House debates

Wednesday, 11 September 2019


Cowper Electorate: Youth Employment

7:34 pm

Photo of Pat ConaghanPat Conaghan (Cowper, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

One of my declared objectives in representing the federal seat of Cowper is to address the national average rates of youth unemployment in the electorate. Over a number of years of youth unemployment data, the Coffs Harbour and Grafton local government areas, combined, have seen double the national average youth unemployment rate. There is a similar situation with the township of Kempsey. Last year, when I was preselected as the Nationals candidate for Cowper, youth unemployment in Coffs Harbour reached 23.3 per cent. I made a commitment to the electorate then to take steps to change the picture for our youth.

I'm happy to say that, last Saturday, I met with a very enthusiastic and motivated group of local experts: a leading school principal, a careers adviser, a chamber of commerce president, a head of local youth services, a leading employer, a NSW Business Chamber regional representative and a youth training provider. We all came together to share ideas, to offer solutions and to develop a platform for a youth employment summit to be held early in the new year to bring all of the best minds to bear on this challenge and to give youth themselves a voice on pathways forward.

We are looking at solutions that increase cooperation, communication and knowledge-sharing between employers, training organisations and community organisations. We've identified strengths in the local TAFE and university and want to work on developing links around recognising qualifications. Employees are seeking out universities, TAFE and the VET sector in order to better match employment available in our region. For example, we have a significant aged population and huge investment in aged-care housing developments and we need to do better to match these jobs with suitable qualifications. We also need to better embrace the many and varied talents and skills of our migrant population, especially the new members of the community and students with diverse language skills. We need to establish mentor training relationships with employers and with youth, taking advantage of the huge diversity of business in the area. We want to investigate the incorporation of on-the-job training into large community and infrastructure projects.

We need to forge greater connections between the community and youth. We need to find ways to promote a culture of caring for youth and connect them to community leaders and mentors. Mentors are such an effective strategy for so many personal development challenges. We want to develop more mentoring opportunities from community services, experienced professionals and successful business owners. An initiative has already started at local schools where students are encouraged to find themselves a school based mentor and an external mentor. This provides them with valuable interaction to support their aspirations, set targets and reach goals. We could perhaps ask business to adopt a 'pay it on or pay it forward' approach to share success and resilience through mentoring.

We identified that senior students need more and improved information about post-school options and choosing between tertiary education and trade and service careers. We need to promote and increase the number of school based traineeships to capture students before they leave school without employable skills. We need to get more businesses involved in school based training and more in-work experience programs for year 10 students, and we need to motivate employers to participate as well. We need to better support students interested in apprenticeships through simple things like information and support with applications, while at the same time helping employers connect with the various apprenticeship incentive schemes and making it easier for them to take on apprentices.

The youth employment summit we are planning in the new year will bring together all those with skin in the game: the youth, employers, schools, training organisations and community service organisations. We want to hear from the youth. We want to know what they think can help. We want to hear from the employers what they're looking for. I'm sure members from both sides of this House have engaged in projects which have helped address youth unemployment problems and I would welcome your input.

Finally, I urge all residents in Cowper who want to see our youth fulfil their potential to be part of the youth employment summit.