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.

Napier is placed centrally between Auckland and Wellington, just four or five hours drive from each. Some see that as an advantage, the relative closeness to both cities. But many see it as the opposite. In being centrally-placed between the capital and the nation’s largest city, they say, Napier is as far as you can get from both.

But the city and the stunning surrounds of the Hawke’s Bay region is growing in terms of business appetite. Its science and soil research programs are booming. Its marine research industry is attracting great minds. World class wineries are constantly being developed.

The city itself, famously rebuilt after the disastrous earthquake of 1931, has plenty to offer families. There’s the walking and cycling path along the shore, including a pump track and mini road system for kids on bikes or skateboards. There are charming shopping streets, fascinating architecture, top class restaurants, endless playgrounds, comfortable shaded areas for parents to rest and take in ocean views, and much more. These are the benefits promoted to people who might potentially move to the seaside city.

“It’s about working within a great culture and getting to live in a space that is going to work well for you and support a growing family,” says Wayne Walford, CEO of the Hawke’s Bay Chamber of Commerce. “The lifestyle helps to balance out other issues.”

One of the ‘other issues’, of course, is income. Many assume a move to a regional area means a drop in salary, and most are right.

“It is possible that people may not be paid as much when they work in an area such as Hawke’s Bay,” Walford says. “But look what you get in coming here. If you don’t want to spend hours on the train or in traffic each week, if you’d prefer to do a bit of exercise on your way home from work, if you’re looking for more affordable places to live and a family-friendly lifestyle, this is a better option."

How people feel about moving for work

Recent research commissioned by SEEK, which surveys 4000 New Zealanders that are representative of the workforce each year, found just 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.

The majority of people (57%) say a pay increase (typically of $20,000 to $30,000) would make them consider relocating, while 36% said they’d consider such a move if they were very passionate about the role or the business. Just less than half of the respondents (45%) 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, regular speaker in New Zealand 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, word of mouth or via a recruiter, the messaging must be consistent and strong.

Walford recommends similarly consistent and positive messaging from businesses in the Hawke’s Bay region.

“Some employers have done research and found that people moving here from urban centres can earn a little bit less,” he says. “But there are great schooling opportunities here, including private schools. Candidates who move will match or improve the quality of the house they live in and their house will likely have better positioning when it comes to views. They will end up with more cash in their pocket, which means more discretionary funds, which gives them greater choice.”
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Chris Sheedy

Chris Sheedy is one of Australia’s busiest professional writers. His feature stories have been published regularly in major media including The Sydney Morning Herald, Virgin Australia Voyeur, Qantas magazine,...

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