From East to West – a comparison between workforce planning approaches across Australian coastal districts

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By having similarities in geographical locations, it is easy to assume coastal towns require similar approaches to workforce planning and economic development strategies, right?

Wrong.

The coastal areas of the Gold Coast, Geraldton and Fraser Coast have striking differences in industries, strategies and core focus contributing to workforce, regional and economic development.

Gold Coast

According to the City of Gold Coast, “a city’s workforce, or human capital, is arguably the key element underpinning a diverse and prosperous economy”.

The Gold Coast’s Economic Development Strategy for 2013-2023, says a key driver will be transforming the city into an education capital of Australia, with global recognition for premium education provision.

City of Gold Coast Mayor Tom Tate supports using an educational strategy, both to drive a more skilled workforce in a knowledge-economy and to become an Education City that attracts domestic and international students and their valuable global connections.

Driven by lifestyle, opportunities exist to capture and retain talent within the area, if the economic infrastructure and support matches the key benefits of moving or residing to the Gold Coast.

Workforce development opportunities will arise if strong collaborations and partnerships between education institutions and the wider business community and state government are formed, providing rich and diverse educational experiences.

Partnerships will provide outcomes for both emerging talent and established by utilising emerging skills, nurturing and mentoring talent, thus adding to educational outcomes for students and economic value via productivity.

A primary objective is increasing skills and jobs in the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering Maths + Arts) sectors with a focus on developing a Health and Wellness workforce specialty.

Opportunities for Gold Coast businesses heading towards the 2018 Commonwealth Games will be huge but a consideration has to be the capacity and capability to make the most of this once in a blue moon opportunity.

Geraldton

In contrast to the Gold Coast, Geraldton, another coastal area on the western coast of Australia, faces challenges of supplying skilled employees for industries.

The area of Geraldton relies heavily on the State and Federal Governments to develop training/work-readiness facilities and programs.  Taking a forward thinking approach, workforce planning here requires the incorporation of future forecasts of what skills and jobs will be needed.

In comparison to the Gold Coast, which has a primary focus on attracting international talent and global connections, according to the Geraldton Iron Ore Alliance – a major employer in the district – Geraldton has a core focus around up-skilling and providing local jobs and opportunities.

Community engagement and open forums are utilised in the area to develop workforce strategies with a local focus.  Despite an aim to keep jobs local, with a strong mining and military presence in the area, fly-in, fly-out (FIFO) and drive-in, drive-out (DIDO) workers also frequent the district, increasing population density of Geraldton.  Any workforce planning needs to incorporate and meet challenges faced with such workers being a part of the development solutions.

Fraser Coast

The Fraser Coast’s ageing population aims to retain and re-attract previous workers back into Health and Community Service occupations.

With a similar incentive to the Gold Coast of a relaxed, beach lifestyle, workforce planning for this region potentially requires some scoping into the demand and opportunities for future workforce and economic growth.

Tourism, Health and Community Services, and Manufacturing are key industries along the Fraser Coastline where priorities include fostering ‘healthy living approaches for a healthy and prosperous economy’, and increasing tourism activity.

According to the Fraser Coast Regional Council, the aim is to maximise and facilitate economic growth and investment activities through the coordinated planning, funding and provision of key ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ infrastructure.

Comparing the development of viable workforce outcomes

Despite similarities of geographic coastal locations, workforce and economic approaches within coastal towns are clearly unique and diversified.

Each faces particular challenges and utilises various approaches and is home to different key industries – workforce planning along the coast must not use a ‘one size fits all’ approach.

Strategy must be personalised to each geographical location with a sound socio-cultural understanding of each community – taking into consideration resources and cultural complexities.

However, one consistency between coastal towns seems to be a need to incorporate planning for the high numbers of FIFO and DIDO workers frequenting the towns and emphasising regional workforce attraction and retention.

Developing a workforce strategy that meets each community’s differing future demand is crucial with practical action plans to implement priority solutions and bridge the gap from the current to the future workforce.

March 2015.

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