Early pay day trumps university study for many young people in the Hunter Valley

Investment: Hunter Research Foundation Centre lead economist Dr Anthea Bill says there needs to be a commitment from businesses and individuals to develop skills for the jobs of the future. Picture: Jonathan CarrollMany young people are taking their degrees and leaving the Hunter Region –if they aren’t lured by the early cash a job inmining can offer, without the requirement of further study.

Outside Newcastle, the Hunter Valley has the state’s lowest number of 25 to 34-year-olds who have a Bachelor degree or higher.

At 14.7 per cent, it’s also the equal fifth lowest in the nation, the latest Census figures show. In Lake Macquarie and Newcastle –a university city –the rate of 31.2 per cent is more than double the remainder of the valley, but it’slagging almost four per cent below the national average.

Economists, researchers, business leaders and academics give a range of opinions onhow this will shape the future of the Hunter’s economy.

But those who spoke to Fairfax Media about the issue allagreed that the lure of relatively high-paying jobs in the mining sector, and the industries that serviced it, was a driving force behind the region getting to this point.

Professor Phillip O’Neill, who specialises in geography and urban studies at the University of Western Sydney, argued that higher-paying jobs in Sydney attracted many young people with tertiary qualifications.

He warned future job losses in the mining sector would force more young people to leave the area.

“It’s a very simple equation. The Hunter produces more young people than employment,” Professor O’Neill said.

“It’s a very harsh reality for young people.

“There are rewards for leaving [studies] earlier in the Hunter in some cases, more than further study.

“There are very poor long-term job prospects for employment for untrained young people in the Hunter.”

According to the new Census figures, North Sydney/Hornsby had the nation’s largest proportion of 25 to 34-year-olds with a bachelor degree or higher, at 63.1 per cent. ’s lowest rate was Moreton Bay, in Queensland, with 13 per cent.

Closer to home, the Central Coast recorded a result of 21.2 per cent and the Mid North Coast had 16.1 per cent.

The Hunter Research Foundation Centre has been keeping a close eye on the issue in recent years.

Dr Anthea Bill, lead economist at the centre, said data showed rates of Year 12 completion had dropped in the Upper Hunter since 2011, while these rates had improved in the remainder of NSW –even in other parts of the Hunter.

“Obviously [the figures]presentsome problems for the[Hunter] region, potentially,” she said. “The employment structure is going to influence the qualification outcomes –theavailability of jobs within the region that require practical qualifications.”

Dr Billsaid there needed to be a personal and business investment in encouraging the development of skills that would be useful for jobs of the future.

“When you look at Newcastle and Lake Macquarie, we’re really not doing that badly compared to regional ,” she said.

“We just don’t have that concentration of advanced service sector employment that Sydney has –we just don’t have that employment, for instance, in professional, scientificand technical services. There’s well-documented literature around some of the reasons for that and they’re not reasons that are particular to Newcastle and Lake Macquarie and the Hunter Region.

“They’re reasons … across the whole of regional in terms of population, urban density, not having a lot of international and nationally syndicated firms, not having deep labour pull and occupational specialisation, which is just a product of our population, and also some of the deficits –maybe real or perceived –in regional around things like infrastructure, transport connectivity.”

While Hunter Business Chamber CEO Bob Hawes conceded that there had been concern about the 25 to 34-year-old age group in this region“for a long, long time”, he was generally upbeat.

He said the needs of businesses were changing and that the window for opportunitiesand success was“broader than just uni”.

Hunter Business Chamber CEO Bob Hawes.

Mr Hawes said the Hunter’s abundance of“cheap land and good labour” was a strength and the focus should be to“diversify what’s here”.

“The regional challenge, going forward, is understanding what is constraining existing employers from expanding and what is constraining new employers from coming here,” he said.

“Most growth is businesses that are already here or have a link to the region.”

Hunter Research Foundation Centre director Professor Will Rifkin said the key to facing the challenge wasencouraging young peoplenot to simply train for a particular career, but use education and training to develop a skill set that could apply to a range of jobs.

“You have a smaller number of people doing university now because there has traditionally been relatively lucrative options –low housing costs and high wages in the resources sector and the companies that service the resources sector,” he said.

“It has been going on for a generation or two, the economy changes.

“It’s changing the mind frame of young people who are saying ‘I may be able to get a job fresh out of Year 10 where I’ll earn $80,000 a year and I’ll be driving a truck directly or through a computer and earning $120,000 a year by the time I’m 30’.

“But keep track of whether the skill sets that [they’re]gainingand what are some other industries [they]could work in with those same skills?”

University of Newcastle deputy vice chancellor (academic) Professor Darrell Evans said the Hunter had a smaller share of professional, technical and scientific employment opportunities associated with tertiary education than larger metropolitan centres had.

“Although we have seen an increasing diversification in the Hunter Region’s industry mix over the last two decades, the industry profile does not represent the advanced service economy seen in major metropolitan centres,” he said.

“This means that the available job opportunities do not attract people with higher degrees to the Hunter.”