Small city calling for big change

Local business leaders are uniting to call for urgent cultural change to inspire Broken Hill’s disengaged youth and reinvigorate the employment market, with one even taking matters into her own hands.

“Post lockdowns, we’ve created a culture of isolation, so community leaders need to look at the way they create the culture, and they need to incentivise employment, rather than the opposite,” said local businesswoman Paula Doran, creator of the Rockt employment app that aims to match jobseekers with local employment opportunities.

Matt Spresser, owner of Bells Milk Bar, said he was forced to close one day this week due to a staff shortage and he’s seen other local businesses do the same. He said he’s had jobseekers show up for an interview wearing pyjamas – just to “tick a box”.

“Businesses across town seem to be having the same issues,” he said.

“I’ve had people turn up for an interview in their pyjamas, so you know right away they’re not serious about getting a job, but they need to tick a box.

“I’m not sure exactly what’s going on for young people these days, but I think it’s a bigger picture cultural problem and not so much generational.”

You don’t have to spend much time on Broken Hill social media pages to discover that our small city has a big problem with generational trauma, mental health issues, bored youth, crime, domestic violence, and substance addiction.

Sadly, these are problems faced daily by communities across Australia. Both Mr Spresser and Ms Doran agree that State and Federal leaders need to step in if community leaders can’t change the current community culture.

Sharon Hocking who was instrumental in running the Broken Hill Chamber of Commerce until it closed in 2019, said training opportunities for young people need to be expanded.

“I remember being horrified in the early 1990s when they closed the mines and TAFE closed the workshops,” she said.

“On the job training is essential but I wish we had the vision to stop local TAFE from closing, as it took away the city’s ability to train apprentices in mining trades, mechanical, electrical, fitters and so on.

“We should have blocked the move. We should have brought other industries, factories, even car building to Broken Hill to keep our youth here, engaged, employed, and out of trouble.”

Ms Doran said filling the future workforce needs of Broken Hill would be a significant challenge in the future if a solution wasn’t found, urging politicians and community leaders to take the lead and work together.

“It’s already very difficult for our businesses to fill jobs, I would suggest that will get worse unless something is done very quickly,” she said.

“And it starts at grass roots level.  When I was young work experience was a normal and exciting part of our schooling.  That’s not necessarily the case now.

“There are hardly any work experience opportunities available for students anymore because of insurance concerns. The schools need to have really actively engaged career counsellors but because they’re also short staffed there are gaps, and the flow on effect is significant.”

In search for solutions to staffing issues for his iconic business, Mr Spresser said he’s willing to give anything – and anyone – a go.

“I employ people of all ages, so if staff bring a great attitude and help to create a positive work environment that makes Bells a fun experience for customers, I’m happy to give them a go,” he said.

“I’m keen to help find local solutions for local problems and Paula’s Rockt app seems like a great tool for businesses to source local staff by reaching out directly.

“We’ll have to start reducing the days Bells is open if we don’t find solutions because I’ll burn out the dedicated staff I do have – they’ll break – but then tourists get angry when they rock up for a milk shake and we’re closed.”

We’d like to continue this community conversation in the Barrier Truth, so we’ll be inviting organisations and a range of community leaders to contribute during the coming weeks.

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