THE chair of the Loddon Campaspe Regional Partnership has called for the Victorian Skills Commissioner to visit Bendigo, raising concerns about a widening jobs gap in the region.
Dave Richardson was one of 16 witnesses that provided evidence to the inquiry into sustainable employment for disadvantaged job seekers during a hearing in Bendigo.
Speakers represented a range of views, from young people who had experienced how hard it could be to secure work to leaders in secondary education and business.
Mr Richardson told the committee the "sad and somewhat embarrassing" statistics surrounding youth employment and education in Loddon Campaspe indicated something was not working well.
"Or, at worst, is broken and has been broken for a long time," he said.
He said the region was among the top performers, nationwide, when it came to jobs growth.
Yet, Bendigo had recorded the highest youth unemployment rate in Victoria.
"We know if you live in Loddon Campaspe you are less likely to complete Year 12," Mr Richardson said.
"If you're a young person living in this region you're less likely to continue training or education after Year 12."
He said the regional partnership was concerned about the number of people who completed Year 12 but did not secure a job or further education.
"A large number of students are leaving education in years 9-10 and are not earning or learning," Mr Richardson said.
He told the committee the regional partnership believed a lack of cooperation and competition across educational providers was an important factor.
Mr Richardson raised the example of a health module operated by Bendigo Senior Secondary College.
"The local TAFE does not provide that service," Mr Richardson said.
He said a Shepparton provider delivered the school's module.
Mr Richardson said it "beggared belief" that Bendigo TAFE and the high school just across the road weren't working together on that program.
He said the Loddon Campaspe Regional Partnership had observed a divide between the TAFE system and the secondary education system.
Concerns were also raised about how well VCAL providers were meeting the needs of the 'millennial generation'.
"If there was ever a case for the Skills Commissioner to come to Bendigo and provide a comprehensive audit... it's now," Mr Richardson said.
A number of barriers to employment for central Victorians experiencing disadvantage were raised during the forum.
Common themes included transport and connectivity.
Reflecting on past experiences at the rural living expo, Bendigo mayor Margaret O'Rourke said the top two things people considering moving to rural and regional areas wanted to know about was connectivity and jobs.
"People will not move without a job and if they don't feel connected they won't move, either," Cr O'Rourke said.
She told the committee connectivity was still a big barrier in regional communities.
"The NBN has been promised to us all to be the panacea, and it's not," the former Telstra employee said.
"We are absolutely still lacking in services in parts of our community."
Cr O'Rourke said strong connectivity drove education, which drove employment.
"It is an equal barrier as transport," she told the committee.
Representatives from the Bendigo Youth Council and Loddon Campaspe Multicultural Services said the importance employers placed on having a driver's licence was a significant issue.
Deputy youth mayor Annika Ritchie said the success of an interview could hinge on whether or not the applicant was able to drive.
"As soon as you say you live outside Bendigo and rely on public transport they say, 'Thank you for your time'," Ms Ritchie told the committee.
Youth mayor Khayshie Tilak Ramesh said employers might be concerned about how quickly a prospective worker could be called upon to fill a shift if they didn't have a means of independent travel.
In addition to timetabling, she said a reliance on public transport could be problematic because public transport hubs could be areas of turmoil.
Safety concerns therefore became a factor in young people's decisions about whether to travel, Ms Tilak Ramesh said.
She said programs intended to help young people who were struggling to find supervisors to help them learn how to drive, like the L2P Learner Driver Mentor Program, were oversubscribed within the region.
The youth mayor said young people could find themselves unable to afford driving lessons because they didn't have a job, and unable to get a job because they didn't have a licence.
Multicultural Services executive officer Kate McInnes said a lack of funded support for driver's licences was among the region's biggest barriers to employment.
She said the ability to drive was an "absolute must" for applicants seeking low skilled or entry-level work.
"In many cases it is absolutely not possible to get to their workplace on public transport," Ms McInnes.
Other priorities Multicultural Services raised included continued funding for the Jobs Vic program.
The organisation's contract for the program expires in June.
Ms McInnes said Multicultural Services had provided services to 148 job seekers in three years, about half of which had been in roles for at least six months.
She said unconscious bias against people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds remained an issue.
"We also see issues of discrimination in the workplace," Ms McInnes said.
"It is something we are working with employers to address."
She said there was some reluctance on the part of some employers to undertake anything with an associated cost, like cross-cultural training.
"With larger employers, I would like to see more blind recruitment," Ms McInnes said.
"We see the labour hire system as a big barrier, as well, for people with low English."
The heads of three Bendigo secondary schools - Girton Grammar School's Matthew Maruff, Bendigo Senior Secondary College's Dale Pearce and Marist College principal and Bendigo Education Council chair Darren McGregor - said equipping students with literacy and numeracy skills was still the most important thing their sector could do to boost employment outcomes.
"The most important thing I think we can do in education for all children is to provide them with a good foundation," Mr Pearce said.
He believed one of the biggest challenges the sector faced was that pathways such as VET and VCAL did not seem to be as highly valued as academic pathways, including from a departmental perspective.
Mr Maruff said individual case management was critically important, particularly for young people experiencing disadvantage.
He also believed careers education needed to be a part of young people's schooling earlier - ideally, during primary school, when children were framing their aspirations.
The success of the Pathways to Passions program was cited by a number of witnesses in yesterday's hearing in Bendigo.
Findings from the inquiry are expected to be tabled by June 30.
Young leader shares work experiences
AS an 18-year-old, Rhianna Kerr applied for 150 entry-level jobs.
"I didn't get a single one," she said.
She has since found a job she loves, working at Dja Dja Wurrung Clans Aboriginal Corporation.
But Ms Kerr told the Victorian parliamentary inquiry into sustainable employment for disadvantaged job seekers there was more work to do to improve outcomes for young people.
All of the supports she had in place, the 21-year-old said had developed since she gained full-time work.
"Before my first full-time job I struggled like I never have before," Ms Kerr said.
For more than two years, she went from casual job to casual job.
Ms Kerr credited networks she had already developed within Dja Dja Wurrung Clans Aboriginal Corporation with helping her get her foot in the door.
"Not everyone has that opportunity," she said.
She told members of the employment and infrastructure committee a job agency had advised her to apply for whatever was out there, no matter what it was.
"No-one had any interest in what I wanted to do with my life and what I was interested in," she said.
Support was also limited during high school.
"It was almost forced upon me that I had to go to university," Ms Kerr said.
She said she was part of a program which she believed was intended to see Aboriginal people attend university.
Ms Kerr said she lasted six weeks in the course she pursued after graduating. It was only since she had found a job she loved that her desire to pursue further study had rekindled.
"I was told if I graduate with a VCE certificate it'll be easy to find work," she said.
She told the committee that absolutely was not the case.
Inexperience was a barrier to employment, even for entry-level positions.
"It's not just being an Aboriginal person and how that can be very disadvantageous, it's young people as well," Ms Kerr said.
She did not believe there were enough traineeships available, even within Aboriginal organisations.
"I am the youngest person at our workplace by 10 years. I don't think that's OK," Ms Kerr said.
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