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Study finds professional nomads add value to regional communities


Brigid Veale
29 October 2009
Professional nomads moving into and out of rural areas bring value to the communities in which they work – beyond the provision of their professional skills, researchers have told the 2009 Sustainable Economic Growth for Regional Australia (SEGRA) conference being held in Kalgoorlie this week.

The study*, supported by the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC), was carried out by Southern Cross University, Deakin University, the University of Tasmania and the Mackay Whitsunday Regional Economic Development Corporation.

Co-researcher Dr Peter Vitartas, from Southern Cross University, presented a paper on the benefits mobile skilled workers bring to communities based on three communities in Queensland, New South Wales and Tasmania. Four additional sites in Canada and three other Australian states will test the findings and may reveal additional insights into the possible benefits to rural communities from highly skilled people who move into their communities.

“From an economic perspective mobile workers made a clear economic contribution to the community,” Dr Vitartas said.

"For instance in Tasmania mobile workers bought, leased or refurbished property. In some cases they restored historical buildings or helped maintain sites of cultural significance. They also brought in family members thus adding to their economic impact.

“At a broader level in Queensland, for instance, they helped the community improve roads and sporting infrastructure.”

Dr Vitartas said mobile skilled workers were seen as risk takers, taking on a project local people wouldn’t, and if they operated a business, saw the value in employing local people and teenagers.

“In one case a mobile worker in Tasmania employed and trained two local people who could not gain employment from other businesses in the town,” he said.

Mobile skilled workers also brought choice and diversity to a town, Dr Vitartas said.

“In NSW, mobile skilled workers were involved in the establishment of a farmers’ market and a concert in the park, while in Tasmania it was a men’s shed and in Queensland the revitalisation of a local show.”

One of the other researchers, Deakin University Pro Vice Chancellor Rural and Regional, Professor Sue Kilpatrick, said mobile skilled workers also drew on their professional skills to assist the community such as using their previous experiences in government to present professional arguments for community support and funding.

“While we know potentially that skilled workers - GPs, teachers and administrators - can bring benefits, economically, socially and environmentally to their communities, there has been little formal research into the impact of mobile skilled workers ,” she said.

“We wanted to know what benefits flowed to rural communities from highly skilled but mobile workers during their stay and the legacy they left behind.”

Professor Kilpatrick said mobile skilled workers also brought new perspectives and enthusiasm and pride.

“For example a café owner in one site opened on weekends while a chef on another site introduced a new style of food to the town. Another worker introduced ideas from their own training encouraging the adoption of new technology and raising standards based on previous work,” she said.

“In addition to the mobile skilled workers, new perspectives were brought into the community by the spouses, partners and family members who accompanied them.”

Dr Vitartas said mobile workers could also be seen as bringing unwanted change and questioning the way things were done.

“While their intentions are for the improvement of the community, they require a change in traditional practice,” he said. “As a result they may incur the wrath of some people in the community.

“However despite this it is clear rural communities can benefit by including mobile skilled workers as a group to attract to their towns.”

*The study ‘Attracting and retaining mobile skilled workers: benefits for rural communities’ was completed by Peter Vitartas, Southern Cross University, Sue Kilpatrick, Deakin University, Susan Johns, University of Tasmania, and Martin Homisan, Mackay Whitsunday Regional Economic Development.