Jennifer Ford

Newcastle Herald, 19 February 2021

It’s good news that unemployment for the Hunter region has dropped since its peak during COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions, but it remains well above past averages meaning we still have work to do. Our young people especially have been punished by the effects of the pandemic. Statics show more people aged 18 to 24 lost their jobs since March 2020 than older people, and those that kept their jobs lost more hours.

2021 holds the promise of recovery but there’s no denying that in 2020 young people had it tough. Jobs were lost, careers put on hold, apprenticeships suspended and prospects narrowed by changing university fees. The ground shifted beneath their feet and the outlook for the future dimmed.

Newcastle City Council recognised the urgency and the importance of the issue, that with youth unemployment more than twice as high as the rest of the labour market, a whole of community effort is required to turn the tide. The city called on organisations to sign up to its Youth Employment Charter, and in doing so prioritise youth employment opportunities, to hear and amplify the voices of our young people, support them and celebrate them.

Our youth are key to the sustainable, social and economic security of the Hunter. The region’s leaders need to support young people in accessing opportunities to make significant contribution to our region’s economic recovery. And our young people need support not just for the economy, but for their own sake. Researchers at the Our Lives project in Queensland witnessed a sharp decline in the mental health of their young subjects over the six months leading to June 2020. They discovered a major gap in wellbeing between those with and those without secure work.

As Hunter youth seek to transition from education and training to participating and thriving in the workforce, we need to help clear the bottleneck caused by the year that was 2020. Where COVID-19 disrupted the pipeline of young talent entering the economy, we need to find outlets for it to run. We need to harness the ambition and vision, and indignancy, of youth as they embrace their future despite the odds.

The Committee for the Hunter has signed on to the Charter, giving life to our commitment by setting up a region-wide Youth Committee for the Hunter – for youth, by youth. A member of that committee will sit on our board to ensure their voices are heard and amplified, and to link them into a network that can support them and help them find ways to master their own future.