THE two-speed economy demons that haunt Central Highlands' employers are to the fore again in a new business survey.
The Central Highlands Development Corporation Skills Needs Survey shows the lack of affordable accommodation is the main factor in attracting and keeping skilled staff.
Despite a high level of business confidence, staff cost-of-living pressures and the need to offer competitive wages or lose workers to the resources sector are weighing employers down.
But CHDC head Sandra Hobbs said positives were beginning to emerge.
"Rentals are becoming more affordable and agents are indicating things are coming back," Ms Hobbs said.
"Employers are saying we can't get accommodation so we've given up on attracting staff. Now, we need to promote that there are developments happening and accommodation is coming back to more affordable levels with more availability.
"We have increasing capability in the region and developments are happening and we have a workforce response strategy looking at how we might share and provide information to employers to make things a little easier for people coming to the region."
Ms Hobbs said the CHDC had appointed a business development officer to assist employers.
The corporation was also working across industries and encouraging employers to think outside the box.
Analysis of the skills survey suggested linking employers who were willing to collaborate in renting or buying accommodation for staff, childcare, travel or relocation costs, and further training or education.
The survey also found the majority of the respondents were using full-time staff, including owners and family members, with casuals employed at just below half the rate of full-time employees, but more than part-time employees.
There was an emerging mindset captured from the respondents that "like-minded industries … band together and form a support network to keep the work local".
Losing staff to the resources sector was listed as an ongoing challenge.
Answers to the survey showed smaller numbers of trainees and apprentices were being taken on due to the lack of accommodation, lack of support for businesses and lack of understanding about management regulations.
Businesses should tap into hidden resources
LOCAL businesses struggling to attract and retain staff should culturally diversify their workforces and tap into the hidden workforce.
The suggestion comes from People of Australia ambassador Warren McMillan, who will speak at the Central Highlands Development Corporation's Business and Community Networking Forum on Wednesday.
Mr McMillan said with 27% of the nation's demographic made up of overseas-born residents, it was an opportune time for businesses to benefit from the hidden workforce - people who were not employed but not considered unemployed.
He said refugees, migrants and asylum seekers provided a workforce that had previously been unacknowledged by businesses.
"Some strategic things companies can do - when they hire a man, for example, can make sure the wife is also linked into something," Mr McMillan said.
"Often we find while one partner is settling, the other is not and this can lead to things not working out and the family leaving.
"It's not rocket science, it's no great mystery. All that is required is respect and understanding."
He said in cases where a husband or wife was offered a job, the partner was left feeling unconnected in the community, leading to tension in the relationship.
"It's about flexibility and being responsive to individual needs," Mr McMillan said.
"The idea of 'mummy hours' fits perfectly into the workplace and it suits employers."
Mummy hours are considered jobs that work school hours, typically from 9am-2.30pm, and are largely available in retail positions.
Mr McMillan identified the Rockhampton meatworks as a successful business that had tapped into the hidden workforce.
"The meatworks employed some human resource officers from a couple of different community backgrounds as part of a structural change," he said.
"The turnover rate was extremely high but by doing a simple thing and recruiting HR from those communities, they have attracted a fairly large intake of workers from those communities.
"The workers are so grateful for the employment opportunity they are not leaving the job."
The Business and Community Networking Forum will run from 5.30-7pm at the CHDC office. The cost is $15 and includes refreshments.
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