South-west faces youth unemployment crisis

SOUTH-WEST Victoria is facing its most damaging youth unemployment crisis in a generation.

One in six Western District school leavers are neither employed nor in full-time education, according to new data, the highest youth jobless rate out of any other region in the state.

The report from the Australian Local Government Association (ALGA) has listed the south-west’s youth unemployment rate at 17.4 per cent with more than 2000 young people not earning or learning.

This represents a sizeable jump in the region’s jobless rate compared to 2009, when 9.6 per cent of school leavers were out of work.

The unemployment rate for people aged 15 to 24 years ranks in the national top ten alongside economically-troubled regions including rural Tasmania and far north Queensland.

South West Local Learning and Employment Network chief executive Toni Jenkins said the high rate was only the beginning of a growing social and economic dilemma for the region.

“The south-west has the lowest year 12 attainment rate in the state — that is the main factor driving this,” Ms Jenkins said.

“There’s plenty of literature to suggest that not achieving a year 12 or equivalent education leads to a significant reduction in employment opportunities for young people. 

“A generation ago, it was acceptable to leave in year 10 or 11 but today’s employers expect year 12 and that’s across the board from office work to factory work and everything in between.”

Findings from the report were outlined at ALGA’s national conference yesterday with several councillors from south-west shires participating in the Canberra forum.

Corangamite Shire mayor Chris O’Connor was at the ALGA convention yesterday and said he was surprised by the high youth unemployment rate.

The Great South Coast Group chairman said the fact the school leaver jobless rate had nearly doubled was particularly troubling.

“Looking at it broadly, one of the obvious reasons would be the low attainment of year 12 or equivalent training,” Cr O’Connor said.

“Employers are looking for someone who’s completed or completing year 12 or stayed in school for an equivalent amount of time and learnt a trade. 

“It also highlights this disadvantage for country kids wanting to go to university in the city and the costs they face in that respect,” he said.

Glenelg Shire mayor John Northcott said the figures were concerning but added that employment opportunities were still readily available in the region. He said farmers and small business owners in the Portland and Heywood region were keen to give young people work.

“I think most people would be concerned with an unemployment rate at 17 per cent for young people,” Cr Northcott said.

“Having said that, there are job opportunities in places like Portland and Heywood. 

“They may not be full-time, but part-time work is better than nothing. It’s all about participating in the workforce, even if it isn’t easy at first.”

The national unemployment rate for 15 to 24-year-olds is 12.6 per cent this year compared to 10.2 per cent in 2009. North-west Tasmania has the nation’s highest youth unemployment rate at 21.4 per cent while inner-city Sydney had the lowest rate at less than 7 per cent.

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