Tackling employment shortages in small communities

The study aims to help residents consider their career pathways.

The challenges residents of smaller western Victorian communities face in accessing education and training are the focus of a collaboration that aims to get more people into jobs with chronic employment shortages.

Federation's Future Regions Research Centre (FRRC) Horsham Hub, Federation TAFE and Wimmera Southern Mallee Development are collaborating on a project targeting care worker skills shortages in the region.

Dr Cathy Tischler from the FRRC will lead the project's research and engage with local employers, industry, and workforces to identify and understand the barriers preventing people from seeking education and training opportunities and will make recommendations to industry for investment.

The project is expected to run over three years and will focus on the Wimmera Southern Mallee region which has low population growth and very low unemployment.

Dr Tischler says there is a strong need for increased staffing levels in the childcare, aged care, disability support and community support sectors. She says the smaller communities where people may be interested in studying but are unable to travel to Horsham will be the focus.

"There are small rural pockets of people in the Wimmera Southern Mallee, like those with family caring commitments, that are interested in upskilling but challenges of childcare and travel to and from Horsham make this impossible. We want to talk to those people to understand their specific barriers, put some science behind it, and see if we can find training and support options to meet their needs," she said.

"The research will commence in communities beyond Horsham and we're looking for people who might be interested in studying, but for whatever reason, travelling to Horsham is too much of a commitment."

"Our data suggests that some women with young children are very disengaged from the workforce, and childcare staffing challenges contribute to the problem."

Dr Tischler says the study will help residents consider their career pathways. Based on the research from engaging with individuals and communities more deeply, resourcing could be provided for targeted childcare support or other supports to put training in place.

"We've worked together to build this project with a clear research component so that it's got it has an evidence base for our potentially different approaches to delivering training that's required to support people who might be interested in entering the workforce but due to personal reasons and all sorts of factors - like lack of childcare – cannot."

Based on the FRRC research, Federation TAFE will design, develop, and deliver customised vocational education, training, wrap-around supports for students studying four pilot certificate-level programs, and lead workforce mentoring.

The grant, worth more than $900,000, is part of the Department of Jobs, Skills, Industry and Regions Workforce Training Innovation Fund (WTIF), which aims to meet the needs of Victorian industries, regions, and disadvantaged learners and make the training and TAFE system more effective in meeting skills needs in areas of economic growth priorities.

"We're doing this research because we don't quite know what the solution will be, and in different communities, the solutions might be different," Dr Tischler said.

"This is a critical partnership project, and it's important that we are using this research team who already understand the region and some of the challenges that exist to work with people in our smaller communities and provide them with confidence and support that their concerns will be addressed locally and in a meaningful way.

"We can look at training people in those smaller communities in-place so they don't have to travel, and potentially bring their kids with them – giving people the support they need to transition into this workforce."

People who are interested in participating in the project should contact horshamresearchhub@federation.edu.au

Related reading:

Childcare shortages highlight need for rural change

Closing the digital divide in regional Victoria

Helping rural businesses flourish

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