of COVID lockdowns put a stop to the vast majority of music lessons, teachers looked for other work. With classes now allowed to resume, musician Tim Bayne said he'd found a gap in the market and had been inundated with bookings.
"There's no music store, there's only Dale Cleves left and they're not doing drum lessons," he said.
"I think the old owner of Drum Drum may be doing some private lessons but apparently it's very hard to get onto him. I think I'm pretty much the only one offering drum lessons.
"So the demand has been quite high - I've had people who are seven and a person who is in their 50s apply. I've just finished the first week of lessons and I had 14 classes so it's been great."
Warrnambool music teacher Brianna Kavanagh said she scaled back her operations during COVID, meaning she no longer had the capacity to take on new students.
"It was a pretty devastating time for most music teachers," she said.
"I've had an enormous amount of phone calls for all types of instruments, including for vocal lessons except I guess I'm the same as many others where we had to pick up other work during the pandemic to get by and I now don't have the capacity to take on new students.
"I was running a small music teaching business in groups and individuals but because it was in my own residence it had to shut down during COVID and that's the case for many music teachers.
"Many teach within their own homes other than the ones within school hours but you'll find many primary schools don't offer instrumental lessons within school hours or even as an extra-curricular option.
"Private lessons had to either stop or go online and as you can imagine, teaching an instrument over a screen is not ideal."
Warrnambool-based singing teacher and musician Gabby Steel said she found continuing her lessons online difficult, scaling down from 50 students to just 14.
"I think a lot of teachers, myself included, definitely had to drop back a bit because from the students' side they weren't able to move online," she said.
"Before COVID I had about 50 students on the go but to move that online was so difficult and I knew I couldn't keep it up long term being in front of a screen and not being able to connect and to have to change your entire teaching style made it hard to keep the same load."
She said changing the way she taught was difficult for both her and her students.
"When COVID first started in March last year I was actually teaching at a few primary schools as a contractor doing singing and guitar with the kids," she said.
"I was planning on doing that for the rest of the year. At least a third of the kids in Panmure, Nullawarre and Cudgee didn't have access to the internet and couldn't do online lessons.
"We did it anyway and transitioned to online learning. It was pretty tricky to try and find ways to connect with the kids still in a way that worked and suited everyone's learning styles. So I had to scale it back."
Graduating on Thursday night, Liam Smith has a traineeship with Wannon Water lined up for the new year.
"There are jobs all over, we've had emails all the time from school coming through saying there's a traineeship here, there and everywhere," he said.
"I went to Westvic and they helped me learn about all my options. They helped me choose something which would add value to my future career in the long-run with the current job market.
"I think there are plenty of options for those who have the common sense and take that step and go to a place like Westvic for advice."
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