Pack your Swaggie and work in regional and rural Australia

A new job-matching platform is helping connect fruit farmers and the many other regional industries severely impacted by COVID-19 with people looking for casual and seasonal jobs. The initiative aims to reinvigorate the “travelling worker” phenomenon – so intrinsic to the success of regional businesses – that has been hit hard by the downturn in young overseas visitors on student and working holiday visas, and the negative effect concerns about COVID and lockdowns have had on Australians travelling the length and breadth of the country.

The platform’s founder, Jamie Wills, points out that there were nearly 600,000 fewer temporary visa holders in Australia in December 2020 compared to the same period in 2019, with many migrant workers forced to return home. This meant bountiful harvests rotting on branches, bushes and vines with not enough workers to gather them in on time. He devised his solution, Swaggie, to address this problem.

Swaggie is designed to match students and seasonal workers with quality work, improving the experience of finding work for international students, backpackers and Aussies and, in so doing, boosting remote and rural communities whose economies have suffered through a lack of manpower.

“Swaggie is designed to match students and seasonal workers with quality work.”

The platform is free for both job hunters and employers. The platform matches workers with jobs based on their availability, geographical location and eligibility for roles and time they are allowed to stay in a position.

With the safety net of the JobKeeper scheme now taken away, large numbers of Australians are having to travel further afield to find work – Swaggie is designed to encourage them to get out and explore Australia with the promise of reliable employment available to them “on the road”.

“We know on both the employer and jobseeker sides, people are missing out,” Jamie says. “From farmers who need fruit pickers, to the CBD businesses who usually thrive off foot traffic and the influx of international travellers, all have been hit hard since COVID-19.”

Jamie leveraged 10 years’ experience in commercial, education, training and labour services to develop the idea of Swaggie with support from partners including the International Student Education Agents Association, Hello Australia, GoStudy, NT Farmers, GTNT (The Northern Territory’s largest not-for-profit provider of employment and training services), Yonder Australia and Share Bus.

“We’ve been hearing first-hand how challenging it can be to find the right people for the right jobs – and to bridge the gap between finding and securing casual or seasonal work at times that suit everyone,” Jamie says. “This was exactly where the idea came from – we set about building the Swaggie platform, so no worker or great employer is left behind.

“Whether you’re taking a few months off, or an entire gap year, experience the best parts of Australia while earning great money – like picking fruit in Forest Range in South Australia, working in a cafe on the Gold Coast in Queensland, or a pub in remote Western Australia,” Jamie adds.

Go Study Australia general manager, Simon Costain, stresses that finding a job is critical for students and working holidaymakers, allowing them to earn money, develop their English skills and build a social network of new friends and colleagues.

“A service like Swaggie is fantastic for connecting workers directly to employers who are desperately looking to find staff,” Simon says. “Swaggie connects these workers directly to employers based on the candidate’s work rights, and removes confusion, which is a potential barrier for employment,” he adds.

Upon accessing the platform users have the option to either ‘Find Work’ (for those looking for a role) or ‘List Work’ (for employers looking for workers). Both employers and workers then list their availability and locations. As well as matching employers with workers, the site also features an “information marketplace” that provides useful tips provided by Swaggie’s partner organisations on living and working in regional and rural Australia. For example, Yonder – an interactive news and learning platform for people moving to Australia – offer advice on what travellers will find in different parts of Australia and information about driving in this country, while ShareBus – supporters of independent, sustainable, budget travel within Australia – share insights into camping in Australia. This part of the site also lists useful resources such as Facebook groups.

“We want to make it all about supporting the worker lifestyle – experiencing the best of Australia, while earning good money, and supporting business and local communities in tougher times,” Jamie explains. “It’s not a ‘jobs board’, it’s for quality work that’s reliable, for casual or seasonal workers matched exactly to their needs and availability. And it’s simple to use so there’s no confusion.

“There are parts of Australia for everyone to discover, while supporting your future, businesses and communities,” Jamie enthuses.

This article first appeared in issue 33 of the Inside Small Business quarterly magazine