The secrets to attracting candidates to regional areas
The challenges in finding great talent in urban centres are well known, so imagine how much more difficult it is in regional areas. Fortunately, there are solutions.

It is difficult to believe but in the experience of staff and recruiters from Mars Food Australia, people tend to be more inclined to relocate overseas for work than travel 90 minutes outside of a major CBD. But this trend, they say, is beginning to change.

“Part of the reason for this change is how we engage with candidates when we are recruiting, to share our story and those of our associates [staff] and give them a real feel for our culture,” says Natalie Jones, People and Organisation Director at Mars Food Australia.

The Mars head office is on the NSW Central Coast, 90 minutes north of the Sydney CBD. The business offers staff a long list of benefits, including an on-site gym, bootcamp sessions, yoga classes, 100% subsidy to external gym and pool membership, access to counselling services, a subsidised on-site canteen, cooking classes, on-site massage, access to a free on-site health practitioner, charitable activities, and a fully subsidised calendar of physical activity events for staff and their families. The region in which the office is based is famed for its relaxed lifestyle, including beaches and national parks, and real estate is significantly cheaper than in Sydney. What’s not to like?

Yet Mars is currently having a challenging time filling a finance and a marketing role. “Certain corporate positions that are highly competitive or that pose a supply-to-demand challenge in the CBD areas do become more difficult for us to attract,” Jones says.

It is a similar challenge to the one that was faced by Nicola Laver, Associate Client Training Manager for SEEK, in a past role when she was tasked with attracting staff to Canberra for public service positions.

“It was not the trendy Canberra of today, it was quite a while ago when it was quite a sleepy town,” she says. “The graduate program we were bringing people into was quite an attractive one, so our main job was to sell the place itself.”

“We had to spend time in Canberra and look deeply into what it offered to young people. It was close to the ski fields, fantastic for bike riding and offered good restaurants. We had to sell those points at every careers fair, on websites and in individual conversations. That message, which had to be authentic, was consistently reinforced at every touchpoint.”

Some years later, Laver and her team discovered the graduates were actually more interested in the role and less in the place, so had to adjust their message accordingly. As is the case in so much of the business world, success came from knowing the customers wishes.

How people feel about moving for work

Research commissioned by SEEK, which surveys 4800 Australian that are representative of the workforce each year, found just under two in five would consider relocating to a regional area for work. The key reasons for a move included change of pace, more affordable living and job security. Main arguments against such a move include wanting to be in or near a major city and not wanting to uproot their family.

Almost half (48%) said a pay increase (typically of $20,000 to $30,000) would make them consider relocating, while 27% said they’d consider such a move if they were very passionate about the role or the business. Just over half of the respondents (51%) felt a move to a regional area would be career-limiting.

How do regional businesses attract talent?

Simon Dowling, author of Work With Me, business trainer, speaker and expert in making collaboration happen, says regional businesses would do well to concentrate on three great influencers of candidate attraction. He defines them as ‘mood’, ‘mind’ and ‘movement’.

1) MOOD: “This is when someone looks at your idea or proposal, whether it's a job advertisement or a meeting at a careers fair, etc, and reacts,” Dowling says. “How do they feel about the opportunity? What emotional response do you and your brand evoke in a candidate? Are they interested enough to want to talk further?”

2) MIND: “This is the logical side of the argument. Why would they take such a job? What’s in it for them? Is it a smart thing to do?”

3) MOVEMENT: “This is when they are inclined to say yes, but there's something that makes it difficult for them to take action, such as a long drive to a job interview. It is about helping convert enthusiasm into action.”

All of these obstacles can be navigated around, Dowling says. In order to influence ‘mood’, for instance, a recruiter should consider who should be the face of the business.

“You must be very clear about who will be deployed to introduce the opportunity to candidates,” Dowling says. “Who are your ambassadors? Employing a local recruitment firm might make sense logically, but might not make much sense from the point of view of candidates connecting with the business.”

Avoiding the ‘mind’ obstacle comes down to knowing what to discuss in terms of practical implications – income, other types of payoffs (affordable real estate, etc), lifestyle, family benefits, etc.

To get beyond any ‘movement’ blocks a recruiter might consider alternative interview processes such as Skype. Or they might offer a few nights of accommodation in the region, for strong candidates and their families, in order to conduct relevant interviews and introduce them to the area.

Most important, Dowling says, is consistency of messaging across multiple channels. Whether a candidate is hearing about a position through online advertising, social media, word of mouth or via a recruiter, the messaging must be consistent and strong.

Jones from Mars Food Australia agrees. “We know what makes Mars Food special and are very proactive in communicating this across multiple channels including LinkedIn, our website and job boards such as SEEK,” she says.

“Networks and partnerships with local universities, TAFEs and schools enable us to source up-and-coming talent to provide intern, graduate and apprenticeship opportunities. Word of mouth is also powerful and all of our associates help spread the word of what a great place Mars Food Australia is to work. Our associates also identify local talent for us, which we recognise and reward.”

“Lastly, we encourage our leaders to be active in the market, which enables them to identify talent early, and to share the Mars story and what makes this a great place to work."