Nick Gruen says government policy on the run is hurting regional development

For regional Australia to prosper, politicians must start following through on announcements and stop chasing publicity with hollow gestures.

That's the message from economist Nicholas Gruen, who will on Thursday address the Regional Australia Institute's Regions Rising summit in Canberra.

"All politicians are locked into more and more announceables. What you need is trackables," Mr Gruen, chief executive of Lateral Economics, said.

The RAI is launching its Future of Regional Jobs report at the summit. The report finds that significant changes to skills training and education are required for regional communities to fulfil their own future workforce demands.

THE GAP: Jobs vacancies are growing in regional Australia, but workers must upskill with tertiary qualifications to match future demand. Source: Regional Australia Institute,

THE GAP: Jobs vacancies are growing in regional Australia, but workers must upskill with tertiary qualifications to match future demand. Source: Regional Australia Institute,

The report says there are currently 40,000 job vacancies across regional Australia, and by 2023 that figure is forecast to grow to 85,000 new jobs in healthcare and 28,000 in education.

While Australia's politicians and bureaucracy had been successful at past macro reforms like floating the dollar and removing tariffs, they had struggled to stick with good initiatives, opting instead to replace them in the short-term with new initiatives, Mr Gruen said.

"We could get regional communities together, have a policy conversation with a politician and they are likely to say 'I'm on your side and this is what we'll do'," he said.

"They need to agree to an actual course of action that we can stick to, judge after a year, and get more information out of after five years.

"It takes years to do something substantial but by the time that's ready to happen, it's time for more announceables."

ACTION NOT ANNOUNCEABLES: Nicholas Gruen, of Lateral Economics.

ACTION NOT ANNOUNCEABLES: Nicholas Gruen, of Lateral Economics.

Mr Gruen said he could find just one example of a successful regional policy - Landcare - that was backed by long-term political support, was cost-effective and tapped into local support and solved complex land management issues without a burden of bureaucracy.

He says policy innovation is required to replicate Landcare's success across other economic sectors and will suggest pilot programs to test new initiatives.

Pilot programs have the advantage of being small enough to tap into the grassroots feedback needed to deliver effective solutions, while also being relatively easy to launch - given the political predilection for new announcements.

RAI co-chief executive Kim Houghton said policy makers must focus on higher education to diversify local workers' skills sets to enable them to capitalise on new opportunities.

"Regional Australia needs different skills, the types of jobs will change and the role of education will be more critical than ever before."

RAI will host a series of Regions Rising summits across Australia.

READ THE REPORT: The Future of Regional Jobs

Social shifts create job opportunities

The ground is shifting around traditional regional industries, particularly agriculture, as future jobs growth switches away from food production and processing.

Tertiary industries such as healthcare and education will become increasingly important according to the Regional Australia Institute, which highlighted the shift in its Future of Regional Jobs report.

"One of the biggest changes to come is the shift away from primary and secondary industries to service industries - such as the healthcare and social assistance sector," said RAI co-chief executive Kim Houghton, who launches the report at the inaugural Regions Rising summit in Canberra on Thursday.

Australia Farm Institute general manager Katie McRobert said agriculture had strong prospects, but future jobs would require new skills and tertiary qualifications.

Katie McRobert

Katie McRobert

"Skills in technology, environment and management will be increasingly demanded in agriculture, not just in Australia but globally," Ms McRobert said.

"Ag graduates should be considering technology skills such as data modelling and data science, app development and robotics; environmental management skills and business management skills, including HR, marketing, entrepreneurship and innovation development."

Ms McRobert said while the number of university graduates in ag were on the rise after a long period of decline, there were still more jobs than graduates in the industry.

Policy makers should grasp the opportunity to train regional students locally, Ms McRobert said.

"Those responsible for planning education and training should account for the fact that graduates are more likely to remain in regional areas if the institution is in a rural setting."