Decades separate Royce Dickson’s original battle against Shepparton’s high rate of youth unemployment and the former school principal’s current call for regional business and government to learn from yesteryear’s success stories.
Mr Dickson is keen to foster a new spirit of co-operation between business, government and educational institutions in tackling the issue.
Research the Brotherhood of St Lawrence did claims Greater Shepparton has nudged into the top 20 Australian regions for youth unemployment with a rate of 16.1 per cent, close to triple the overall unemployment rate.
Coming in at 19th on the Brotherhood’s list, a long way behind the Murray region north of the border, which sits at fifth, it is a still statistic that worries business and community groups.
In 1999, Mr Dickson ran a program funded by the Myer Foundation that placed unemployed young people into part-time positions, providing them with valuable experience and skills.
‘‘A lot of those kids did pretty well,’’ Mr Dickson said.
‘‘Many of them went on to get good jobs and some own prosperous businesses today.’’
Mr Dickson would like to see today’s youth handed similar opportunities to break the unemployment cycle.
He has called on businesses to look at how they could become part of the solution.
Committee for Greater Shepparton chief executive Sam Birrell said the businesses he represented would like nothing more than to help.
‘‘It’s long been this terrible dichotomy of our region that we have very good industries and a lot of economic activity and businesses that need employment, and the high rate of youth unemployment,’’ Mr Birrell said.
‘‘It’s not right and we as a community have a responsibility to work out ways of changing that.’’
Mr Birrell said part of the solution was with the Shepparton Education Plan, an initiative that sought to concentrate the efforts of four local colleges.
The Shepparton Education Plan proposes the merging of Shepparton High School, McGuire College, Mooroopna Secondary College and Wanganui Park Secondary College into a single campus.
Mr Birrell said such a move, while controversial for some, could help alleviate youth unemployment by centralising the contact points between the education and employment sectors.
‘‘At the moment, there’s four different schools, and while there’s some great people working in those schools, I don’t know if business knows where to go,’’ he said.
‘‘Everyone’s working in good faith in this area, but the whole thing could be better co-ordinated, and there are efforts under way to do just that. The Shepparton Education Plan gives us that platform.
‘‘The combination of (the merger) and a commitment for the business community to really get involved will hopefully mean we will have a better aligned community.’’
Greater Shepparton Lighthouse Project’s Lisa McKenzie said the Shepparton Education Plan was only part of the solution to youth unemployment.
Much more was being done, she said.
‘‘The issues are quite complex and relate to long-term poverty and associated aspiration,’’ she said.
The Lighthouse Project has tasked 50 business leaders with sourcing solutions, and placed 400 volunteers into local schools.
‘‘Many (of those volunteers) are business people and they are helping with literacy, numeracy and mentoring,’’ Ms McKenzie said.
‘‘They are providing access and building those vital connections with schools.’’
Ms McKenzie is optimistic about the future of youth unemployment in the region.
‘‘We are taking a systematic, strategic long-term approach to identifying the issues, then systematically addressing them,’’ she said.
‘‘We’re on the path. We’re working hard. It will change. It is changing.’’