The Great Regional Jobs Boom
On the hunt for a job? Look outside the city.
After the initial COVID lockdowns in March-April 2020, job ads grew rapidly across Australia. So rapidly, in fact, that we at SEEK dubbed it the ‘Great Jobs Boom’, with the number of jobs advertised on SEEK reaching record highs in mid-2022. The boom happened everywhere, but the labour market boomed most of all in regional areas.
In February 2020, just before COVID came to Australia, 20.9% of job ads on SEEK in Australia were for roles outside the capital cities. As at September 2023, rural and regional areas’ share of job ads had risen to 27.3% of all ads in Australia.
Regional New South Wales has dramatically outpaced Sydney. As at September 2023, regional NSW had 71% more job ads on SEEK than in February 2020, a figure that has only moderated slightly from the peak of mid-2022. But Sydney had 5% fewer jobs advertised in September 2023 than in February 2020. Melbourne has fared only slightly better, with job ads up 8% there compared to pre-COVID levels, while regional Victoria has 75% more jobs on offer than in February 2020.
Regional job ads booming in the other states, too, though the gap between regional areas and the major cities is not as stark as in NSW and Victoria.
While the demand for workers outside the cities has been very strong, the supply of workers has grown rapidly, too. In every state except Western Australia, the share of the working-age population living outside the major cities has grown sharply over the past three years, representing a break with the long-term trend towards a larger share of the population living in the major centres.
When COVID hit, around 23.5% of Victorians lived outside Greater Melbourne, a share that has been steadily falling for decades. As at August 2023, that population share stood at 25.3%, the highest since 2006. It’s a similar picture in New South Wales, where the sharp rise in the regions’ population share has reversed over a decade of decline.
So demand for workers in the regions has been extremely strong, and the supply of workers has grown outside the cities as well. But the growth in labour supply in the regions hasn’t kept pace with labour demand, according to the average number of applications per job ad on SEEK.
In Sydney and Melbourne, average applications per ad are roughly on slightly above pre-COVID levels. But in regional NSW and Victoria, applications per ad remain well below their pre-COVID mark, indicating that labour supply (measured by job applications) hasn’t kept pace with demand for workers (job advertisements).
The major cities are still the engines of the Australian economy, housing and employing most of the workforce. But the balance is shifting, with demand for labour shifting towards the regions and labour supply starting to follow. Jobseekers looking for abundant opportunities should consider a move outside the capital cities where there are abundant opportunities, and – at least for now – less competition from other jobseekers.
About Matt Cowgill
Matt Cowgill is SEEK’s Senior Economist, a position he has held since late 2021. At SEEK, Matt focuses on leveraging SEEK’s unique data to develop insights about the labour market.
Matt’s experience in analysing the labour market has been developed at Grattan Institute, the International Labour Organization, the Victorian Government and elsewhere.
Matt has a Masters in Economic Policy from the University of London, and undergraduate degrees in economics and political science from the University of Western Australia.