In the ongoing narrative of talent management in Australia, we often hear of a growing divide between urban and regional environments. The fact is, urban job markets continue to produce the lion’s share of skilled job growth in Australia.

The reasons are obvious. City job markets are busier and more dynamic. Talent pools are bigger, job opportunities more plentiful, and salaries higher. Collaboration, networking, and cultural outlets are more prevalent.

But regional job markets in Australia are also on the rise, and questions of how to meet the demand are swirling. The healthcare industry is one example. According to the Department of Employment, there was a 21.4% increase in the number of healthcare workers in Australia between 2013 and 2018. The government expects 3.5 million Australians to seek aged care by 2050, and for people to expect a larger array of health and wellness services in coming decades.

In terms of distribution between regional and urban areas, the government’s Relocation Assistance to Take Up a Job program is telling: Australians can receive up to $6000 in assistance for relocating to a regional area for work, but only up to $3000 for relocating to a capital city. The message is clear: We need a smarter approach to regional recruitment.

1. Re-think salary

It’s true that salaries are traditionally higher in cities. The cost of living is higher, and the concentration of talent makes job markets competitive. That said, if regional organisations can’t pull in top talent, their long-term performance will suffer.

We need to rethink the idea that lower costs of living justify lower salaries. Top talent understand that their dollars will go farther in regional markets – but asking them to accept a pay cut on account of living costs is akin to pulling away the carrot.

In our recruitment practice, we’ve seen positive results when regional employers go to market with salaries that are equal to (or even a little higher than) comparable roles in city markets.

As always, there are financial relativities to think about – but let’s bear in mind that recruitment and retention go hand-in-hand. If you pull in a great sales person or manager who drives your organisation forward, you won’t lose sleep over a moderately higher price tag. That investment will pay off in terms of overall performance and talent retention.

2. Sell the transition

Since no two people have the same background, we can never have a perfect understanding of why talented professionals pursue (or don’t pursue) a regional job opportunity. But if we do more to understand common thought processes, we can sell regional jobs more accurately.

For example, a lot of people want out of the so-called rat race. They’re tired of traffic, the noise, the difficult housing market. They may have grown up in a regional area and moved to the city to develop a career, and now they want something quieter. Maybe they have young children, and are attracted to the promise of a relaxed and tightly-knit community.

There are also plenty of skilled people who already work in regional areas – and although they aren’t interested in moving to a city, they might be willing to relocate to a different regional area if the right opportunity comes up.

As we factor in these variables, we see that regional recruitment is not just about selling a role or a salary package.

A good recruiter should also think like a travel agent, frame the opportunity in ways that matter, and assess candidates with diligent attention to their life situation (e.g. How will the partner and/or children settle? Will they have the right access to schools and hospitals?)

The central question is whether a candidate will stick around and deliver long-term value to the organisation. The answer, of course, is closely linked to each candidate’s understanding of the overall value available to them.

3. Advertise regionally

It’s easy to post on SEEK, LinkedIn, or the company web site. In our experience, these efforts alone are unlikely to catch the eye of people who don’t already live in the area, much less top talent in faraway markets.

On the other hand, regional newspapers can be found on every coffee shop table. It might cost $1,000 to post a job in one of these publications, compared to $7,000 for a similar ad in the Melbourne Age. Local radio stations are also active, and people in regional areas talk to each other a lot. Big channels like SEEK are very often worth the effort – but dialling in to local and regional channels can help generate the dynamic response we need.

Conclusion: Play to your strengths!

Regional employers often believe they are disadvantaged in attracting top talent, that they must offer lower salaries due to differences in cost of living, and that lifestyle changes are one of their only selling points. As regional job markets in Australia continue to expand, these beliefs need to be updated, if not fundamentally changed.

Emphasising opportunities for career development, assessing markets in a wide range of regional areas, and getting the money right – these are actionable steps that will help create a sustainable distribution of talent in years to come.

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