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Hunter labour force figures continue to cast shadow on eve of summit

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The labour market in the Hunter is still suffering a COVID hangover as the National Jobs and Skills Summit approaches.

That’s according to the latest regional employment breakdown, revealed by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Labour Force Survey, for July 2022.

The NSW monthly unemployment rate was unchanged at 3.3% in July, compared to 4.6% in the Hunter Valley and just 2.6% in Newcastle and Lake Macquarie.

The data comes on the eve of the federal government conference, which will take place at Parliament House in Canberra from 1-2 September.

“The monthly figures for Newcastle and Lake Macquarie continue to show volatility whereas the unemployment rate for the Hunter Valley has settled at just over 4%, reinforcing very low numbers for the region by historical standards,” Business Hunter CEO Bob Hawes said.

“Of concern, however, is the continuing trend of sagging workforce participation rates.

“That’s despite the deafening cries from employers seeking out additional workers right across the region in just about every section of business.

“We know this is impacting business confidence in the Hunter, which is now trailing other areas based on our June Business Conditions Survey results.

“It’s absolutely staggering to note the region’s employed workforce, based on the monthly statistics, stood at 140,500 pre-COVID and has recovered to just 130,200 in July 2022, a decrease of about 10,000 across the period.

“The figures for Newcastle and Lake Macquarie are more encouraging with that workforce now 5,000 larger than it was in February 2020.”

Mr Hawes said even though the region had experienced significant population growth during the pandemic, the regional workforce had shrunk.

“We also need to remember this is set against online job vacancies based on the National Skills Commission Internet Vacancy Index across the entire region sitting at record high of around 6,700 jobs, up 163% since March 2020,” he added.

“Youth unemployment (15 – 24-year-old) in July remained relatively low at 7.9% for the Hunter Valley and 5.2% for Newcastle and Lake Macquarie, with both sub regions experiencing a drop on the previous month.

“This is reflective of the strong take up across the region in funded training and apprenticeship programs, which we understand are close to full to the brim putting stress on parts of the TAFE system.

“There continues to be many things not adding up in the employment market currently.

“It’s likely these will be points of discussion at the Jobs and Skills Summit. 

“Business Hunter recently participated in a round table hosted by Newcastle federal MP Sharon Claydon, organised to discuss inputs for the summit from the region’s viewpoint.

“The issues raised at that forum were mostly common to other parts of the state and nation.

“And, there was general agreement that the Hunter should benefit from positive initiatives that might come out of the Summit provided action is swift.”

Business Hunter asserts policy makers need to bear in mind the region stands out in the nation by virtue of the ambitious growth spotlight it has in several sectors led by the new energy economy.

“The Hunter needs to maintain jobs growth not only for the business-as-usual case but also provide for the growth potential in new and existing sectors, which could be a factor of two times more than what our growth has been historically,” Mr Hawes said.

“To do this effectively, the region will need support and plenty of ideas have been floated such as supercharging training and skills development and investigating regional immigration programs.

“These will hopefully build on state government intentions to also do something about the unaffordability of housing currently which continues to stymy the plans of some businesses to attract staff to the region.

“We’re keen to follow closely the initiatives and potentially policies that emerge from the summit and look forward to working with government to make sure the pressures on business and the community are relieved.”

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