This is sponsored content for the Commonwealth Bank.
There's a well-known but nonetheless puzzling contrast seen in Australian business. While metro residents scrabble over too few jobs, our regions are crying out for staff.
It's not just a question of numbers. In our regions, it's access to skilled labour that is in dire short supply. In particular, trade qualified staff are very hard to come by.
There's a real mismatch with the human resources centred in our cities while the jobs and opportunities are very much in our regions.
This has led to an increasing focus on migrant labour as a solution for regional Australia, which is all well and good, but it's only part of the solution. We need to look more broadly at diversity and inclusion together, and the value they both can bring to businesses across regional Australia.
Diversity and inclusion are two separate concepts, of equal importance. Diversity is where different perspectives, backgrounds and experiences come together to shape who a person is. Inclusion is the deliberate act of valuing diversity and creating an environment where everyone can thrive and succeed.
The International Monetary Fund estimates that Australia's migration program will add up to 1 per cent to annual average GDP growth from 2020 to 2050 because it focuses on skilled migrants of working age, which limits the economic impact of Australia's ageing population.
I'm proud to say CommBank has a long history of focusing on diversity and inclusion as a workplace priority. In 2018 we refreshed our Global Diversity and Inclusion Strategy, which is about building an inclusive culture, celebrating and valuing diversity in our workforce, our customer base and our communities.
We're proud to have built a workforce that is culturally diverse, perhaps more than the Australian population at large, and we continue to work to increase the diversity of our leadership to realise the benefits of diverse thinking and perspectives.
Research shows that when you have a diverse workforce, it can be a source of creativity that enhances innovation in your workplace by up to 20 per cent, while also enabling businesses to spot risks, reducing them by up to 30 per cent.
Looking globally, McKinsey, Forbes and Deloitte have all published reports that show diversity and inclusion in the workplace can lead to increased profits, reduced employee turnover, faster problem solving and a better company reputation.
So, I encourage regional businesses and regional communities to look at how they can do more to connect with diverse communities. Only when we realise the unique skills and perspectives diverse communities can bring to regional business and regional Australia at large, can we not only grow and innovate, but succeed and thrive.
I'd love to hear your thoughts on this. Please get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your ideas and experiences.
The Bendigo experience
The community of Bendigo, Victoria, recognises that if you want migrants to come, the region needs to be attractive to them, and that means more than jobs. It means building a community that provides its members with connection, belonging and inclusion.
Our Multicultural Community Banking team recently held a multiculturalism seminar in Bendigo, which I attended along with my colleague Adam Bennett, who heads up CommBank's Business and Private Banking division.
We connected with local Bendigo businesses, government and community leaders and representatives from the local multicultural community, including recently arrived refugees, to understand how the bank can better support the needs of regional communities.
Bendigo was one of the first municipalities to sign up for an accreditation program run by Welcoming Cities, a national network of cities, shires, towns and municipalities who are committed to an Australia where everyone can belong and participate in social, cultural, economic and civic life.
2018 research from Deloitte Access Economics and Adult Multicultural Education Services (AMES) Australia estimated that the Karen community, an ethnic minority from Myanmar has contributed $67.1 million to the Bendigo economy since the first Karen refugee settled in Bendigo in 2007.
The City of Bendigo has also gone onto develop a Cultural Diversity and Inclusion Plan, that focuses on five key goals including social cohesion, better health and wellbeing, a flourishing economy, protection of human rights, intercultural richness and recognition as a welcoming community.
Spotlight on Ironbark Citrus
Susan and Allen Jenkin grow mandarins for export at their properties around Mundubbera in Queensland. They rely heavily on seasonal labour, but they know that simply bringing people in and then sending them home when the work is done is not a good approach.
Susan has been instrumental in developing the Seasonal Worker Program which sees workers from Tonga, Papua New Guinea and Timor Leste come back to the farm each year. As part of their involvement in the program, the Jenkins also work hard to help their team become immersed in the community while they're here.
About one third of their workforce is made up of Pacific Islanders under the program, and the majority of them have been returning to work at Ironbark for the past 10 years. Because of this, Susan and Allen find that they are more productive than some of their other workers, as they don't have to retrain them each year.
"We have built a longstanding working relationship with these workers. They are committed to this job which you see as they return each year, and they enjoy being part of the wider team and community," Allen says.
"It delivers immensely to our business, largely in terms of productivity and profitability from that solid rapport we have built with them."
- Grant Cairns is executive general manager for regional and agribusiness banking at the Commonwealth Bank.