A report released today maps unemployment “hotspots” for young people and finds the Coffs Harbour – Grafton region is the worst in NSW for youth unemployment and the second worst in Australia, after Outback Queensland.
While the state’s youth unemployment rate was 10.1 per cent, below the national rate of 11.2 per cent, the Coffs Harbour - Grafton region, including Nambucca Heads, Bellingen and Dorrigo, is 23.3 per cent, which is close to one in four.
The figures are based on Australian Bureau of Statistics data using the 12-month average to December 2018, with youth defined as 15 to 25 year olds.
Co-ordinator of youth support service Reconnect Bellingen/Nambucca, David Stamel, said the figure would be even higher in some towns, such as Bowraville.
"I've been in this job since 2001 and not a lot has changed," David said.
"Lack of transport, isolation and drugs are the biggest barriers but on the positive side, TAFE courses, such as the Introduction to Trade, are excellent and one of the best ways these kids can get into work.
"School doesn't work for them but TAFE does. Making sure those courses are free is vital because most of these kids could not afford fees."
David said the pattern of young people having to leave if they wanted to work had not shifted.
Titled 'Smashing the Avocado Debate', the report from the Brotherhood of St Laurence says the expertise of industry and employers needs to be harnessed and combined with the expertise of government and community sector agencies that work with young people.
The state’s peak business organisation, the NSW Business Chamber, says decisive and immediate action needs to be taken.
“According to the ABS, the Coffs Harbour and Grafton regions now have the highest youth unemployment rate in the state, the second highest in the country and is at odds with employment growth and the unemployment rate across the rest of NSW,” NSW Business Chamber Director of Policy Chris Lamont said.
“Just last week NSW recorded its lowest ever unemployment rate of 3.9 per cent.
“We need a real commitment to address this issue for this region and we call upon the candidates from all political parties to make these commitments a priority ahead of the State elections which is just three weeks away.
“The NSW Business Chamber has proposed four key steps that should be taken to prepare our next generation of workers:
1. Deliver 20,000 school based apprenticeships and traineeships over the next 4-years.
2. Establish a new $100 million Youth Engagement Fund to get young people back into training or work.
3. Fund pilot career advice hubs providing contemporary industry careers advice to school students.
4. Create TAFE 2.0 – by providing improved enrolment processes, more contemporary course material, support for a private Registered Training Organisation network and streamlined assessments
“The youth unemployment crisis in Coffs-Grafton is a timely reminder that policy makers can’t sit easy. They need to adopt the four proposals urgently and the Coffs-Grafton region would probably be a good place to start,” Mr Lamont said.