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Youth unemployment plummets Government initiatives to make further inroads?

Geoff Helisma|

Youth unemployment in the Coffs Harbour-Grafton labour force region has plummeted from a high of 24.3 per cent in January this year to 15.6 per cent as of September – according to the NSW Government’s regional labour force trends data published on the website.

Clarence MP Chris Gulaptis welcomed the rapid reduction and said he was “as confounded as you are” when the Independent asked for his thoughts.

The last time youth unemployment was at a comparable rate was in August 2017 (14.8 per cent), after which it rose to around 20 per cent by October 2017 and, until June 2019, was above 20 per cent, apart from January 2018’s 19.3 per cent.

Ironically, Mr Gulaptis said the NSW Government hadn’t “been doing anything different over the past two years”, however, he described the trend as “coming back to normal”.

“I always thought the figures were a bit rubbery with youth unemployment at 24 per cent,” he said. “It’s a good outcome and may be more true to the mark than the figures from six months ago.”

Meanwhile, several other NSW Government initiatives are aimed at reducing youth unemployment and providing career pathways – fee-free education for trainees ($50m for 70,000 traineeships) and apprentices ($285m for 100,000 apprenticeships).

Now the government has introduced the $10 million Educational Pathways Pilot Program (EPPP), and three Clarence Valley high schools have been accepted – Grafton, South Grafton and Maclean – among nine north coast schools; 15 schools in south western Sydney have been selected, too.

Minister for Skills and Tertiary Education Geoff Lee said in a media release that 10 different initiatives grouped under the EPPP will be trialled in schools in areas that are experiencing higher levels of youth unemployment.

“The program is aimed at making sure students pick the subjects at school that will put them on the right career pathway,” he said.

“For some that may mean vocational education and training subjects, including apprenticeships, while for others it will be university.

“At the heart of these pilot initiatives is the government’s desire to improve career advice, increase school-based apprenticeships and traineeships and help our most disadvantaged and disengaged students further their education.”

Mr Gulaptis said: “This is going to be particularly useful for young locals who want to start a rewarding career in one of the many high quality local community preschools [for example] that I visit regularly.”

Acknowledging that skills shortages are problematic for the economy, he said that “taking away cost impediments will help” address the issue.

“There’s a lot of new technology being introduced into workplaces that make a tradie’s life easier, and [we’re] promoting the jobs that are out there and that you can earn a good living at; we need more highly skilled tradespeople.”

Mr Gulaptis said that the government “will closely monitor the programs to assess levels of uptake and impact”.

The apprenticeship scheme started in 2018 and runs until June 2022; the traineeship (which runs until December 31, 2023) and educational pilot schemes start on January 1, 2020.

He said that “for the north coast, specifically, the main skills demands are in hospitality, health and aged care”.

On the Nationals’ involvement with getting these initiatives up and running, Mr Gulaptis said his party “went to the election with a policy to establish the Regional Youth Taskforce, a mixture of grassroots community leaders and youth specialists [who will] provide grassroots advice to the first ever regional youth minister, who is the Nationals’ Bronnie Taylor.

“Improving careers advice and better connecting school students with jobs pathways were key issues raised by the Regional Youth Taskforce at its first meeting last month,” he said.