The impacts of COVID-19 will be felt by our young people for a lifetime.
Research suggests the disadvantage they face now, in areas of job security and financial hardship, will affect their career, education and home ownership prospects for years to come.
Six months on from when the virus first reached the Hunter Region, the local youth unemployment rate has climbed to almost 20 per cent - well above the state's 13.8 per cent - and two in five people under the age of 25 are not working the hours they would like to in Newcastle and Lake Macquarie.
With a higher proportion of 15 to 24-year-olds working in the accommodation, food, retail, arts and recreation sectors - the hardest hit by COVID-19 - our region's youth have been impacted more severely than in many other parts of Australia.
They are more vulnerable in the labour market because they have shorter work histories, fewer acquired skills and qualifications, and are more likely to work casual jobs, which, as we have seen, are often the first to have their hours reduced or cut altogether when hard times arise.
Collectively, we must act now to ensure our young people are not left behind.
That's why City of Newcastle has partnered with other leading Hunter organisations to sign the Greater Newcastle Youth Employment Charter.
Endorsed by Hunter Workers, Port of Newcastle, nib, Hunternet, Alloggio, Samaritans and Castle Personnel have all joined the city in pledging to prioritise professional development opportunities for young people, establish structured mentoring programs, ensure youth are represented in decision-making processes and expand trainee, apprenticeship and graduate positions.
Endorsed by Hunter Workers, Port of Newcastle, nib, Hunternet, Alloggio, Samaritans and Castle Personnel have all joined the city in pledging to prioritise professional development opportunities for young people.
An initiative of the City of Newcastle's City Taskforce - a committee of 17 leaders guiding the Newcastle's grassroots response to COVID-19 - the charter is an affirmation of each signatory's commitment during the recovery phase to providing young people a fair opportunity to develop their careers.
Through recognising and celebrating the important role of youth in our community, we aim to help create a strong, agile and capable workforce for the future while building societal resilience in the face of this once-in-a-generation crisis.
The charter addresses five key areas: youth employment, training, voice, support and celebration. Each organisation has committed to taking measurable action to support these goals and play a role in helping young people to find and maintain work during these challenging times.
As a key focus of the response to rising youth unemployment, the City Taskforce developed a Newcastle Response, an advocacy tool which asks decision-makers at all levels of government to consider specific issues and policy objectives.
The Newcastle Response - Youth Employment, acknowledges the federal government's recently announced JobTrainer initiative will benefit young people but calls for further action to avoid exacerbating intergenerational inequalities.
This could include subsidies for employers hiring new apprentices and trainees; extending the PaTH internship program to include school-leavers; and additional funding for the National Careers Institute Partnership Grants program.
Local government and key city organisations have committed to expanding their graduate programs, now we're asking the state and federal public service to do the same.
Furthermore, the City Taskforce believes the Greater Newcastle Region would be an ideal location to pilot a youth-led Youth Employment Wrap-Around Service.
Such a service would provide a local response to youth unemployment and maximise opportunities for young people to find early career opportunities.
As a region, it is incumbent upon us to make a concerted, coordinated effort to address some of the challenges young people face as a result of COVID-19, and we must do so in collaboration with them to allow our future leaders to feel heard and supported.
All Greater Newcastle organisations are encouraged to sign the Youth Employment Charter. Visit the City Taskforce webpage for more information.
Nuatali Nelmes is the Lord Mayor of Newcastle
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