BUILDING up a ready labour force with a core set of skills will help grow employment opportunities in Wagga.
Former Riverina MP Kay Hull, who is currently a NSW Skills board member, said convincing businesses to relocate away from capital cities is a vital step in preparing Wagga for its accelerated population growth.
Mrs Hull said the presence of an available, employable workforce is the driver for decentralising companies to regional cities.
"There's a big catchment of workforce in capital cities, so businesses will stay there, but to decentralise them we need to have a ready workforce trained up so there's a selection pool," she said.
The state government has endorsed the population growth to 100,000 residents in its 20-year economic vision for regional NSW.
In preparation of the population surge, Committee 4 Wagga has organised a seminar to address the critical growth factors to meet the 2038 target.
Among the key issues to be presented at the September 27 seminar include attracting new businesses and entrepreneurs to the region in order to boost job opportunities for the rising number of residents.
In the led up The Daily Advertiser will be exploring other growth issues in detail.
Mrs Hull said a workforce covering the basic skills was required, including mechanics, plumbers, electricians, concreters and bricklayers.
"It's those things that easily can multi-skill. Training in most of these areas ... prepares them for not just one career, but gives them options and skill sets for multiple tasks," she said.
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Shifting the perception of trades and services is a problem needing attention, according to Mrs Hull, who said there has been too much of a focus on university education regardless of the job availability at the end.
Mrs Hull said the education curriculum could be redesigned to encourage young people to "rethink their futures" while providing connections to existing businesses.
"We rarely tell our students, families and parents in particular that this is viable option and not to be seen as a lower level of employment if your son or daughter enters into a trade services career," she said.
"In fact, small businesses and medium enterprises are the largest employers in rural and regional Australia and they've mainly come through trades themselves."
Mrs Hull said there needs to be more faith in decentralisation with corporations like AgriFutures Australia showing that it is a legitimate, viable option.
"AgriFutures Australia came to Wagga on a decentralisation basis three years ago ... and recruited and employed out of Wagga. That recruitment has delivered an extraordinary, talented team that started from three employees and is now up to 40," she said.
"Anything to be a success needs core access to skills and we need to start training our own rather than relying on bringing people in from other places."
Although training up young people to fix future shortages is a solution, Regional Development Australia Riverina chief executive and director Rachel Whiting said it will not ease demand in the short-term.
Therefore, Ms Whiting said the city needs to recruit people from overseas, or within Australia, who have skills and experiences that are valuable.
"[Young people] can't fill the entire need, at least not immediately. The solution [to fix occupation shortages] is multi-faceted because not one thing will give us everything we need," she said.
"Generally [people coming into the region for work] are not graduates, but people who have been working in their field for many years and can provide that supervisory role within a business and help train those younger people coming up."
In the next five years, Ms Whiting said the Riverina will require an additional 10,000 people in the workforce due to an ageing population and natural expansion of businesses.
However, this does not take into account the workforce required for projects such as the development of the special activation precinct or the $1 billion TransGrid project linking Wagga to South Australia with transmission lines.
While health workers will be in high demand as the population swells, Ms Whiting said trades are also vital to attracting new businesses from welders and diesel mechanics to town planners and a variety of engineers.
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Although these skills are necessary for current and future developments, Ms Whiting said the city is competing with other cities that have a similar goal in sight.
"We encourage employers to look at all aspects of what they are offering and depending on the size and the age of that business will depend on what they can offer. It is not just about the pay packet," she said.
Ms Whiting said hidden in the rural towns of the Riverina is an untapped pool of talent, which needs to be utilised.
Remote work advocate Jo Palmer, who is the founder of Pointer Remote Roles, said rural and remote areas hold a wealth of highly qualified and experience professionals that have been left unnoticed because of the stigma attached to regional living.
Ms Palmer said employing a rural candidate means a salary of $95,000 could be injected back into the town's economy while giving an employer access to a skill they struggled to find.
"It's not an abyss of unqualified people. We know them, are them and we're qualified professionals," she said. "There's an amazing talent pool, which is relatively untapped and we need to be promoting that they are ready to work."
Ms Palmer said the challenge ahead will be shifting the mindset of business owners, who need to look beyond the traditional workplace environments.
The same could be said about small local businesses struggling to stay relevant in rapidly changing world, said Wagga entrepreneur Dianna Somerville.
She said existing businesses need to be open to change to stay successful.
"It is definitely shifting away from the traditional retail shopfront and to a more flexible work environment that's using the power of the internet to sell products and services to a global market," she said.
"I think education is needed around what existing businesses need to do in order to pivot and remain relevant to what the consumer is wanting and demanding."
In the past two years, Ms Somerville said 89 start-ups have been launched using the city's resources.
Moving forward, internet access, digital connectivity and travel connections need to remain at the forefront to allow more up-and-coming businesses to thrive.
"The trend we're seeing is a female-led entrepreneurial ecosystem because a lot of people move back to the region to have children," she said.
"Traditionally men have the job that supports the family and the female has the children, but they have a lot of experience and can offer value in solving problems in the local context."