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The Northern Territory’s peak business organisation has won a major contract to help jobseekers affected by covid get back into work

Highly experienced employment services expert Michelle Burgess was brought in by the Chamber of Commerce to help tender for the Local Jobs Program contract, an Australian Government initiative.

She is supported by Kerry-Lee Daniell in Darwin and Tracey Bainbridge in Alice Springs.

Ms Burgess says the nationwide program is considered a great success in finding jobs for people of all ages displaced by the covid lockdown in regional parts of Australia – getting them off welfare and into paying work.  

The Darwin Employment Region caseload (which includes Alice Springs) was 10,811 on 30 September 2020 and has fallen to 8,665 on 31 May 2021. These figures include jobactive, Online Employment Services, Parents Next and Transition to Work).

The unemployment rate for the Darwin Employment Region has now reached 5.3% in March 2021 (down from 6.3% in March 2020) – a clear sign that the economy is recovering and the unemployed are finding work.

An environmental scan of the online vacancies showed that there was over 2,900 job advertised in May an increase from 1,700 in March Ms Burgess, who has worked in the employment services industry for 35 years, says there is a labour shortage in the Territory.

Conversations with Asset College, Wilson Security, MSS Security and Trident Services Australia have indicated that there are more than 150 security jobs vacant in Darwin and 25 in Alice Springs.

Skilling and upskilling programs are in place to assist jobseekers to move into these roles however attrition rates are high because it can take up to three months to obtain a security clearance, train and be inducted into the industry.

Ms Burgess says many other industries, such as hospitality, are crying out for workers, even though Darwin bar staff are the best paid in the world.

“But it’s not always easy to match jobseekers with jobs.  Many people are available to work and have the right skills, but the hours don’t suit because of family commitments, or they simply don’t have access to transport.

“Our bus service in Darwin stops around 11pm and that’s no good if you’re working in a bar, let alone getting out to Howard Springs for work.”

Ms Burgess says there are many warehouse jobs vacant, particularly at East Arm – but there is no public transport to the workplaces.

The Chamber is talking to private companies, government agencies and industry associations to find out what staff are needed.

They are then liaising with the many employment services agencies in Darwin and Alice Springs to find suitable candidates who were forced onto welfare benefits by the covid pandemic.

Ms Burgess says the Territory economy is recovering quicker than other jurisdictions because the lockdown lasted only six weeks, whereas Melbourne has been shut down for a year.

“We closed our borders very quickly and weren’t as badly affected by covid as elsewhere,” she says.

Ms Burgess is encouraging Territory employers to “grow their workforce locally”.

“Some industries have been heavily reliant on backpackers or bringing in skilled people from overseas,” she says.

“Covid has put a stop to that.

“So I’d ask employers to think about growing locally through traineeships and apprenticeships. There is a chronic shortage of traditional tradies throughout Australia because young people haven’t been given the chance to train in many of the trade related industries.

“Many employers are now doing their best in this field and creating opportunities, but we need more. Growing our own is paramount.”

The Local Jobs Program and the Chamber of Commerce can provide detailed advice on how employers can access help to take on trainees.