How do we reverse the ‘brain drain’ from our regions to the cities?
The lure of the bright lights of big cities for Queensland’s youths from regional areas boils down to one thing: opportunity.
More often the case than not, our cities provide more favourable employment, recreational, housing and lifestyle choices than our regions. However Queensland’s regions have proven to be just as valuable to the economy as their city counterparts, and for a period of time in the early 2000s, even more important to the national economy than some of the major cities across Australia.
Despite the importance of growing and supporting the unique economic make-up of Queensland’s regions, there exists a “brain drain” of graduates and young people seeking work to the south-east corner through to other Australian cities. This has contributed largely to some of the serious skills shortages that we are seeing across the State.
A downturn in mining and the movement of workers to more populated areas has a flow on effect to small businesses with the regions. That is why CCIQ is calling on the State Government in the upcoming Budget to do more to boost skills and job creation across the State, but with particular focus on our regional areas.
According to a study by the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education, it was found that nationally, the number of students who relocated to metropolitan cities from regional areas had increased by 76.3 per cent, from about 29,000 students in 2008 to more than 51,000 in 2014.
This trend of relocation to the city is showing no sign of slowing, which means there will be important policy implications for education in our regional universities, TAFE and VET providers, as well as around boosting regional industries and business’ capacity to grow and employ.
In Britain, where there also exists a “brain drain” from regional areas to London, solutions included asking universities to allow graduates to use their facilities for up to a year after finishing, or giving more powers to new metro mayors to offer “returnships” to those who move away. These are the types of proposals we should not shy away from.
The Queensland Government knows that reversing this trend is a major challenge for them, now and into the future. The move away from historically focusing on only a handful of industries to a more diversified economy in our regions is a good first step.
Supporting more economic activity will certainly allow businesses to operate better, but may not be enough to allow the regions to compete globally, an end goal which we should seek.
Targeting skills shortages, education and training reform, arresting the decline in apprenticeship numbers, encouraging innovation, and working more effectively with the Federal Government on migration policy are other levers that need to be pushed.
More than ever, the regions also need to be better connected – whether it be through communications, transport infrastructure, technology or global supply chains and other networks.
Job creation will always be the primary driver in not only keeping young workers in the region, but attracting talent from elsewhere – including those living in big cities – to boost capabilities and capacities in regional businesses.
These jobs must also present themselves well. Young workers aren’t just chasing any job these days, nor just a salary. Jobs created in the regions must showcase long-term prospects for a thriving career, a path to wealth building, as well as opportunities for ongoing personal and professional development. This is undoubtedly a tough task.
If the State Government doubles down on making Queensland becomes the best place to start and grow a business, no matter where it is located in the State, then all of these elements should fall together nicely to the benefit of our remarkable regions.