Going rural a career boost

Country areas give people a chance to bolster their opportunities, writes Megan Blandford.

Country areas give people a chance to bolster their opportunities, writes Megan Blandford.

Katy Guest was studying when she was approached as part of a recent drive to attract skilled workers to rural areas.

She agreed to give it a try and transferred her Bachelor of Urban, Rural and Environmental Planning to the Northern Grampians. She hasn't looked back.

The Population Attraction and Retention program, run by Rural Councils Victoria, is a scheme encouraging people with the right skills to move out of the city and into areas where their abilities aren't as common. Guest says the move has helped advance her career.

"Larger councils tend to have specialists for certain tasks, such as townhouse developments," she says. "[In the country] I have the opportunity to test what I have been learning at university."

More and more people are moving to regional areas to enhance their careers. Research for Regional Development Victoria showed that 11 per cent of Melburnians are planning to move to regional Victoria within the next three years, and a further 39 per cent would like to move there "one day".

For many, not just in Victoria but around the country, it's a question of finding jobs that are not only a good fit but also fulfilling.

Sally Bryant took the plunge into Dubbo in regional New South Wales in the hope that it would open up opportunities, and is more than pleased with the move.

Like Guest, Bryant has found it has given her the chance to learn more about her field.

"You are often given more responsibility in rural areas and, if you are prepared to work hard, you can really make your mark."

Bryant says she knows many people who have found the same thing. "The breadth of experience they gain from working in rural and regional Australia makes them much better at what they do."

Living rurally has been a great move for her career. "I have had more career opportunities open up to me than I would have thought possible," says Bryant, a journalist.

"I found it hard to find an 'in' while I was one of many in a big city, but you move to the country and people need your skills. Often they need to fill a job, and there is no one available who has exactly the right skill set, so they have to be more creative in their recruitment."

Creativity is certainly the key for regional areas, who have to entice highly skilled professionals to try a new way of life.

Rural councils are not idly waiting for the right people to find them. On the contrary, they are going to great lengths to show potential candidates what they can offer in terms of career opportunities and lifestyle.

The first step, says Ross Smith, economic development officer at the Indigo Shire Council in north-eastern Victoria, is conducting constant needs analyses. "We keep in close contact with our large employers to monitor skill gaps," he says.

They are also marketing themselves to convince people to come to them. "We attend the Regional Victorian Living Expo every year to connect with health sector professionals, teachers and hospitality workers."

Other councils around Australia are taking it one step further, , attending skilled migrant expos, providing online workshops, launching advertising campaigns, developing mobile apps, and offering themselves up for performance review-like feedback to improve what they can offer skilled workers.

New South Wales' inland region is running a social media campaign dubbed Come on Inland to attract potential employees to the area. Using online resources such as Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest to gather interest, the campaign draws in councils to work together.

Regional Development Australia's executive officer, Nathan Axelsson, says it's all about being heard above the noise of the cities.

"There are significant employment opportunities in regional areas, and it's not so competitive," he says, explaining that the inland regions he represents have a lot to offer. People are usually attracted to a rural area because of past connections, he says, and advises that before making the move, they should do their homework.

"Travel there first," he says, "and talk to people who have their finger on the pulse of the local economy."

Rural salaries are often comparable, while the cost of living is lower. Above all, he advises, "the priority before making a regional move is securing employment".

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