Young Aussies urged to ‘have a gap year at home’

By The Weekender Travel

September 21, 2020 | 3 minute read

Images: Tourism Australia
Images: Tourism Australia

What will a gap year look like in 2021? School leavers might have to forget the classics, like volunteering with elephants in Thailand or working two years in a dingy pub in London to scrape together enough pennies to city hop through Europe in a drunken haze. Fortunately, the Australian government is considering a new (and we think much better!) idea for this year’s graduates. 

An interim report into Australia’s Working Holiday Maker program has been released in which the committee recommends the government implement a ‘Have a Gap Year at Home Campaign’ to attract young Australians to work in regional and rural areas of the country. 

The proposed campaign is aimed at teenagers who had been preparing to travel overseas to work and travel before COVID-19 interrupted their plans. Appealing to young Australians’ patriotism and their sense of adventure, a gap year at home would enable them to see the incredible places in their own country and earn some money along the way.

As well as providing a much needed injection into the country’s domestic tourism industry, the campaign would offer support to struggling farmers. 

The number of travellers on Working Holiday Maker visas in Australia has halved since March, dropping to just 73,500. With COVID forcing many backpackers to return to their home countries, farms in regional Australia are desperately in need of workers. The Working Holiday Maker program accounts for the majority - approximately 80 per cent - of the fresh produce industry’s harvest labour workforce and up to 60 per cent of other farms. 

But can this offer of work tempt kids away from our cities? And will young people want to fork out for travel to the far reaches of outback Australia? The report suggests a way around this. It urges the government to offer a one-off payment to help with any travel and accommodation costs incurred. This would be paid after a certain period of time working in regional, rural and remote areas. Plus, the report suggested the government should give consideration to a HECS/HELP loan discount for undertaking this work. Score! 

There are even more benefits to be gained for participants. Working in regional areas would provide them with valuable work experience at a time of high unemployment while their peers struggle to find work. Contributing to communities in need and getting out of their comfort zone will also look impressive on their resume. 

The real win here for kids who take up this opportunity will be experiencing something completely outside their comfort zone. Whether they try their hand at milking cows or picking peaches, they’ll meet fascinating people and get to explore the breathtaking beaches, mountains and deserts that make up Australia.