After 14 years working in Melbourne’s CBD, Amber Potocnik was ready for a change.

In April 2018 – following a series of life events – she finally took the plunge, swapping her urban home and lifestyle for a sea breeze at Lakes Entrance.

But finding a new job wasn’t easy with limited work available in her field of expertise.

“Before moving to East Gippsland, I was a workforce planning analyst, mainly planning staffing in contact centres, and capacity planning for future recruitment and reporting,” Amber says.

Amber set up her own business, picking up clients and contracts while continuing to search for work, but repeated evacuations during the 2020 summer bushfire crisis, then the impact of COVID-19 pandemic took a heavy toll.

“I knew my niche potential wasn’t an option in this region, but there were other barriers too. Local knowledge really helps and not knowing many people when you move to a new area doesn’t help because you don’t hear about opportunities. I had two stints of six months of solidly looking for work.”

Amber heard about the Jobs Victoria Partner, Food and Fibre Gippsland, which matches job seekers in Gippsland with employment opportunities in the agrifood sector.

It turned out to be good timing. When the directors and founders of Gippsland Jersey dairy company, Sallie Jones and Steve Reynolds, expanded their business to open a milk-processing factory in Lakes Entrance in March 2020, they needed staff and signed up to the program.

“You often hear about government initiatives and programs and think it’s all too hard and too complex, but it was a very easy process,” Sallie said.

“Food and Fibre Gippsland stepped me through how the process works and said, ‘it’s win-win for you. If you sign up your employees you get a two-week free trial period and we pay for uniforms or anything your employees need to be ready for the job, including any training required,’” Sallie said.

Food and Fibre Gippsland supported Amber to get her driver’s licence – an immediate barrier to employment – and recommended her for a Gippsland Jersey role. In November 2020, Amber started working three days a week in the factory processing dairy products and a fourth day in administration.

“It’s so good to be part of a team again, working every day and getting stuff done.”

But the real benefit comes from the embrace of her new community.

“When this all fell into place, it felt like I was finally part of the community,” Amber said. “My partner also found work in another family business and it’s like the community has opened up and we’re finally part of it. One door unlocked, then a series of doors unlocked. After all that waiting to try to get things in motion, it all happened at once. And I live nine minutes from the factory and have an ocean view from my balcony. It’s pretty exciting.”

Gippsland Jersey has also employed two local women and hopes to recruit another eight employees.

Sallie said it’s been a win-win for all involved.  “We are really happy with our employees. Jobs Victoria allows us to trial people to make sure we get the right person for the role. We plan to hire all our new employees this way.”

Find out more about the Jobs Victoria Fund.