Employment rate worryingly low



WITH labour force participation in Gippsland well below the Victorian average, affordable and accessible education is a priority for the region, according to the Latrobe Valley Authority’s draft regional plan.

The LVA’s ‘Gippsland 2035. Latrobe Valley and Gippsland Transition Plan’ also noted that the youth unemployment rate in Gippsland remained unacceptably high.

“More than 100,000 people in Gippsland are classified as not in the labour force, meaning they are not looking for work or receiving unemployment benefits. Growing the region’s workforce will require a concerted effort to raise the participation rate,” the draft plan said.

“Key area of focus that can improve access to education include entry requirements for tertiary education, the cost of degrees, online provision, affordable student accommodation and financial support during studies.

“The provision of affordable short courses through Learn Local courses, TAFE and university and more support for students from low socio-economic, multicultural and LGBTIQ+ groups, and people living with disabilities can help address systemic disadvantage and intergenerational unemployment in the region.”

The draft plan noted that wind farm developer Star of the South and Energy Australia were working together to map existing skills in coal power generation with those needed in offshore wind.

“The project will identify transition opportunities and what new skills, qualifications and training were needed and should be designed and offered locally to build a clean energy workforce in Gippsland,” the plan said.

The LVA backs state government plans on forestry and energy. “The transition away from native forest harvesting provides support, training and assistance through the Victorian Forestry Plan to build opportunities for new, sustainable industries and jobs. This includes transition support for affected workers, businesses and communities,” the plan said. The industry would be bolstered by the Gippsland Plantation Investment Program and VicForests’ farm forest program.

The Victorian Skills Authority has estimated that Gippsland needs 12,925 new workers by 2025. This includes 6884 new jobs and replacement of 6041 retiring workers.

“Looking further ahead, the projected growth in renewable energy products in Gippsland will require a significant new workforce. Filling these future jobs will necessitate inbound regional migration and population growth,” the plan said. This would create a flow-on demand for health and social services, agriculture, construction, education, childcare and a range of retail, service-based and hospitality jobs.

Investing in training for clean energy jobs is also a focus of the plan, which warned that not all transitioning workers would move to renewable energy jobs. “Many will retire or work in other industries,” it said, highlighting the need to attract, train and retain a workforce with the skills for future-focussed jobs.

The LVA noted that it was working with solar installation companies and the education sector to address the shortage of suitably qualified electricians in the region. “At the time, there was no pathway to obtain the necessary qualifications for electricians to work in the solar industry in Gippsland,” the plan said. Holmesglen TAFE and TAFE Gippsland could offer the necessary courses locally and “develop an ongoing course in renewable technologies”.

The LVA said research showed that two-thirds of skilled and well paid workers in power, mining and forestry struggled to find comparable jobs with similar pay, working conditions and job security.

“This highlights the need for targeted workforce planning,” the draft said.

The report highlighted the growing importance of the healthcare and social assistance sector, already Gippsland’s largest employer. There should be a renewed focus on aged and disability care.

Also, the tourism sector should work Gippsland TAFE and Federation University to improve the availability, retention and skills of the workforce.

The LVA emphasised that its plan was not designed to displace or replace existing thinking or work being undertaken across Gippsland. “It should be read in conjunction with existing plans, strategies and reports,” it said, including the Victorian Forestry Plan and the Gippsland Regional Plan 2020-2025, which was backed by One Gippsland, RDA Gippsland and the Committee for Gippsland. “It remains the primary strategic advocacy plan for the region. The LVA has aligned the transition priorities for Latrobe Valley and Gippsland with the Gippsland Regional Plan,” the draft report said.