Opportunities and solutions to help improve the Hunter region’s unemployment figures were discussed at forums in Kurri Kurri and Raymond Terrace on Thursday.
The Australian Jobs Taskforce visited the Paterson electorate at the invitation of local MP Meryl Swanson.
The taskforce is a Federal Labor caucus committee that was launched in March and has been travelling around Australia to gather stories and feedback from communities with high unemployment.
In March 2017, Raymond Terrace had 7.8 percent of people unemployed, and Kurri Kurri had 7.5 percent, compared to a then-national average of 5.9 percent.
“Kurri has been badly affected by the downturn in mining and manufacturing, and the economy is one in transition, with construction, hospitality and tourism creating new jobs,” Ms Swanson said.
“Raymond Terrace has experienced high unemployment for a sustained 20-year period.”
Australian Jobs Taskforce chair Susan Lamb and secretary Justine Keay attended Thursday’s hearings, along with representatives of business groups, unions, employment agencies, councils, employers and jobseekers.
Ms Swanson said some good ideas and observations came out of the Kurri Kurri hearing, including the need to match jobs with appropriately-skilled jobseekers, and incentivising young people to start their own businesses.
“The valley is undergoing massive changes,” she said.
“We’ve got lots of willing people who want to work.
“We have a culture of clever people who have worked with their hands, and we need to continue to encourage that.”
Decentralisation, better NBN and transport, government procurement policy and infrastructure projects such as new roads were also among the ideas raised.
Ms Swanson said she pushed to get the taskforce to the Paterson electorate so local people could have input into policy by sharing their stories and experiences.
Cessnock City Council’s economic development manager Jane Holdsworth said the forum provided the opportunity for local stakeholders to showcase their ‘needs and wants’.
“I just hope that when they go back we can get some real solutions,” she said.
Ms Holdsworth’s team has spearheaded council’s Cessnock City Youth First project, which provides young jobseekers with work experience at council facilities like the Hunter Valley Visitor Centre.
She believes the model could be successfully rolled out across Australia, with government support.
“We’re here, we’re ready, we just need a bit of support to create the jobs,” she said.
Hunter Region Business Hub manager Kerry Hallett said the hearing was a good way for the community to bring issues to the attention of elected officials, and hoped that the feedback would be taken on board.
“We need to see results,” she said.