Tourism industry urged to put youth to work

Bias toward backpackers with a second language may be part of the reason Cairns’ youth unemployment is nearing 30 per cent despite a tourism boom that has seen visitor numbers jump.

The industry concedes that tourism operators are hiring backpackers who can communicate with visitors in their own language, but also said locals still don’t believe tourism offers a proper career and there needs to be shift in thinking.

Tourism bosses are trying to change opinion because it forecasts it will need to 20,000 to 30,000 new workers over the next few years to deal with the tourism boom.

The youth unemployment problem has become so severe that Treasurer and Far North Queensland MP Curtis Pitt told local operators “to hire local youths and wear it as a badge of honour’’.

More than 6000 jobs in the accommodation and food sector in Cairns have been lost since 2010 and Mr Pitt said employers had learned how to deal with the difficulty of a high Australian dollar and natural disasters that have turned visitors away.

“But surging optimism in the sector is turning that around and will hopefully give employers the confidence needed to hire new employees,” Mr Pitt said

Queensland Tourism Industry Council chief executive Daniel Gschwind said there may be a small bias towards backpackers but “locals still don’t see tourism as a career’’.

“It’s seen as too seasonal or transitory,’’ Mr Gschwind said.

The Swiss-born tourism leader speaks four languages and he said it would be a benefit to young people if they had a second language.

Cairns-based economist Pete Faulkner said while the backpacker bias may be part of the problem he thinks the ABS data may be flawed and the spike in youth unemployment occurred at the same time as a change in processes.

Indigenous cultural park Tjapukai said it saw strength in having locals working for them.

“From a business perspective we see lower staff turnover, more consistent standards and benefits to the local economy,’’ chief executive Greg Erwin said.

“Even if the training requirements are higher in the initial stages we find that we retain staff for longer.’’

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