A couple of years ago, at age 26, I moved to Melbourne, like half my friends in Hobart had already done.
It's almost trite now to say that it's a rite of passage for young Tasmanians to relocate to the mainland when they come of age. But it is so for a reason.
To cut a long story mercifully short, things didn't pan out for me in the Garden State the way I'd hoped they would. Within a year I'd returned to Tasmania.
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There's a recurring joke in the ABC comedy series Rosehaven, filmed in Southern Tasmania, that became something of a reality for me.
In the first season, when the protagonist Luke (played by Luke McGregor) comes home to work for his mother's real estate business, he is continually asked one thing by old acquaintances he runs into.
"Couldn't hack it on the mainland?"
I don't need to remind you that COVID-19 has drastically altered the way we go about our lives. However, there's one aspect of the crisis here in Tasmania that appears to have gone under the radar somewhat.
With restrictions on both interstate and international borders, and the uncertainty around how long some of those restrictions could be in place for, we'll see more young people remaining in the state; young people who may have been planning to spend a year in Europe for a gap year, or move to Melbourne or Sydney to begin their tertiary studies.
It's hard to see any of this occurring with the same frequency from now on, even if Australia's borders reopen by January next year, as is the assumption in Treasury's latest budget forecast.
This is, of course, incredibly disappointing for many people. Nevertheless, it's also an opportunity for the state.
In 1977, renowned Australian banker Sir Bede Callaghan published an influential report on industry and employment in Tasmania, at a time when the state was in the economic doldrums.
With restrictions on both interstate and international borders, and the uncertainty around how long some of those restrictions could be in place for, we'll see more young people remaining in the state ... who may have been planning to spend a year in Europe for a gap year, or move to Melbourne or Sydney.
He identified tourism and the tertiary sector as key growth industries for the state. Until COVID-19 hit, Sir Bede's prognostications, made all those years ago, had proved correct, with tourism and the higher education system booming.
Former Tasmanian premier Robin Gray looked on the so-called Callaghan report as a blueprint for the state's future.
Now the Premier's Economic and Social Recovery Advisory Council has the chance to establish a new blueprint, one to guide Tasmania out of its COVID-19 funk.
But what to do when tourism and the University of Tasmania are on their knees as a result of the crisis. Obviously we must ensure that these sectors recover but we need to think laterally and pinpoint avenues for growth, like Sir Bede did so expertly.
The key may very well be the state's youth population.
How do we create opportunities for the young Tasmanians who can't or won't cross the Bass Strait as a result of the pandemic?
Furthermore, how do we at the same time leverage this potentially larger population of young people?
In a promising sign, PESRAC's interim report, released earlier this week, makes a number of recommendations to the state government that directly address the problems facing our youth.
These include: extending the payroll tax rebate schemes for youth employees, apprentices and trainees, with an eye to further incentivising businesses to hire young people, and; expediting plans to improve educational opportunities and provide better pathways to employment in priority areas in the wake of COVID-19.
Perhaps most importantly, though, PESRAC recommends the government implement a "structured" approach to increasing the proportion of young people in the state's workforce.
"A structured approach to workforce renewal and the employment of young people in the State Service will not only support the structural change arising from COVID-19 but assist in shaping the government's workforce of the future," the interim report reads.
It's absolutely crucial that young people aren't left behind in the shock of the pandemic, and so it's encouraging to see PESRAC acknowledge their plight.
Tasmanian youth have had their education, employment and mental wellbeing turned upside down by COVID-19, maybe more so than any other demographic.
From March to May this year, total employment plummeted by 7.4 per cent in the state, but close to one-in-five Tasmanians aged between 15 and 24 lost their jobs.
PESRAC must keep youth issues in its focus, lest it squander an opportunity to establish a solid foundation for the state's future.
If we put the right structures in place to allow young people to thrive in a post-pandemic Tasmania, we may even retain them permanently.
Then the Rosehaven gag will end up ageing like milk.
Our challenge is to give young people the tools to "hack it" on our little island now that everything's changed.
At the risk of sounding like a hopeless optimist, I do sincerely think we're up to the task.
- Rob Inglis is a journalist with Australian Community Media.
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