HVTC tackles youth unemployment in Shoalhaven over two decades

HVTC is celebrating a 20-year commitment to creating long-term employment opportunities for young people living in Shoalhaven.

Since 1998, the group training organisation (GTO) has partnered with local businesses to tackle high youth unemployment rates in the region through on-the-job skills training and career pathways.

In the last five years alone, HVTC has placed more than 140 apprentices and trainees to a range of host businesses across the region, including Shoalhaven City Council, Shoalhaven Water, Manildra Energy Australia, Service NSW, National Parks and Wildlife Service, Southern Cross Community Housing and Gordon MacDonald Electrical.

HVTC CEO Sharon Smith said a key marker of the organisation's success in the region has been its long-term partnership with Shoalhaven City Council.

“Our collaboration with Shoalhaven City Council and its core divisions has facilitated the employment of more than 120 apprentices and trainees since 2014,” Ms Smith said.

“In particular, we have worked closely with Shoalhaven Water to implement and deliver a large scale Water Operations Traineeship Program in an effort to build a pool of skilled individuals who are trained and ready for the workforce.

“Since the program’s inception in 2009, 70 per cent of trainees have secured permanent full time employment with Shoalhaven Water. These roles are not only increasing job prospects for local people but are keeping skilled individuals in the community.”

Prior to the commencement of the program, only nine per cent of staff at Shoalhaven Water staff were aged under 30 years. Shoalhaven Water Manager Andrew McVey said addressing the ageing workforce was crucial to the organisation’s future planning.

“We looked at the age profile of our employees and could see that within the next 19 years a large portion of them would be nearing retirement,” he said.

“That’s why we embarked on this program – to ensure we would have a pool of both highly skilled, young and enthusiastic people – ready for the workforce.

“Some of our trainees have gone on to become operators in charge of running the plant and this is a testament to the quality of individuals we have coming through the program.”

There are currently 24 apprentices and trainees working with Shoalhaven Water, including 12 water operations trainees, three business administration trainees, four electrical apprentices, three mechanical apprentices and two electronics and communications apprentices.

Paige Tate-Harrington (pictured below) is one of the business administration trainees who commenced her training in February.

After finishing school Paige had a brief stint working in a law firm, which peaked her interest in business.

“Like many school leavers, I had very little direction or plans for the future. I knew I had strong written and analytical skills, but I wasn’t sure how those pieces could fit together to form a career I would enjoy and be able to build on,” she said.

“While working for the law firm, I came to the realisation that I enjoyed working in a business environment and was eager to broaden my skills and knowledge base.

“To date, I’ve gained new insight into many potential career paths and have built on some of the skills I already possess, providing me with the opportunity to grow and develop in a dynamic workplace like Shoalhaven Water under the guidance of some amazing female mentors.”

The 20-year-old is currently based at the Shoalhaven City Council building and appreciates the opportunity to gain valuable work experience and recognised qualifications at the same time.

“Regardless of whether the traineeship is in administration or a trade, it is such an invaluable experience for young people. It allows you to undertake study and put it to use daily, while allowing you to gain work experience and hands-on knowledge,” she said.

“In addition, it also exposes you to potential career paths and the possibility of gaining permanent employment at the end of the traineeship.”

While Paige is only at the beginning of her career journey, HVTC alumni Blake Kelly is now enjoying the benefits of full-time employment after completing a school-based traineeship in conservation and land management with Shoalhaven City Council.

After completing the two-year traineeship in 2016, Blake was given a permanent part-time opportunity with the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, but has since been promoted to a full-time field officer. His role involves a variety of tasks related to the conservation and preservation of the national parks within the Shoalhaven region, including pest animal eradication, weed management and firefighting.

The 19-year-old strongly advocated for on-the-job pathways like apprenticeships and traineeships, which enabled him to get where he is today.

“During school I was hell-bent on going to University, but then I realised the benefit of doing a school-based traineeship, which would allow me to finish the HSC with a Cert II and be a step ahead of everyone else,” he said.

“I’m lucky to have found a full-time job within 18 months of completing my traineeship. The experience and knowledge I gained from the last two years with Council certainly helped, as did the many networking opportunities that allowed me to connect with different people within the industry.

“I’m a big ambassador for on-the-job training. Hands-on is the way I like to learn and I’m confident in my knowledge and ability as a result of the hands-on learning I experienced during my traineeship.”

HVTC CEO Sharon Smith said she was proud of HVTC’s investment in the Shoalhaven region over the last two decades, which had helped people like Blake and Paige get a foot in the door of their respective industries.

“Our long-term vision has always been to help improve the lives of young people by increasing their career prospects,” she said.

“Shoalhaven has typically experienced high rates of youth unemployment, particularly when compared to the state and national averages. By creating more pathways to jobs through apprenticeships and traineeships, we have been able to give local people the skills that are in demand by local industries and increase their chances of securing full-time employment upon completion of their training.

“We are also committed to supporting the ongoing growth and development of the region by helping local businesses recruit and train the right people in alignment with their skills needs. In doing so, we are helping keep skilled individuals in the community.

“HVTC also continues to achieve strong completion and retention rates and our partnership with Shoalhaven City Council and Shoalhaven Water is proof of that.

“On behalf of HVTC I would like to thank all of our host employers for a wonderful 20 years. We look forward to building on our partnerships with you and other local businesses to help Shoalhaven thrive and continue to improve employment and training outcomes for local people.

“All of our trainees and apprentices, past and present, also deserve thanks and recognition for their commitment, drive and passion to their chosen roles whilst representing HVTC and their host employers.”

HVTC Shoalhaven trainee Paige Tate-Harrington sitting at her desk in the office