Regional job advertisements grew three times faster than in metropolitan Australia at the end of 2022, with demand for doctors and nurses skyrocketing, according to new research by the Regional Australia Institute (RAI).
Speaking at the National Press Club in Canberra, RAI CEO Liz Ritchie launched the Institute's latest report, Regional Jobs 2022: The Big Skills Challenge, identifying the biggest gaps in critical roles.
"This report shines a light on the unprecedented challenge playing out in regional Australia, as labour supply struggles to keep up with demand - despite population movement continuing," Ms Ritchie said.
Demand for workers in regions hit record levels in 2022, with December recording a 10% annual increase in the number of roles advertised, outpacing growth in capital cities of 3%.
However, once these workers accept positions in regional districts finding a place to live becomes a major headache and may in fact mean many do not opt to work outside metropolitan areas.
In-demand workers are facing soaring rents and dwindling vacancies in rural and regional areas, creating an "unsustainable" situation for the many regional employers including the agricultural sector.
Tenants are paying at least 10 per cent more than last year for the majority of areas, with Upper Hunter rents the worst - jumping by 22.9 per cent.
Communities with strong agricultural bases, such as Forbes, the Richmond Valley, Yass and Wagga Wagga were among those with 15 per cent rent rises, while the number of rental vacancies was far lower than the number of job ads, a trend NSW Farmers Workplace Relations chair Chris Stillard said was "unsustainable".
"I know everyone is feeling the pinch with higher costs at the supermarket and rising electricity prices, but if people can't afford to live in these places then we won't get the workers we need to produce our food and fibre," Mr Stillard said.
"Farmers are often at the bleeding edge of cost-of-living pain, taking lower and lower prices for our produce while paying more and more to grow it, and we absolutely empathise with rural and regional renters.
"This is a problem that needs to be solved, and soon."
In October 2022, according to the Internet Vacancy Index (IVI), which is a monthly count of online jobs advertised by Jobs and Skills Australia, regional job vacancies grew to 94,100, which was more than double the pre-pandemic levels.
"Job vacancy growth year on year shows that the regions are falling further and further behind in trying to secure staff. Without intervention, the gap potentially will widen," Ms Ritchie said.
"We need to strengthen educational pathways in regions to meet the demand for workers, understanding the most in-demand roles, on a regional level, is critical," she said.
"Each region has its own story to tell and the people they need to ensure it can accommodate the demand in vacancies - which in most areas are seeing three figure percentage increases on five years."
Through its Regionalisation Ambition 2032, the RAI is calling for a National Population Plan that addresses settlement patterns at a regionally disaggregated level and the enablers across the Framework to support the plan.