Workforce strategy to support business growth in regional areas

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Business growth

Why does economic development go hand in hand with regional workforce development?  Well it’s about identifying critical job roles, skills and opportunities that local employers and industry need, and taking action ahead of the expansion.  Particularly where growth opportunities are beyond the local community, global markets and exporting leads to a need to understand a future view of workforce requirements that is based upon demand.

By implementing workforce planning strategy into an economic plan for regional areas, labour market forecasts are more likely to be met, and industries populating regional areas that are susceptible to unforeseen climates, such as agriculture become more resilient and equipped to handle fluctuating economic threats.

If this is done right, it is more likely that those future forecasts will be on par with regional workforce development figures, and expectations for growth will be properly managed and addressed.

Workforce planning for regional areas

Workforce planning plays an important role in enabling the expansion of the labour market in regional areas.  Pragmatically this by agreeing and forecasting critical jobs, skill requirements and identifying hard-to-see gaps in industries or regions, as well as highlighting strengths.  But it can’t all be done well without regional stakeholders getting involved.


Partnership is a doing word, and a collaborative local facilitator is key.  Whilst the aim might not be this, you can often see people who are leading collaboration in regional and global workforce development.  Regional champions and supporters will make everything run smoother.

Employer Involvement

It is crucial for employers’ workforce needs to be deeply understood.  Time needs to be spent on building solid relationships to identify critical job roles with local employers.  When major employers get involved then others will come on board.

Benchmarking and identifying skills

Skills should be benchmarked across businesses, industry sectors and the region.  When you identify entry level skills for pathway programs, it helps those looking for their ‘first job’, schools, VET and University providers to know the requirements are.  Start with current jobs and skills, and then identify future jobs and skills.

Slowing growth

According to a survey developed in 2011 by Regional Development Australia and South Australia Works (now Skills for Jobs in Regions), in conjunction with the Department of Employment and Work Relations, workforce growth was forecast to provide an additional 3,000 jobs to regional areas such as the Murraylands in SA between 2012 and 2014.

Since then, the Murraylands have seen jobs drop by approximately 700 positions between 2012 and 2014, in what was considered to be ‘good years’ for the district, according to the Murraylands Jobs, Growth, & Investment Snapshot 2014 – 2016, developed by Regional Development Australia.

Growth was highlighted in the report to have “slowed considerably” since 2011, despite a highly optimistic forecast in the 2011 report for 2012-2014.

Renewed optimism

Echoing optimism has again been exclaimed for 2014-2016, with “Murraylands businesses expecting their workforce to increase by at least 2,378 new positions (of which 1,564 will be full time) by the end of 2016”.

If this is a reflection of most regional areas, including areas where drought, flood and other natural disasters have hit, where job forecasts are far grimmer, it raises the question of how workforce planning can accelerate and foster growth across industries regionally, to meet forecasts and maintain “renewed optimism”.

But you like me, might consider that you get what you expect, what you plan for.

Imagine if, despite some of the negative outlooks, you planned for positive growth, expansion, regional retention and capability development that jumped into innovation in business ideas, product development, and market identification.  For example, is areas like Northern Australia, economic and workforce development is crucial.

Perhaps your region needs something different, where workforce planning and development underpins, as well as stimulates growth.  If this way of thinking appeals to you, please email for an info graphic with 21 Workforce Planning Tips for Regional Development.

March 2015.

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