ATTRACTING - and retaining - skilled workers to meet growing labour vacancies in regional SA has received a boost with new tools.
The Steps to Settlement Success toolkit gives advice for regional towns to ensure migrant workers can fill vital job vacancies and build community resilience.
It was developed by the Regional Australia Institute, alongside Rwandan refugee Emmanuel Musoni, who was raised in a refugee camp in Uganda, and draws on the experiences of communities such as Mount Gambier and Nhil, Vic, that have successfully boosted their population and productivity with migrant support.
In Nhil, major employer Luv-a-Duck had considered relocating its processing plant to Melbourne, due to labour insecurity, before it managed to bring in workers from the Karen community in Burma.
Primary Industries and Regional Development Minister Tim Whetstone launched the toolkit in Adelaide recently, saying it could help give regional businesses more certainty.
We know migrants choose regional SA and this trend needs support to continue.
He said the Steps to Settlement Success toolkit would also be useful when the state's pilot program Designated Area of Migration begins in November.
The DAMA would allow up to 750 migrant workers a year, for the first two years, to fill critical job vacancies in agribusiness, forestry, health and social services, tourism and hospitality, construction and mining.
"Fly-in, fly-out workers and backpackers have helped, but they are not part of a regional community," Mr Whetstone said.
"This pilot is shining a light on our capacity to be a leader and show the way for the regional sector."
RAI co-chief executive officer Liz Ritchie said regional Australia was a diverse place, home to one-third of the national population.
"One issue crossing all boundaries is a workforce issue," she said.
Ms Ritchie said there were 44,000 jobs listed in regional Australia during May, 900 in regional SA, and these were just those advertised.
The toolkit includes seven steps to make the transition easier, both for migrants and their new communities, from setting clear goals for the project and ensuring all local residents were on board.
- Pressure on Nats over ag visa, again
- Employers responsible for workers' legality
- Workers available for Australian farms
"A divided community may destroy a good plan from the start," Ms Ritchie said.
"We know migrants choose regional SA and this trend needs support to continue.
"These are the building blocks to getting people to come and stay."
She said steering committees, community consultation and "community champions" were all ways to ensure there was a united approach, while all plans needed to consider issues such as housing, employment and if applicable, somewhere suitable to pray.
The toolkit is one of a series of projects RAI is launching this year in its Regions Rising national roadshow.
GROWTH OPPORTUNITIES UNLOCKED
REGIONAL Development Australia Limestone Coast chief executive officer David Wheaton said growing the region's population by 2000 people by next year had been a major part of a local plan.
"The population isn't declining in regional Australia, but it can be quite patchy," he said.
"There is a hollowing out of the population as baby boomers retire and young people leave, say to go to university."
He said the narrative on migrant workers needed to change.
"Migrants don't steal jobs, they unlock opportunities for growth," he said.
"You can't become an apprentice if you don't have somebody to work beside."
He said migrants contributed beyond filling jobs, also helping to boost school numbers, keep local hospitals operational or even helping the local tennis club stay viable.
Mount Gambier was one of the communities that contributed to the Steps to Successful Settlement toolkit, following its role as a designated area of settlement for refugees.
Australian Migration Resources Centre Mount Gambier manager Anelia Blackie said the South East community was one of the most successful settlement areas in Australia.
"There was a need identified for unskilled labourers that couldn't be filled locally, so the committee established and lobbied the government," she said.
Migrants don't steal jobs, they unlock opportunities for growth.
Refugees from Burma, Congo and the Middle East have settled in the region.
She said the different services in the city had connected together to make sure the support was in place, while the community had rallied behind the project, such as offering driving lessons.
She said projects, such as creating murals celebrating Indigenous and other cultures, or even sowing and gardening lessons could help refugees feel included and increase confidence.
MAJOR agribusiness employer Mitolo has a large proportion of its workforce in regional areas and group human resources manager Paula Colquhoun said this could sometimes lead to problems finding the right workers.
"We can put out a job ad for a mechanic in Pinnaroo and go 18 months without a bite," she said.
"We will try the local community."
We have the highest economic reliance on regions of all states but also the highest concentration of population in the city.
She said about 260 employees were based in regional areas in NSW and SA, with about 35 per cent of those on some form of visa, including humanitarian and skilled workers.
She said the company worked closely with applicants right from the start to ensure they have their needs met in the community.
Meat processor Thomas Foods International also makes use of skilled migrant workers to fill its requirements with operations general manager Bernard Smith saying company representatives travel to the home country of many of its employees, including Vietnam, China and the Philippines, to meet them before they are hired.
"We know if they fit our culture, they'll fit the culture we want them to live in," he said.
I love the community life and rural life in general and if you really miss the city, it's only a few hours away.
He said the company employed about 3500 employees and expected about 2000 people to be employed at the new site at Murray Bridge when it was fully operational, with 650 in the early days.
"We will be the biggest employee in Murray Bridge again," he said.
"Finding 2000 skilled workers, and every job we do is skilled, is going to be interesting.
"We plan to open the jobs to locals first."
Mr Smith said international workers, who were sponsored for permanent residency by the company, quite often continued on to become supervisors or quality assurance technicians.
"We're not in the business of churning through migrant labour," he said.
He said there were also cases of their children coming through the TFI graduate program.
We know if they fit our culture, they'll fit the culture we want them to live in.
Regional Development SA chair Rob Kerin said SA was experiencing a growing labour and skills shortage in parts of the state.
"We have the highest economic reliance on regions of all states but also the highest concentration of population in the city," he said.
"It's about skilled workers and a labour force, not cheap labour. We need the labour, otherwise we can lose investment."
COMMUNITY KEY TO SUCCESS
ABOUT one year ago, Sri Lankan migrants Manu and Navi Liyanarachchi made the decision to move to Berri to work for Accolade Wines.
A promotion came with the chance to relocate to Adelaide or Melbourne.
"But I was settled in Berri," Mr Liyanarachchi said. "I love the community life and rural life in general and if you really miss the city, it's only a few hours away."
Mr Liyanarachchi said from day one they had felt part of the community, which included assistance to find housing, despite a lack of rental history.
"In a community like Berri, you have two options as a migrant - you can either enjoy solitude or you can go out and get involved," he said.
Ms Liz Ritchie said community cohesion was important in migrant settlement success.
"It's one thing to move to a community, it's another to stay," she said.
Ms Ritchie said it was important new residents were introduced to local clubs or sporting groups and feel part of the community.
The guide is available at regionalaustralia.org.au
- This story first appeared on the Stock Journal.