CQU VC: What's 450,000 new regional jobs if regional people can't get skills to fill them?

29 April 2022

Earlier this week the Prime Minister swung through Queensland' highlighting the importance of regional Australia to the national economy' as well as promoting the Coalition's pledge to find 450'000 new jobs in the regions over the next five years.

As the Vice-Chancellor of Australia's largest regional university' and Queensland's only dual-sector university (we also deliver TAFE in Central Queensland)' the Prime Minister will get no argument from me on the importance of regional communities and the contribution we make to national wealth.

In many respects' growing regional jobs is the flip side of CQUniversity's mission' which is to provide world-class education' research and training that responds to local priorities and is delivered locally. In 2021 CQUniversity was ranked second in Australia for full-time employment rates in the national Graduate Outcomes Survey' so I know we are on track there.

But 450'000 new regional jobs is an ambitious target and unless there is commensurate investment in regional education and training capacity' then there is a real risk that infrastructure and equipment will lie idle and many growth opportunities will be missed. Ideally' we need to be preparing a skilled regional workforce ahead of time' and depending on the trades or discipline' we might be talking a minimum of two years' usually three or four' but possibly up to six or seven.

So' with no time to waste' I have outlined here the new facilities that are most urgently needed at CQUniversity' that will help us to do our part in training 450'000 new skilled workers in our regions.

At the very top of the list is our #1 priority; a new campus Cairns to support student growth' but also to support diversification across the FNQ economy. This is a $50 million investment. In a debate between election candidates in Cairns this week' the need to build a new CQUniversity campus in the Cairns CBD was the only subject they all agreed upon. It is strongly supported by the community and the Cairns Regional Council and is a genuinely transformational project.

There is also an urgent need to complete the set-up of CQUniversity's Coastal Marine Ecosystems Research Centre (CMERC) — a $15 million investment. Located in Gladstone' CMERC is the only research facility in CQ focusing on the southern part of the Great Barrier Reef. It sits at the confluence of a multi-billion dollar blue economy' globally significant heavy export industries' and the priceless Great Barrier Reef.

CQUniversity opened CMERC in 2019 with $6.6 million of our own money' to help ensure the long-term sustainability of all these. This week it was announced that our university is now ranked 10th in the world for research focusing on protecting and restoring life below water; one of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development goals. This achievement is testament to the amazing work that is being done at CMERC and reinforces how important it is to finish setting up this Centre.

Of course mining and resources will also be an important part of Central Queensland's future for many years to come' but that's not to say we shouldn't always be looking to the future' to the adoption of new technologies like electric haulage vehicles' and new industries like renewable energy and hydrogen. Reflecting this' establishing an Electric Vehicle and Energy Training Centre in Mackay ($9 million) and a Hydrogen Training Centre in Gladstone ($16.7 million)' are both transformational projects that feature high on our list of priorities.

And the list could go on. Other projects include establishing a Rural and Remote Health Training Academy in Rockhampton and Emerald ($9.6 million)' to support clinical placements and training in in rural and remote areas; and with AgForce Queensland Farmers' we are looking to establish a Research and AgTech hub on Belmont Station just north of Rockhampton ($6 million)' to focus on tropical (northern Australia) livestock production.

From this list' I am pleased to say that Labor has publicly committed funding to the CQUniversity Cairns campus' CMERC and Mackay Electric vehicles projects. With only a short time remaining in the election campaign' I call on both parties to consider closely the education and training needs of regional communities and the importance of this to delivering new jobs in our regions.