Capital city flight?

All our capital cities, and their outer conurbations, have a younger age distribution than the rest of their respective states or territories.  This reflects the pattern of young adults moving to capital cities for education and work purposes.

In addition, Tasmania has a lower proportion of people aged 20 to 44 years (30%) than Australia (35%) as a whole.  This, in part, reflects young adults pursuing education and employment opportunities interstate.

Tasmania also has higher proportion of people aged 45 years and over (47%) than Australia (40%).  This reflects a trend of older adults, moving into, or staying in the state.

These are long established trends.

Yet there have been plenty of claims in recent months that millennials (generally anyone born between 1981 and 1996 or aged 24 to 39 year of age) have been moving from our capital cities to regions.

Such assertions are influenced by the inclusion of a capital city’s outer conurbation as a ‘region’ – think the Gold Coast or Sunshine Coast for example.  When you exclude those ‘regions’ within a daily commuting distance from a capital, true regional locations, are losing millennials – and big time – to our larger urban places.

Now there has been some Covid-related demographic flight from our capitals to regional locations.  And there is little doubt that there is more to come.

However, here downsizers outweigh the other demographic segments – our recent work suggests – by a factor of ten to one.

In addition, the work from home trend has been more hype than delivery.  The fact that it now has its own acronym – WFH – speaks volumes.

Over the past four censuses the proportion of the workforce who said they worked from home has been under 5%.  That was despite the digital revolution in kit and internet pipes, such as the National Broadband Network.

Yet, some are now claiming that the proportion of people who work from home on a permanent basis will rise to 10%.   Several talking heads are stating it could be even higher.

True that many public servants and private professionals, who work for our larger service companies, are currently working remotely.   Many have been instructed to do so until early next year.  There seems to be a general consensus – maybe more like hope – that next year, things will be become more like normal again.

In the meantime, our CBDs and other professional based work locations are ghost towns.  The knock-on effect is substantial.

My comments 

To paraphrase Tom Dusevic from The Australian “many employers are worried about the sustainability of pyjama decision making; rising cost of vacant office space; a slide in productivity; lack of mentoring for disengaged staff and potential for sub-par work in the hermit land of Zoom”.

I couldn’t have said it better Tom!

Also, across many industries, working from home doesn’t work.  And in those industries which have seen some folks working from home, it takes a certain personality type, plus the right domestic situation, to produce an acceptable level of productivity.

There is also the issue of insurance.  Employers have to cover workers for any mishaps regardless of where they work.  Either this changes to include the home and with that all matter of impracticable contingencies or many WFH folk will have to become contract workers.  This in turn changes their employment status and tenure, opening up their labour to competition.

I reckon it is a safe bet to say that many who have been sent home to work this year really don’t understand how competitive the private contract business is.  I get daily emails and LinkedIn messages promoting a cheaper service; faster turnarounds and even free trial periods.  Plus, I have been a private contractor for over 20 years.  It isn’t for the faint hearted!

So, beware WFH aspirants.  To quote Joni Mitchell, “You don’t know what you’ve got. Till it’s gone”.

If we are truly going to embrace the WFH movement and with that population growth – and importantly millennial movement – to our regional centres, then we need substantial government action to make sure it happens.

This will need to include state and federal government department and service decentralisation; appropriate ‘carrot’ incentives like regional infrastructure expenditure as a priority over the current inner city largesse and ‘stick’ regulations like population caps on our capitals.

It doesn’t help when the capital cities get higher price thresholds when it comes to the Federal First Home Loan Deposit scheme.  Ships in the dark when it comes to public policies these days.

And yet some parts of regional Australia, filling jobs is a persistent problem — COVID-19 or not.  And despite high unemployment across the country, figures suggest in August there were more than 45,000 job vacancies posted in regional Australia.

Maybe some things just don’t change.  Midnight Oil sang it best, way back, in 1982.  “No one goes outback.  That’s that”.

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