The real story of commuters – our enviable talent pool

It's often thought that you need to be in a big city in order to find the best people for the job. But in Wollongong, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

In our fine city, you’ll find a highly-skilled workforce, with two-thirds of the local population having a tertiary education, plus thousands of graduates from our global university looking for employment each year.

Historically, many of our professional locals have commuted to Sydney for work, but increasingly they’re looking locally for opportunities, meaning the city has a ready-made, large talent pool available for businesses – established or new, large or small – which are looking to start-up and relocate here.

Recent ABS data shows Wollongong has a pool of around 23,000 commuters who travelled into the big smoke of Sydney for work each day, and of these, the majority are white-collar professionals – including managers and executives from sectors including information technology, finance, human resources, law, supply chain and construction, and advertising and marketing.

Skilled blue-collar workers are also part of our commuter pool, including technicians and trades workers, salespeople, machinery operators, drivers and labourers.

The right people, in the right place

Sean Blake from Easy AgileIt’s clear that the best businesses are built with the best people. Hiring and retaining talented and skilled staff is one of the biggest contributors to business success, and in Wollongong, we have the right people for the job.

Our beautiful natural environment and beaches, and more affordable cost of living, mean a lot of our locals have moved here for the lifestyle, but continue to commute to Sydney. We’re talking a highly qualified, skilled workforce, who are hungry for local employment with the right company and right opportunities.

Sean Blake (at left) spent six years commuting to Sydney before joining Wollongong-based software company Easy Agile as their Head of Marketing.

“I worked in financial services in Sydney and went from a graduate role up to a senior management role working on lots of different digital transformation projects and experienced leading a team and managing people,” says Sean, but the daily commute began to take its toll.

“It was successful because of the pace of work and the opportunities that I had access to, but it came at a cost. I was spending three hours a day on the train. We had started a family and some days I wouldn’t get to see them. My health suffered, I didn’t have as many daylight hours to be active and I wasn’t looking after myself physically or mentally.

“I was really excited to find that there were some opportunities to join both growing businesses and established businesses in Wollongong who still offer those career experiences that I was really motivated by.”

I had no idea that a company like Easy Agile existed and that there was this growing startup and tech community getting off the ground in Wollongong.

Our hardworking ethos

Don’t let our relaxed coastal vibe fool you. We might come across as a laid-back bunch, but scratch the surface and you’ll find a city built on hard work and grunt.

Traditionally our workers were employed in mining and manufacturing, and this heritage means our people don’t shy away from hard work – they’re turning this ethos into big achievements in the new landscape of knowledge-based technologies, professional services and innovative business development.

Job satisfaction levels here are high – translating into low staff turnover levels, which is always a good thing for the business bottom-line, especially in the technology sector, where much of a company’s intellectual property is tied to its employees.

People who live and work here love the lifestyle, the short commute, and being part of the local community, meaning our staff turnover rates are less than half the national average – 8% compared to 19% Australia-wide[1].

Not only have we got the talent, but we’re clearly a loyal lot too.

Knowledge on tap

The University of Wollongong is ranked as one of the top modern universities in the world, and its constant flow of high-quality students means businesses looking to employ recent graduates are spoilt for choice.

There are around 36,000 students studying at the University of Wollongong, in subjects ranging from engineering, information sciences and law, to medicine, health and business. And the quality of the faculties is incredibly high – with 90% of the disciplines at the University of Wollongong rated at, above or well above world standard.

The University is well-connected with the local business landscape, and runs a number of programs connecting employers with students through internships, mentoring and employment pathways. It is also a rich source of research, with more than 1,000 academics contributing to a myriad of research projects, and major commercial research partnerships well underway.

The University of Wollongong is ranked in the top 1% of the world’s universities[2], and it’s the number one University across NSW and the ACT for learning resources, learning engagement, generic skills and skills development[3].

Sourcing great local talent has never been a hurdle for Carmen Rudd, founder of the Zig Zag Hub and The Consortium Lounge.

“It’s a real asset for us as business owners, we’ve got that talent right at our doorstep. It has never been something that we’ve found difficult, we’ve always found fantastic people within the area,” says Carmen.

“We have had people come in with a degree, offered an internship and we’ve seen them move straight into a role. We’ve sourced people with administration backgrounds, mostly from the University. It is fantastic that there’s that workforce here in Wollongong.”

Sean Blake agrees. “We’ve run an internship program where we’ve had two computer science students from the University come in and spend their summer working with us and getting hands-on experience building new products and working for a real software company.

“Its been a great experience and they’ve continued on to work part-time with us while studying and completing their degrees. They’ve both being offered full-time, permanent positions at the company, so they’re going to continue on with us which is great.”

The University of Wollongong ensures plenty of young, talented and ambitious people live locally.

Embrace the lifestyle

Beachside location and loveable lifestyle top the list of benefits for people who choose to live in Wollongong. And for those who are working here as well, the commute is often just a few moments from their day.

For Tara Connor (at left), Program Coordinator at NSW State Emergency Services in Wollongong’s CBD, the opportunity to work locally after commuting to Sydney for over a decade was a welcome change.

“I was commuting to Sydney for over an hour and half each way – it was just a nightmare. There was no way I could drop kids off and then go to Sydney… otherwise I’d get to work at 10:30am,” explains Tara.

“My commute is now a 25-minute drive and at the moment we can work from home a couple of times a week. It gives people so much more flexibility. I’m able to come home, take the kids down to the park or for a bike ride, cook dinner and we can sit down at the dinner table at 6pm.

“That didn’t happen before. I used to get home from Sydney, walk in the door, and think ’I can’t be bothered to cook’ or we end up eating at 7:30pm when the kids are tired”.

Most places within Wollongong are less than 20 minutes from the CBD, and the cycle networks and wealth of public transport means getting around is a breeze. For workers after a higher quality of life and more access to leisure time, Wollongong is an obvious choice.

Businesses here report their employees enjoy a better work-life balance, and their overall satisfaction with the lifestyle is a key contributor to staff retention and employee productivity.

Growing opportunities

As our population grows, so do the opportunities here. Wollongong City Council’s ten-year plan to bring more than 10,000 new jobs to the city is on track to deliver – in 2019 more than 1,800 new jobs were created in the city[4], in sectors including construction, professional services, retail, wholesale trade and manufacturing.

This growth in local opportunities means more and more people are looking for local jobs, and the trend to keep our local talent here in Wollongong, rather than losing it to the big cities, is well underway.

“There’s a highly motivated workforce of people with diverse skills and talents in Wollongong and in the Illawarra. And if we freed them from their commute, they’re going to be a really powerful force to help local businesses,” says Sean Blake.

“If businesses are looking to set up in Wollongong, then they don’t need to be afraid of recruiting the right people because those people are here, they’re already working for businesses like them in Sydney. And, if they attract some local candidates, they’re going to end up with really motivated people who have more time on their hands to dedicate to their role and also to their family and community.

“There’s a lot of people around looking for great companies to work for and you get the best of both worlds. You get to live and work somewhere that’s really beautiful, and you can still have a successful and global business – I think Easy Agile is proof of that,” Sean explains.

You don’t need to sacrifice anything by moving your business here, you can actually propel your business, embrace the local community and achieve success.

[1] Fifth Quadrant Knowledge Services Capabilities Research 2019.

[2] QS World University Rankings 2021.

[3] QILT 2020.

[4] Illawarra Mercury: New data reveals growth industries…

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