Academic journal article Australasian Journal of Regional Studies

Myth Busting Rural Labour Shortages. A Market Segmentation Approach Reveals New Recruitment Opportunities

Academic journal article Australasian Journal of Regional Studies

Myth Busting Rural Labour Shortages. A Market Segmentation Approach Reveals New Recruitment Opportunities

Article excerpt


Attracting workers to some jobs is particularly difficult such as general practitioners to rural medical practices (Humphreys et al., 2001) and meatworkers to meat processing plants (MPPs) (Kidane, 2003; Kandel and Parrado, 2005). Integrating the human resources management and marketing literatures suggests that re-conceptualising potential job applicants as 'consumers' with differentiated needs and interests may stimulate new creative recruitment strategy design. When consumers are a heterogeneous group, organisations relying on 'one-size-fits-all' recruitment ads will be less successful in attracting job applicants than organisations engaging in customised advertising activities that directly address the differentiated needs and interests of specific consumers (Bennett, 2007).

The concept of market segmentation hinges on a seller identifying and understanding the segments that constitute the larger market of consumers, i.e. the seller must know who the customers are. A market segment is a homogenous group of consumers (Grover and Srinivasan, 1987) with a systematic and predictable response to sellers' differentiated signals. Recruitment messages that are tailored to the needs of a particular workforce segment (e.g., young white working class males) arouse more interest in members of that segment (Bennett, 2007). The challenge for organisations, however, is identifying distinctive segments of the market that can be exploited in recruitment activities (McDivitt, 2003).

In many countries meat processing is a decentralised (Novek, 1989), high-growth industry (Thorpe, Warr and Andrews, 2007) with location bound (immobilised) (Chavda, 2004) MPPs located in rural or regional locations (Jerrard et al., 2008). Despite offering plentiful jobs in regional areas (Jerrard et al., 2008) with higher average pay than their urban counterparts (Gilbert, Phimister and Theodossiou, 2003), MPPs struggle to maintain a workforce sufficient to meet market demand. With some MPPs experiencing 100% annual labour turnover (Stanley, 1992), enormous strain is placed on skill supply from local labour pools (Glaeser and Resseger, 2010). MPPs are increasingly turning to international recruiting (Lloyd and James, 2008) but this has not generated a sustainable MPP workforce (Department of Immigration, 2010).

More innovative recruitment strategies are needed to meet MPPs' recruitment challenges--particularly strategies that enable rural MPPs to better utilise their regional labour markets (Gabhainn, Murphy and Kelleher, 2001). The overarching need to improve recruitment outcomes drives the research question addressed in this study: Can regional organisations improve recruitment outcomes in their regional labour markets? Despite government requirements that recruitment of international workers be pursued only in conditions of local skill shortage (Evans, 2010), international recruitment appears to be a preferred recruitment strategy (Lloyd and James, 2008).


We examine the recruitment challenge faced by organisations in rural and regional Australia. We adopt the approach used by other researchers such as Pickup and White (2003) to contrast urban, regional and rural settings on the basis of population size and distance from urban centers (Barter, 2008). This article is a result of field investigations conducted in Australia. Australia is one of the largest exporters of processed meat in the world, exporting 46% of its national MPP production (Kidane, 2003). The remote location of processing plants, the seasonality of meat processing work, and thin local labour pools converge to present MPPs with a significant recruitment challenge (Jerrard et al., 2008).

The data come from the south-east region of South Australia which may not be fully representative of rural Australia. However, the region serves as an illustrative case study. The techniques we use can be applied to other regional labour markets and/or to other industry sectors. …

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