This opinion article by Business Council chief executive Jennifer Westacott was published in the Townsville Bulletin on Saturday 24 August 2019.

AS ONE of the nation’s most important second-tier cities, Australia needs Townsville to thrive and anchor job creation, development and opportunities in the region.

We all know it hasn’t been easy for residents and businesses to get back on their feet after the area was deluged earlier this year.

But Townsville is renowned for its fighting spirit and home to a strong and vibrant community. Rebuilding is well under way. As part of our Strong Australia program to hear directly from regional communities about what they need to get ahead, we travelled to Townsville in late March.

It’s a fantastic place to live but the message was clear: local businesses and workers need a major injection of investment in the region. They need to attract larger job-creating businesses that support jobs and a network of small and family business suppliers.

Young people in Townsville also need real opportunities to find meaningful work.

To achieve this, we should be giving our young people the training they need to land their first job. They then need access to lifelong training so they can build on their skills to keep pace with technological change in our workplaces.

Nowhere is this more important than Townsville, where youth unemployment remains stubbornly too high.

One of the first steps we need to take is to remove the cultural and funding bias against vocational education and training that treats it like a second-class system.

We should establish a single information point for post-secondary education and skills so students have all the information they need at their fingertips about courses, cost and career prospects.

The Business Council plans to collaborate with VET and higher education providers to also identify the barriers that are stopping them from fast-tracking what’s called micro credentialing.

This involves a more modular approach that would also help workers to dip in and out of study and get the skills they need quickly without having to leave the workforce.

And finally, we need to fix some very basic things in our education system. It is a huge national failing that 90 per cent of employers say they are affected in some way by low levels of literacy and numeracy.

We have been talking to employers and we have prepared a guide for teachers, students, employers and workers about the literacy levels and skills they expect and need.

We want young workers to be able to go to a page or a screen, or an app and get real-world examples of what people are looking for. The entire community needs to be equipped with the skills and training to succeed.

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