Education, training critical issues

EDUCATION and skills training, not infrastructure investment, is the most important ingredient to growing regional communities, an international regional policy expert told a forum in Canberra on Friday.

Three experts from the OECD Rural and Regional Program spoke to a group of community leaders from regional towns all over Australia at the Regional Australia Institute's first policy forum.

The international regional policy unit has spent the past five years analysing the contribution of regional areas from 23 countries to their nation's growth.

Results from the massive studies have shown that not only do regional areas contribute two-thirds of wealth growth to most nations, but the way regional areas have been treated by most national government policies was wrong.

Lead speaker and OECD program chief, Dr Jose Enrique Garcilazo, said the crucial issues to help grow regional towns and cities was education and training, especially for low skilled people; innovation, particularly in business and industry; and lastly, infrastructure upgrades.

The findings confirmed what many people in Australia's regional areas already understand, that regional communities contribute most per capita to Australia's wealth.

But while infrastructure in many regional communities across Queensland and northern New South Wales were still suffering from the effects of natural disasters, or suffocating under the pressure of booming resources industries, Dr Garcilazo said that was not the first solution for most areas.

Dr Garcilazo said for the most disadvantaged regions, infrastructure developments like roads and railways could create the largest growth, but for most regions, education and training was the key to both economic and population growth.

"Infrastructure has an effect on growth, but it is not the entirety," he said.

"Just building a road to a port or a market doesn't necessarily grow regions - but investment in human capital (education and training), particularly for low skilled workers, is the most important."

Dr Garcilazo said once a regional area had the infrastructure and higher skilled people living there, the next step to keep growing regional areas was innovation, particularly in business and industry.

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