- Opinion Piece -

Careers that Call us Home

So as we mark the end of another school year – it has me wondering if a few old dogs need to learn some new tricks or maybe unlearn some old ones!

In December 1992 unemployment rates peaked at 11.2%, and youth unemployment hit 20.1% – the highest rates of unemployment in the past 50 years.  Fast forward 30 years and latest unemployment rates are tracking at 3.5%, and youth unemployment at 7.7%. In many industries the number is much less with more jobs than available talent.

Many of us can vividly recall the challenges of securing our first job in the 1990s. Our freshly minted degrees were meant to be our tickets into fulfilling, secure and financially rewarding careers, and also our ticket out of small hometowns to begin grand adventures in Melbourne, Sydney and overseas.

It was a tough job market with graduates and young applicants regularly told, ‘We’re looking for someone with more experience’. Career advisers, parents and mentors often urged us to curb or at least redirect our aspirations to ensure we could get our foot in the door. Once our foot was in the door, we had to buckle down and earn our right to be considered for a promotion.

It’s inevitable that these experiences have shaped our thinking as managers and employers. Whether we recognise it or not, many of us will have notions of how potential and current employees should behave and what they can expect as new staff earning their stripes.

But what if the impact of covid was yet another step towards a new normal? What if our school and university leavers, apprentices and trainees are not a variation of a long-playing theme – what if they are the first of something new and bold in how we learn, earn and build careers?  What if its less about them learning and its more about us unlearning.

And what if this brave new model leverages Shepparton’s diverse industry, community, languages, network of education providers and our geographic position. Food production, manufacturing, logistics, water management as well as regional health, care and community service delivery in culturally diverse multi-lingual communities are baked into our city’s DNA. What if these are the secret ingredients that together make us the location of choice to learn, complete trades and conduct research in partnership with industry that will solve local challenges that are also national and global challenges.

For years we’ve heard the call for our kids to stay local – but maybe we need to measure our success across a much longer horizon. There are so many examples of former locals returning home and bringing with them critical experience and skills. It’s not whether they leave, its whether we offer something that makes them want to return – in 15 months or 15 years.

This is where local placements, gap years, vacation employment programs, and a clinical health school are key early interventions that create positive experiences and pathways home – and encourage non-local students to adopt Shepp as their new home.

With hybrid university learning continuing, we know there are plenty of students scheduling their face-to-face sessions into a few days of the week and using the balance to pursue other interests and work. This change suggests there’s great opportunity for cadetships, internships and flexible employment in careers and professions that flex around study commitments.

This flexibility coupled with improved and more frequent rail services paves the way for students to pursue courses that are not delivered locally. It also works just as well for those wanting a career change, to re-enter the workforce or for those who need to explore for a bit longer before they find their calling – and importantly it underpins the opportunity that’s made possible by programs like GROW Greater Shepparton.

Greater Shepparton is well placed to lead the way on renewable energy; sustainable food and fibre production and supply chains; solving global packaging, waste and transport challenges; delivering and designing cutting edge health and care in multilingual communities (not just rural and remote); and world leading manufacturing that combines brilliant product design with the ‘smarts’ to support automation and remote management.

Everyone of these areas needs blue sky researchers and thinkers, coupled with practical trades, skills and creativity to solve problems in real time and with urgency.

Thirty years ago we were told we needed the right certificate or the right qualification and then we needed the right experience. Today so many of our employers and managers are seeking enthusiasm, curiosity, digital aptitude and a willingness and ability to learn on the go and to have a go. The qualification and the certificates are still important – but when and how we achieve them has and can change.

Covid’s impact on education delivery may be the trigger we needed to transform our local approach. We don’t need to solve the challenge for the nation or even the state – we can just begin with solving it locally, in partnership and in ways that allow some old dogs to enjoy learning some new tricks from the young pups.

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Lindy Nieuwenhuizen

Lindy Nieuwenhuizen