‘Elephant in the room’ that is holding back region’s prosperity
Letter to the Editor by Justin Lippiatt, Director PineTech Manufacturing Pty Ltd
Over the last couple of years we have had exceptionally credible outsiders continue to tell us that Gympie has real potential.
Bernard Salt, Neil Glentworth, Terry Ryder, Prof. John Cole and Rohan Toll to mention a few, wave the Gympie banner enthusiastically.
“Here we are! Over here! Come and see!” we cry out, desperately trying to entice visitors to come to the region. The regional economy – a partnership between business, community and local, state and federal governments shouts, “Jobs! Jobs! Jobs!”.
However, despite all of our zeal to see our beloved region thrive, we have a major elephant sitting squarely in the centre of the room.
This is a really big elephant that we cannot ignore. Even COVID-19 cannot hide it. The elephant, my friends is a lack of a skilled workers.
In fact, the business sentiment in my networks seems to indicate that it may be just a lack of workers, not just skilled workers.
Now, I am not saying that the multitudes of government and para-statal agencies aren’t doing their level best to improve our situation on the employment front. It’s just that in many cases we can’t seem to find people keen enough to take up gainful employment.
I realise unemployment is exceptionally high in the Wide Bay area, and nationally unemployment figures will reach nearly 10%, so it seems incredible that the businesses that are surviving and creating employment opportunities would struggle to find employees.
The Chamber of Commerce, Council and business community are working together to attract business to the region, but one of the major stumbling blocks is a skilled workforce.
The armrests to our elephant’s armchair are JobSeeker and JobKeeper.
“JS” and “JK” are valiant and honourable initiatives to keep people financially stable despite the ravages of the “unprecedented” virus and the havoc it’s inflicting on our people and their welfare.
It’s a great way to keep the economy ticking along, despite the devastating closures of businesses that suffocated during this traumatic season, but it comes at a price. This stimulus and indebtedness is going to cost us in the long term - our children and our grandchildren will be forced to pay it back somehow. It’s not their fault nor ours, it is what it is. But who, and how are we going to pay it back?
A quick change of direction before I conclude.
A few years ago I met a 24-year-old man in Gympie. He was from a generationally welfare dependent family. I asked him why he wasn’t working or at least looking for a job.
This unskilled young man who had never worked a day in his life (apart for the Year 10 work experience program) turned to me and in all seriousness stated, “I wouldn’t get out of bed for less than $30 and hour”.
I don’t judge the fellow, but it is an indictment on our society that we have raised entitled, not empowered people to hand the reins over to.
JobSeeker and JobKeeper payments have been great for those who can access them, but it raises other challenges for us in Gympie and the regions in general.
COVID19 is here to stay, but what happens after JobSeeker and JobKeeper?
Business cannot afford to compete with the “welfare wage”. The Award rates are mandatory, and we comply willingly but somehow there seems to be a little misalignment in expectations. My young friend who plays Xbox until 3am and then sleeps to midday, definitely won’t get out of bed after JS and JK are surgically removed from our economy. I can almost hear the words chiming in my ears, “Seeker, Keeper…business weeper…”
C’mon! We’ve got to do something, and we can only do it together – community, business, government! We can find a way, we can prosper, and we certainly can turn this mess around.
We can defiantly give it a “Fair Go!”
Justin Lippiatt, Director PineTech Manufacturing Pty Ltd