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  • Gavin King

    TropicNow editor

    Email Gavin King

    Can we fix the youth unemployment crisis in Cairns?

    With the latest youth unemployment rate sitting at terribly high levels of 32.5 per cent, solutions are needed to address this entrenched problem.


    Elections and campaign promises may come and go, but the youth unemployment crisis in Cairns remains persistently, stubbornly high.

    In fact, with each passing month the unemployment rate for local youths aged 15-24 paints an increasingly disturbing pictu

    According to trend analysis by Conus economist and TropicNow columnist Pete Faulkner, the rate of youth unemployment is now a shocking 32.5 per cent. 

    We compete with the Outback region for the unenviable title of Queensland's worst youth unemployment region.

    Even Townsville, with its current economic woes, has a far lower youth unemployment rate than Cairns.

    Youth unemployment is one of those issues that doesn't seem to attract the level of media and political attention that it deserves.

    While election campaigns or infrequent coverage on the nightly news shines a light on the issue, it is always fleeting.

    Perhaps it's because solutions and real action are hard to come by.

    To that end, Tropic Now has rounded up the latest ideas and potential solutions put forward by politicians, business leaders and young people themselves.

    Here’s a selection of ideas and solutions currently on the table:


    WARREN ENTSCH

    The Member for Leichhardt believes pay rates are too inflexible, meaning small businesses can’t afford to employ more young people.

    And at the recent Federal election, the Turnbull Government promised to invest $840.3 million over four years in a Youth Employment Package to assist up to 120,000 vulnerable young people find jobs.

    In a recent newspaper article, Mr Entsch also shared his thoughts that some young people are lazy, and cited his first job as a cleaner at Mareeba train station as an example of what type of role the youth of today aren’t willing to work in.

    A bit harsh? Or does he have a point?


    THE UNIONS

    Foreign workers getting temporary visas for jobs in tourism and hospitality were locking local kids out of work, according to the Queensland Council of Unions.

    The Teachers Union of Queensland has a different view. They have called for more funding for TAFE to provide school leavers with more skills and qualifications.

    While more training options are always a good thing for young jobseekers, it's important to note all the certificates in the world won't land someone a job if there are no relevant job vacancies to fill.

    That seems obvious. but it is a point often lost in the rush to provide training courses for young people.


    RICK CARR FROM HERRON TODD WHITE

    Rick is more upbeat than most about youth unemployment in Cairns.

    He believes the rise of the tourism industry will help create new jobs for young people.

    Mr Carr's observation was backed up by the recent State of the Regions 2016-17 report, commissioned by the Australian Local Government Association.

    The report found that tourism and retail were the two sectors offering the best hopes of employment for young people in the Tropical North.


    CURTIS PITT

    As the State Treasurer who also happens to be a local MP, Mr Pitt should know how bad the situation with youth unemployment is in his own backyard.

    He believes the State Government’s recent allocation of $2.2 million for the Skilling Queenslanders for Work initiative will provide nearly 400 local young people with work-related training in sectors such as healthcare, hospitality, tourism and early childhood education.

    “This is about giving people the chance to boost their qualifications and their chances at landing a job,” Mr Pitt says.

    The program has been hailed a success for its training component, but it does of course rely on actual jobs being available for those who receive training to go into.  


    AUSTRALIAN CHAMBER OF COMMERCE AND INDUSTRY

    The nation’s peak business body believes upward pressure on the minimum wage is bad news for young people. 

    "Jobs that use awards are key pathways into the workforce for unemployed young people," ACCI spokesperson Patricia Forsythe said recently.

    “The minimum wage decision has a significant impact on the number of these award-reliant jobs available, so higher minimum wages hurt young people.”


    CCIQ

    Nick Behrens from CCIQ recently outlined his thoughts on potential solutions, and they centred on IR reform.

    He believes minimum engagement periods (where a minimum shift period of three hours is required) are too long and rule out certain employment opportunities. For example, a two hour stint after-school for a young person.

    Mr Behrens also called for the reinstatement of junior pay rates for certain ages and sectors, and also for the adoption of the Productivity Commission’s recommendations on penalty rates.

    In addition, he believes recent increases in apprentice pay rates have made them unaffordable for some employers.


    CAIRNS CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

    The local Chamber has long called for action on youth unemployment, and last year it partnered with the Department of Education and Training to launch a Facebook page called the Year13CNS Project.

    The page provides regular job-seeking advice and posts youth-relevant job ads showing vacant positions in the region.

    At the time it was launched, Chamber CEO Deb Hancock said the Facebook page was "not a silver bullet solution". Given the youth unemployment rate has risen more than 10 per cent since the page was launched, Ms Hancock's observation was somewhat prescient.


    TROPIC COMMENT:

    Whatever's been tried over the past couple of years clearly isn't working: the trend youth unemployment rate in Cairns has jumped by more than 10 per cent in the past year alone.

    And what's that old saying about doing something over and over again expecting a different result?

    All of the above suggestions are worthy of consideration and (most importantly) action, from IR reform to extra training boosts. We also share the view held by Rick Carr that a rising economic tide lifts all boats, even though we haven't seen the flow-through benefits of a booming tourism industry just yet.

    There is no doubt that some give and take from competing interests (we're looking at you unions and the Turnbull Government) is absolutely necessary if we're going to get results on this vexing issue.

    Wouldn't it be nice if - just for once - we all placed the interests of our young people ahead of political ideologies and point-scoring?