WIMMERA employers say there are barriers preventing skilled professionals filling job vacancies in the health, education and manufacturing sectors.
Australian Bureau of Statistics data from September shows a projected increase of 1600 health care and social assistance jobs in north-west Victoria by 2023.
This area includes the Wimmera and Southern Mallee, as well as Mildura, Swan Hill, Ararat and Ganawarra.
The data also projects an increase of more than 1200 education and training jobs, and 900 accommodation and food services jobs needed in the region.
Other sectors projected to have large increases in needed positions include transport, postal and warehousing; construction; retail and manufacturing.
There are 34 healthcare and medical jobs vacancies; 31 education and training jobs; 22 retail and consumer products jobs; and 17 trades and services advertised on employment website seek.com.au in the Horsham and Grampians area as of Thursday.
Skillinvest chief executive Darren Webster said every sector needed more employees.
"Attracting people in the health sector to the area has been a challenge for a number of years, it seems, as well as engineers and accountants," he said.
"I think if we had qualified people in those areas, most of them would get a job - especially ones with experience. But then if you look at the hard trades, for example, they are all industries that could do with more workers if they were around.
"We try to recruit heavy diesel workers for our clients, but qualified people in those areas are really hard to come by. A lot of our local employers are very good at training workers themselves through apprenticeships.
"That's a good option in those areas where there are low skills, but it's a bit harder for doctors and nurses, where you have to go away for training."
He said employers were facing many challenges in attracting skilled professionals to the region.
"If you were tying to attract highly qualified trained people such as doctors, or even school teachers, the challenge is whether they have the skills," he said.
"Housing is a bit of an issue in Horsham. It's quite expensive and limited - especially at times when you have the wind farm workers coming through.
"We encourage businesses to actually train workers themselves, which invests in their future. We have to look at how we keep the younger people in our region, or the next best step is how do we attract them back?
"The priority should actually be: How do we stop them from leaving in the first place? More educational opportunities, especially at the higher level, is something that really needs to be looked at."
Wimmera Health Care Group chief executive Catherine Morley said the health sector was the region's second biggest industry after agriculture.
"While we're really important to our region for sustainability and well-being, we're also a huge employer. We have a responsibility to the small towns and big towns to keep people employed," she said.
She said it was difficult to attract applicants for every job vacancy.
"Skilled nurses in specialties such as theatre, intensive care and nurse practitioners are really difficult to attract; general nurses, too. We've done really well as a region in attracting international nurses but that isn't a sustainable solution either," she said.
"Allied health professionals are also difficult to attract and retain. People will come for a couple of years and get great experience, but we're not as attractive to younger people as the city.
"We also find it hard to attract people in the administration, information technology and engineering sectors. We're really short as a region in skilled areas. We're finding it hard to find the right people for every job."
She said the lack of housing was also a significant barrier for attracting heath care workers.
"Housing is critical when we'e attracting people from outside the area. If we can't find nice housing and they have options to live somewhere else, that's really difficult for us to provide that package," she said.
"Finding the job for their partner is another major issue. So if we employ a nurse, we need to ensure the partner has job opportunities and feel like they are part of the community."
Ms Morley suggested a rural tax incentive to help attract skilled professionals to regional areas.
"That encourages them to work here for a few years to save some money and learn great things, then maybe they will stay longer," she said.
"If we could have a constant stream of skilled professionals contributing to our community, that would be great - but at the moment we are competing with everyone else. We can't compete with Melbourne or Ballarat. We need to have something that's a little bit more out there.
"We see our responsibility as a major employer for the region, but the ability to develop people when I have to deliver care is a hard balance when we don't have any extra cash."
She said she would also like to see incentives to train Wimmera residents locally.
"A career in health is amazing. I would encourage everyone to work in health," she said.
"The other area we have a responsibility in is our vulnerable or marginalised people. We've been working with Goolum Goolum Aboriginal Co-Operative to employ more people with Aboriginal and Torres Strait heritage, as well as older people and people with disabilities.
"There are lots of of opportunities where we can support our community, but all of that requires support from us, which is another role I don't have the funds for.
"Then there's attracting doctors and GPs, which is a whole other problem. Our model of care needs to change dramatically otherwise we're not going to be able to attract health professionals."
The education sector has the second highest number of job vacancies in the region.
Horsham's Ss Michael and John's Primary School deputy principal Michael Rowe said the school struggled to fill positions.
"The past couple of years we have struggled to find applicants for any jobs that we advertise. We find that if we advertise a bit earlier, we get more success and we're really happy with the field of applicants we got this year. Sometimes we have to re-advertise positions, so it is tough," he said.
"Sometimes people apply and they don't know where Horsham is, or they think it's a suburb of Melbourne. A lot of people who do apply are from the country so know the benefits of working in the country."
He said there were benefits to working regionally.
"The obvious one is the financial benefit because of the lower cost of living. As a teacher, your wage doesn't change depending on where you work, so our teachers are able to save up money," he said.
"The community aspect and really knowing the families your'e working with is also a big benefit. Leadership opportunities come up frequently so you can get ahead in your career; the smaller school, the more responsibility you have to take on.
"Sometimes people just need to come see the area as well. Getting people in housing can be tough, so having an incentive for that would be good.
"We've talked about how good it would be to have university students to come through and see the area, and then maybe they find it's not as different as they expect. We're doing the same things as city school, and maybe even better."
Horsham's Ss Michael and John's Primary School teacher Ashley Henschke moved to Horsham from Adelaide in June to pursue a job opportunity at the school.
"I graduated from university in June 2018 and had been doing relief teaching since then. It was really hard to find jobs around Adelaide," she said.
"My grandparents live in Rupanyup and I knew the area, so I saw this job as a great opportunity. Being away from my family back home has been hard, so there has been a lot of travelling between here and Adelaide."
Although she was initially hesitant about move to a regional area, Ms Henschke said the change had provided more benefits than negatives.
"It has been great to get out of a busy city. It took a while to get used to the fact that there weren't huge events every weekend and lots of shops, but I've always found something to do here. I haven't found the move that much of a challenge at all," she said.
Ms Henschke said she hoped to stay in Horsham for a long time.
"I never thought I'd be living in the country. It was a big risk, but I'm so happy that I did it. I think other teachers should give it a chance," she said.
Horsham-based air-conditioning manufacturing company Smallaire employs 21 people - all of them live in Horsham.
General manager Jock Baker said the company found it difficult to employ people.
"If we were to lookfor a sheet metal worker, for example, we wouldn't be able to find them. Instead we would have to train somebody up to take that role. That can take up to six years," he said.
"Our schools have lost the focus on trades. Originally the Horsham Tech School had metal and woodwork training, but there is very little of that nowadays.
"Trying to keep the kids here is hard. There's a stigma with parents that it's okay to let their kids go away to study or work. Once they finish school, they're gone. How about we focus on growing our community and encouraging them to stay here?"
Smallaire owner and director Lolita Small said she would like to see more focus put on trades as a career path in the region's schools.
"It needs to be communicated more with the students and the careers teachers to let them know what's available here. The careers expo is fantastic, but it needs focus," she said.
"If they can get that hands-on experience at school, then they know whether it's something they'd like to do as a career. There's a big problem with retention as well. Trying to get workers to stay is hard because a lot of the time they want to go to the city."
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