EnviTE's Meg Nichols said the federal government's decision to scrap the National Green Jobs Corp is a real blow to the area, in terms of the drop in environmental restoration work and loss of employment.
Ms Nichols said the National Green Jobs Corp program began two years ago and in the last 12 months alone participants have done 72,000 hours of work - everything from planting trees to building viewing platforms in parks and reserves.
She said in a recent survey of 60 participants, 60% had obtained full-time, part-time or casual work following the program and 20% had gone on to further education/training.
The current program is due to wind up by June this year and Ms Nichols is now urging people to sign a petition that she hopes will convince the federal government to reverse its decision.
"We need this program... it is important for youth unemployment, Indigenous unemployment and the mental health of our community," Ms Nichols said. "For a lot of people from those backgrounds, the normal classroom learning method hasn't worked for them, but this program provides a practical way to learn skills out in the environment, learning on the job. It offers a non-traditional means of learning and engages young people in a way that other job services can't and allows them to develop employability skills, such as getting to work on time, being reliable, working in a team, learning how to communicate... all of those skills are relevant to employment no matter what job you have.
"Youth unemployment and Indigenous unemployment still rate at unacceptably high levels - youth unemployment is 17.3% across the nation, and for the Northern Rivers area it's even higher - last year it was at 26% - while Indigenous unemployment was 23.4% nationally.
"I'd like to see the petition taken to Canberra and am hoping (Page MP) Janelle Saffin will represent us... I'd like to see it taken not just to the Employment Minister, but the Environment Minister, the Indigenous Minister and the Mental Health Minister."
Ms Saffin told The Echo she would be happy to make representations on EnviTE's behalf.
"Yes, as I really see the value of the program and the direct benefits to the people who have participated," she said. "I like it as a model of skills development for people who are unemployed. I have made representations already, I shall do so again and will present the petition."
Currently National Green Jobs Corp participants are working on a variety of projects locally including weed control in Pritchard Park and Heritage Park, Landcare work at Trinity, treating water weeds in North Lismore's Slaters Creek and construction of a meditative area at the Kyogle cemetery.
Ms Nichols said the program is a win-win because participants gained an accredited qualification in Conservation and Land Management as well as social benefits, while communities get to enjoy the benefits of their environmental work.
She claims the remaining programs such as Work for the Dole and Green Corp do not provide the accredited training and are not affordable for service providers. She says changes coming into effect in July will result in the providers having insufficient funds to pay for supervisor wages and transport costs.
Ms Nichols said in a world where green jobs would be an integral part of any future economy, cutting programs like the National Green Jobs Corp just doesn't make sense.
"I can't understand the decision given the federal government's climate change policies and the Biodiversity Fund and Carbon Farming Initiative - you need a workforce to implement those programs and if you don't train young people you're not going to have that workforce," Ms Nichols said.
People can sign the petition or find out more at www.envite.org.au.
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