Rio launches live-in research

EMPLOYERS facing a shortage of skilled staff in the Mackay region are facing another challenge, encouraging people who relocate to stay long term.
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Mackay, Queensland

Staff Reporter

Rio Tinto Coal Australia has thrown its support behind a research project geared to finding out how to keep skilled workers in Queensland’s Mackay Whitsunday region and to ensure skills availability for its Hail Creek Mine, 120km southwest of Mackay.

The “Liveability Audit” is being run by the Mackay Whitsunday Regional Economic Development Corporation (REDC), a State Government-backed economic development organisation for the Mackay Whitsunday Region.

Rio’s Hail Creek Mine Community Development Fund is supporting the research project with $22,000 in funding.

The project was launched to determine what attracts skilled employees to a town or city and what features the Mackay Whitsunday region needs to provide to retain them.

“The entire Mackay region is competing with other regions not just in Queensland, but interstate,” Rio spokesperson Nathan Scholtz told

“Employers are very keen to find, attract and retain skilled staff. If it means they have to pay for employees’ travel and relocation costs, they’re doing it,” Scholtz said.

“Certainly we know that the Mackay Whitsunday region is very attractive from a lifestyle perspective. The questions here are, why are there difficulties in retaining some staff and what is missing?

“We don’t have the insight into that. But what we do have insight and knowledge of is that when you’re talking about a regional part of any state, there are always difficulties in retaining quality staff,” Scholtz said.

“People find other opportunities, and there are sometimes family reasons and working away from where their education was obtained. We know educated people are more likely to stay in the place where they were educated.”

Scholtz said these issues are consistent across all regions and states in Australia.

“That’s why we’ve also funded – through the Hail Creek Mine – university scholarships to study locally, and not just for mining, but for nursing and [non mine related] engineering.

Hail Creek Mine general manager operations Andrew Woodley said the mine had a vested interest in the research project’s success.

“We have a very successful team and we believe we provide an attractive employment package, including training and career development opportunities,” Woodley said.

“Ultimately a person’s decision about where to live and work is about more than the job, it is about where they spend their time after work, what they do on their weekends, the options and quality of life for their family.

“Understanding all of the factors which contribute to an area’s liveability is going to be even more important as we do all we can to address the skills shortage we face.”

The Mackay Whitsunday region is the third-fastest growing region in the state and is expected to have a population of more than 200,000 by 2026.

REDC chief executive Narelle Pearse said many people were attracted to Mackay because of the thriving economy, good employment opportunities and attractive lifestyle features, although many did not stay for long.

Pearse said the next steps after the research was completed would be to estimate the social and economic costs of fixing any liveability gaps.

She said the audit would assess why people choose to leave, but also why people choose to stay.

“The research will be able to tell us where we are currently missing out; we’ve got so much going for us in the Mackay Whitsunday region but if we keep losing staff to other towns, cities and states, then we need to understand why – and do something about it,” Pearse said.

The Liveability Audit is expected to be completed in July.

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