The International Employment Expo, hosted by Gunnedah Shire Council, Gunnedah Chamber of Commerce and Business & Life Alignment was held recently at the Smithurst

Speakers provided information regarding international employment, as the need to fill employment gaps in the local market continues.

It was discussed that an aspect of the mutually beneficial relationship between Gunnedah and its sister city, Kolomotu’a, is the employment options it affords.

No stranger to international employment was Jobs Australia CEO Nigel Barlow, who spoke to the Gunnedah Times about Pacific Australia Labour Mobility (PALM).

The scheme is an aid program for the Pacific Islands, but also beneficial to places like Gunnedah, where employers have been vocal about the staffing crisis.

Mr Barlow said that employment rates are low in Gunnedah and about half of the nation’s average at about four per cent.

“When you get sub-three employment [percentage], most of the people that are able to work full time, work to full capacity and genuinely want to work, are employed,” he said.

“Finding good staff and being able to accommodate them is one of the biggest issues in regional Australia, well, everywhere in Australia at the moment.

“[It is good that] council has obviously recognised that it is a problem.”

Mr Barlow said mining companies are critical to the local economy but those outside the industry are typically unable to combat the competitive salaries offered and hence there needs to be more options.

“You recruit, you find good people, you invest in training and bringing them into your business and making them a part of your business and then someone comes along and offers them $30,000 a year more. You cannot really blame them [for taking it],” he said.

There are currently 35 people in Gunnedah who were employed through the scheme. Those people are contracted to the hired positions and have to stay with the employees.

Jobs Australia has been navigating international employment for its clients for more than a decade in Gunnedah.

Mr Barlow believes the PALM scheme is a viable option for the region and is more reliable than backpackers.

“Most [backpackers] are here for a holiday and the other thing is they are not in any way committed to any one employee. They can come and go as they please,” he said.

While there are challenges in the program, he states that the employee’s work ethic is usually not one of them.

“They just want to work. That is why they are coming here,” he said.

Selection, police check, medical check, visa, airfare, accommodation and transport is the responsibility of the organisation.

The scheme caters to most industries, but short-term workers are typically in agriculture and horticulture businesses.

Those short-term employees often come back, which Mr Barlow said is better for the employer’s productivity and in the process they often develop strong relationships with the employers.

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