Rural skills in demand

A CRITICAL shortage of skilled and unskilled workers throughout Regional NSW needs addressing and existing programs need boosting, the Member for Dubbo, Troy Grant has said.

Mr Grant met with the head of Fletcher International, Roger Fletcher and Workabout Australia managing director Warren Williams to canvass options for building on the existing model.

Workabout Australia was formed in 1996 and operates as a club to help people find seasonal, casual or part-time work opportunities across a broad range of industries across the country, Mr Williams said and he shared concerns voiced by Mr Fletcher and Mr Grant about the shortage of regional labour.

At the Fletcher International processing works in North Dubbo, Mr Fletcher and his plant manager Adam Isbester are seeking staff to fill the ranks created by a change to two shifts a day.

"This job is changing faster than you can believe," Mr Fletcher said, referring to how business is operating in regional Australia.

He said grey nomads and backpackers were proving vital in filling staffing holes on the production line but in the longer term the concern was fewer and fewer young people from centres like Dubbo were putting their hands up for jobs.

Mr Fletcher said visiting backpackers were using opportunities to work in regional Australia to gain visa extensions and combined with a great work ethic were proving valuable staff.

"We have got to change our management skills," Mr Fletcher said.

"We understand they (the backpacker and grey nomad workers) are only here for four to five months and because our customers want better products we have to have the right training for our staff."

He said his managers had to be able to quickly train up staff to meet the demands of the process and to create an atmosphere that attracts and retains staff.

Mr Grant said a scheme that drew further attention to regional and rural skills shortages could encourage additional employment opportunities for seasonal and casual workers in the region.

"There is no shortage of anecdotal evidence that suggests it is often difficult to find good help in the bush and the situation may have been exacerbated by a generation drift towards metropolitan areas by younger skilled workers," he said.

"It's often hard for local businesses to compete against the above-average earnings offered by the lucrative mineral resources sector in securing the best candidates for the job."

Mr Williams said the evidence of the skills shortage was concerning.

"Statistics show in NSW alone there was a decline of 8.5 per cent or 3200 labourers from November 2010 to November 2011," Mr Williams said.

"Nationally only 48 per cent of agriculture and horticulture positions advertised in the 2011 to 2012 year were successfully filled, that's a drop of 13 per cent on the previous year."

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