OPAN - Opportunities Pyrenees, Ararat and Northern Grampians

Opportunities Pyrenees Ararat and Northern Grampians (OPAN) is a three-year project to directly address the existing and future shortage of skilled and unskilled workers across the Pyrenees, Ararat and Northern Grampians local government areas (LGAs) by focusing on workforce planning, migration, housing, and transport.

Project details

Across the three local government areas (LGA), employers have been struggling to recruit and retain workers. On top of this, the region is expected to experience a construction boom as key projects and business expansions take place, resulting in around 1000 new ongoing jobs over the next 5 years.

A few of the major initiatives include:

  • Nectar Farms hydroponic glasshouse project at the Bulgana Green Power Hub near Stawell, with over 100 ongoing jobs expected at the completion of the Stage 1, 10 hectare state of the art facility, and a further 30 hectares planned for Stage 2, creating 250 ongoing jobs and 300 construction jobs.
  • Completion of the ~$29 million Grampians Peaks Trail in the Grampians National Park due in 2020. By 2025, total expenditure by visitors to the Grampians is expected to reach $85 million per year. This spending is expected to support an estimated 425 direct full time jobs for people in the Grampians region (Grampians Peaks Trail Master Plan 2014).
  • Completion of the Western Highway duplication works from Ballarat to Stawell, with $672 million invested and a further $360 million committed by the Australian Government. Works will include adding two lanes in each direction between Buangor to Stawell with a central median to separate traffic and the Beaufort, Ararat and Great Western Bypasses. This will create construction jobs during the project and support economic growth, reduce freight and logistics costs, as well as reduce commuting time and improve road safety in the region once the works are complete.
  • East Grampians Rural Pipeline, securing water supply to the agricultural sector with $62 million committed from the Victorian and Australian Governments, creating an estimated 350 jobs during construction and around 82 ongoing jobs once complete.
  • Victorian Renewable Energy Target of 50% by 2030 and the development of Grampians Regional Roadmap to Zero plan, which will drive millions of investment into renewable energy projects in the region and create ongoing technician jobs.
  • The Ballarat West Employment Zone (BWEZ) to comprise of over 438 hectares of industrial, wholesale, logistics and other businesses with strong access to road, rail and ports, and will provide job opportunities for residents of the OPAN region.
  • $10 million Stawell Underground Physics Lab, creating construction jobs and supporting around 80 ongoing jobs.
  • $1.8 billion investment into a stronger prison system in the 2019/20 Victorian Budget, supporting jobs at the Hopkins Correctional Centre in Ararat and Langi Kal Kal Prison near Beaufort.
  • $6 million expansion of AF Gason in Ararat, creating over 15 new jobs.
  • Reactivation of the Stawell Gold Mine, boosting the local economy, etc

Many baby boomers will also be retiring from the workforce. Based on 2016 ABS Census data, approx. 1300 people, or around 20% of the existing workforce in the 3 LGAs, will reach retirement age (65 year old) in the next 5 years. 

There are not enough workers within the region to fill all of these forecasted job vacancies. As at December 2018, the unemployment rate in the 3 LGAs was very low, between 3.89% and 4.2%. This is at the lower end of the unemployment range that some economists describe as ‘full employment’, where there are a small number of people in between jobs, and where anyone who is able and wants a job will have one at fair wages. 

Without action to attract and retain a new workforce to the region, we risk missing out on an opportunity to grow our local economies and communities.

Strategies and objectives

Workforce Planning

Each region has specific workforce needs, depending on the existing and emerging industries and communities. Workforce planning is required to identify current and future vacancies, and effectively attract a suitable workforce, match workers and jobs, promote skills development and fully utilise existing skills. While existing and future workforce shortages in some industries are known through the engagement work that Regional Development Victoria and the local councils have undertaken, detailed workforce planning is required to fully understand the issue across all sectors. Therefore, the goal of the OPAN Workforce Planning Strategy is to inform and ensure the Migration, Housing and Transport Strategies achieve meaningful outcomes.

Objectives: 

1.1 Identify all current and expected job vacancies out to 5 years
1.2 Address workforce gaps

Migration

The populations of the Ararat and Northern Grampians LGAs were forecast to decline by 2031, with only a modest increase forecasted for the Pyrenees Shire (Victoria in Future 2016). The recent and upcoming economic initiatives provide an opportunity to turn this trend of decline around, but in order for our communities and local economies to grow and thrive, we need to attract and retain workers and their families from elsewhere. Regional migration results in greater diversity, higher average incomes and economies of scale. Livability of regional areas is comparable to, or in some ways better than, outer suburbs of metropolitan areas. The difference in average incomes of outer metropolitan suburbs and regional cities is small at 10%, but average house prices in regional centres is less than half the cost of homes in the metropolitan suburbs (Regional Population Growth - Are We Ready? 2019). Therefore, the goal of the OPAN Migration Strategy is to increase migration of new residents into the 3 OPAN LGAs.

Objectives:

2.1 Organise and prepare the local community for regional migration
2.2 Attract workers who have the right skills and capabilities for the specific workforce shortages occurring in the OPAN region
2.3 Support retention by helping new residents and their families become a part of the community.

Housing

It is difficult for new residents to relocate here while housing markets across the 3 OPAN LGAs remain very tight. With an average 1.16 workers per household (people in the labour force divided by the total number of private dwellings, ABS Census 2016), there is not enough housing stock to cater for the expected influx of workers and their families that are needed to fill vacancies. Further to the lack of available stock, the quality and variety of housing is limited. Therefore, the goal of the OPAN Housing Strategy is to increase the supply and variety of quality housing in the region. 

Objectives:

3.1 Unlock potential rental options from the existing housing stock
3.2 Build new rental homes to accommodate the needs of new and existing residents
3.3 Provide land and housing development opportunities to meet demand

Transport

Existing public transport services (bus and rail) does not support potential workers from neighboring regional centres such as Ballarat, Maryborough and Horsham to work within this region. Further to that, the location of some employment sites are not serviced at all by public transport services, making it difficult for potential employees without a car or drivers licence to access these job opportunities. The overall limited public transport availability and connectivity within the region is generally a disincentive to people considering relocating to the area. Therefore, the goal of the OPAN Transport Strategy is to improve livability by increasing transport connectivity across the region

Objectives:

4.1 Support community led local transport initiatives
4.2 Enhance the public transport network to better meet the needs of the OPAN region 

What resources are available to help my business with workforce planning?

The Tasmanian Government has created a very useful workforce planning resource that is free and publicly available. 

Go to: https://www.business.tas.gov.au/employing-and-managing-people/workforce_planning

What can I do to help migrants relocate here?
There will be a range of events and opportunities coming up to help welcome migrants into our region. These will be promoted on the council website and via social media. 

In the meantime, the Regional Australia Institute has created a very useful resource for communities called the Steps to Settlement Success: A Toolkit for Rural and Regional Communities

I have a house I would like to rent out, how do I find a tenant?
We recommend contacting a local real estate agent who can guide you through the process and your requirements as a landlord.