A career in the country suppsedly means taking a step backward, working for a small business, ignoring innovation – those are the myths that need to be dispelled to stop the drain of young people to the cities.
Several presenters riffed on that theme before a parliamentary committee in Murray Bridge on Monday.
Five federal MPs, including Member for Barker Tony Pasin, are investigating whether moving government offices into regional centres could increase growth and prosperity, and seeking out the best regional development ideas from around Australia.
What they heard in Murray Bridge was that young people needed more career counselling before they left high school and more incentives to stay in or return to their home towns.
Regional Development Australia Murraylands and Riverland’s Jo Podoliak said many young people were highly intelligent but uninterested in study.
Giving them hands-on jobs where they could earn credit towards qualifications would help.
She said many low-skilled jobs might not exist in five or 10 years' time, and that young people needed to gain the skills that would help them survive the crunch, as did the hundreds of Murray Bridge residents currently unable to break into the workforce.
But in the meantime, she said, a shortage of workers was limiting commercial growth in the region.
More than 1000 jobs could be created in the food industry if enough suitably skilled workers could be found, and six out of 10 businesses did not export interstate because they could not fulfil orders.
Flinders University's rural doctors program, which has a campus at the Murray Bridge hospital, was another example of an innovative program that encouraged people to start their careers in the regions, she said.
Education expert John Halsey also spoke about the need for young people in communities such as Karoonda to receive guidance well before they finished high school.
"Very much in the conversation is explicit stuff about going away and returning, and some incentives to come back – employment, living conditions, the opportunity to develop specific skills – so it's not just ‘do your education there, go to uni, fly and don't come back’," he suggested.
Mr Pasin said he did not think industries sold the benefits of careers in the regions as well as they could.
"It would be nice if we could change the conversation from 'if you come back to a region you're basically a B-grader' to 'go back to the regions because you'll get an opportunity there long before you would in a metropolitan context'," he said.
He said a stronger VET system would also help keep people in the regions.
A representative of immigration agency Migration Solutions appeared before the committee later in the day.
A written submission by that organisation pushed for Australia's migration system to better meet regional employers’ needs and suggested an influx of migrants to regional centres would stimulate economic growth by increasing demand for goods and services.
It quoted research by the SA Centre for Migration and Economic Studies – funded partly by Thomas Foods International, Shahin Enterprises and RDA – which found migration did not impact the unemployment rate, even in low-skilled occupations, and had only a "very small but ambiguous" impact on wages.
The committee is due to produce a final report by February 28.
Its members held their South Australian hearing in Murray Bridge at Mr Pasin's invitation.