Bid to keep youth in regional areas

Kerry Anderson.
Kerry Anderson.

Like ducks flying south for the winter, young people from regional areas continue to migrate to the big cities. In an interview with ConnectPink’s Breanna Tucker, one woman has described how she believes communities can lure them home.

It’s been a trend in small country towns for decades. Generations of teenagers pack up their bags and head off to the city as soon as they finish high school, leaving the town population to dwindle as they put the quiet country life behind them.

For years society has assumed that these youngsters are desperate to escape the country, itching to experience the buzz of city life. 

But in the Victorian shires of Buloke, Gannawarra and Loddon, one woman is proving this theory wrong. 

Kerry Anderson, a project manager at Community Leadership Loddon Murray, believes a lack of career opportunities is the key thing preventing young people from returning to the country and she has the stats to prove it.

In a recent survey of more than 888 high school students in her area, she found at least 50 per cent could picture themselves living back in their home town after university and travel. 

Of those who did not, the number one reason was because they felt there were no career opportunities for them there. 

In a separate survey, she asked adults across the area to put themselves in their children’s shoes and rank the most appealing career paths to them. 

Not surprisingly, she said the large majority ranked agriculture as the most popular industry when, in fact, their children placed it third. 

The two most popular industries for them had been “arts and training” followed by and “arts, broadcasting, film and printing”.

Kerry said this proved two things: firstly, that the youth did not necessarily want to leave rural communities and secondly, that if the community could provide them with enough support to follow their interests they might stay.

To put her ideas into action, Kerry has launched “Operation Next Gen”, a leadership program encouraging communities to support and promote entrepreneurism. 

With new statistics showing that 70 per cent of the world’s future jobs haven’t been created yet, Kerry said entrepreneurism could be the key to providing rural youths with the opportunities they have craved.

“Modern technology is making new career paths in rural areas much more possible that it ever was in the past. 

"If we want our communities to survive then we need to support young people in whatever they wish to do and help them overcome any barriers that exist to them following their dreams while living and working from their home towns.”

In a self-funded study tour to the US in November 2011, Kerry attended the Entrepreneur Education Forum and discovered that of the more-than 500 teachers there, almost all had entrepreneurism incorporated into their curriculum. 

In Australia, she said business studies barely got a mention, even at careers expos. As an English and grammar nazi who hounded her children on the importance of English throughout their own high school days, Kerry now looks at the business careers her children followed and wondered if she should have taken a different tact.

Her daughter owned two businesses – Midland Stock & Poultry Supplies and Fair Dinkum Dog Coats – by the age of 20 and is now showing entrepreneurial qualities by using the internet to expand to an international market. 

Her son also has a vested interest with the family plumbing business. Both children have been able to pursue those careers from their home town.

Kerry said of the students surveyed in Buloke, Gannawarra and Loddon, 40 per cent would consider opening their own business. With this in mind, the entrepreneurial conference’s main slogan – “Can’t spell entrepreneur? Start a business and hire someone who can” – had many relevant messages, particularly for mothers who play a vital role in helping their children shape their career. 

“If you look at entrepreneurs and people who excelled in their field, without fail they refer to their mother encouraging them to be the person they want them to be,” Kerry said.

“We seem to be very university-focused when teaching our children about career paths and that’s great … but I look at my children now and appreciate that some of their other skills may have been more important. 

"They’re both bad spellers but they’re very confident and they’re good at using adult mentors. They’re respectful of other people’s knowledge, they’re not afraid to ask questions or to make mistakes and if they do make mistakes, they move on. 

"That whole idea of 70 per cent of future jobs having not been created yet is hard to get your head around, my little brain just can’t grasp that concept, but I think it is important that we understand that what our children do might be very different to what we envisaged for them. 

“I think today’s generation realise that they can’t sit around and wait for somebody to provide a job for them and in rural areas in particular, they have to do more to create their own work. We’re the ones who need to accept that.”

Operation NextGen received applications from 26 rural towns and was launched in Buloke, Gannawarra and Loddon in October this year.

Kerry will be speaking about its philosophy and progress at the National Rural Women’s Conference in Canberra next year. 

For more details, click here.

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