Representatives at the jobs and skills summit from tech companies based in regional Australia have called for greater investment in regional communities to support the workforce required.
Tasmania-based seaweed producer Sea Forest’s chief executive Sam Elsom stressed the importance of increasing access to STEM education, but noted the importance of making regional Australia an attractive place to live.
“What we want to do is to try to attract the brightest young minds to come and work at Sea Forest in these regional parts of Tasmania and to do so we need access to housing, broader community investment and also access to academic development that’s necessary to drive people into not only these communities, but also to support the growth of many other businesses like Sea Forest,” Mr Elsom said.
Mr Elsom notes that existing public infrastructure cannot adequately support tech companies in regional Australia, at least in the experience of Sea Forest.
Sea Forest is a startup that has uses an extract taken from the Asparagopsis seaweed that, when mixed in tiny quantities in livestock feed, can reduce the amount of methane the animals produce by up to 98 per cent. The company has developed IP to grow the seaweed as a crop, at scale.
“We’ve had to take measures ourselves to secure both our ability to have unlimited access to energy, for example, but also, internet. We’ve got a huge solar dish on top of our site. These are very real challenges and I think what we’re looking for is for the government to recognise the need in order to advance these innovative and regional employers,” Mr Elsom said.
“We employ 45 people today. It could be 200 or 1000 in the future. We’ve just purchased our second site. This is a growing industry and I think [we need] that broad investment in community, so it’s not just housing, its infrastructure, its internet speeds – all of these things that enable our business to operate efficiently, as efficiently as if we were in a CBD.”
Townsville-based operations platform provider SafetyCulture’s chief executive Luke Anear believes encouraging skilled migration to regional Australia is an important measure in supporting tech companies operating in regional areas. To achieve this, incentives should be put in place to assist workers with the moving cost.
Although admitting that the final details of such incentives should be determined in consultation with other stakeholders, Mr Anear suggested that “$25,000 per employee that comes to a regional area is probably a good number to start with”.
He also stressed the importance of ensuring young people have access to quality STEM education are aware of opportunities in tech, a particularly important task in regional Australia which can often be “removed from some of the success stories”.
“We need to keep bringing those stories back into regional Australia so that the kids of today can be the entrepreneurs tomorrow and continue to innovate.”
Speaking from the floor at the Jobs and Skills Summit panel on ‘maximising the potential of our industries’, National Farmers’ Federation president Fiona Simson said that “skills development in rural and regional Australia is critical” to ensure the agricultural industry can take advantage of new technology.
“Skills and bedrock for the innovation that is currently occurring in our sector. There’s no doubt that jobs of the future in agriculture will revolve on the use of new and evolving technology and energy solutions. And this is an exciting space, we should see the return of more regional heavyweight in manufacturing,” Ms Simson said.
“We’ve already seen an exciting array of tools and digital devices to collect data, this worker productivity and enhance real time decision making. But it’s critical that we have the connectivity across rural and regional Australia to drive this technology.”
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