When University of Southern Queensland sociologist Associate Professor Andrew Hickey first pitched the idea of undertaking a major survey of young people in the Toowoomba region to the local Council, he could never have known the importance of the work come 2020.
“The disruption that Covid-19 represents, socially and economically, means we’re in very interesting times, so to have this coordinated approach to the support of young people is more important than ever and absolutely crucial,” he said.
The coordinated approach began in 2016 when Associate Professor Hickey and then USQ PhD candidate, now graduand, Dr Tanya Pauli-Myler, collaborated with Toowoomba Regional Council’s (TRC) Community Development Branch to undertake the ‘Engaged and Active: The Toowoomba Regional Council Youth Study’.
“The main finding from the original research piece was that young people in Toowoomba are remarkably resilient and have sophisticated understandings on how the world works and clear aspirations for their futures,” Associate Professor Hickey said.
The three-year research project, that also included data gathered from youth service delivery organisations, delivered the platform for a new policy that would lead to the drafting of the Toowoomba Regional Council Youth Strategy 2019-2021.
The Strategy was endorsed by the Council in November 2019 – just months prior to the first case of Covid-19 in Australia, and has proved to be ahead of its time – and just in time – to assist young local people connect with local opportunities in the midst of a global pandemic.
TRC Community Development Team Leader, Rebecca Schroder, said the blueprint clearly set out the role Council could and should play in support of the younger generation.
“Young people are often overlooked because they’re not able to vote and they’re not actively participating in a lot of Council driven processes and programs,” Ms Schroder said.
“Now, through active groups like Youth Leaders and the Regional Youth Advisory Committee, we have direct pathways to other areas of Council to see the importance of young people’s voices for shaping our future, and ensuring we’ve got initiatives and programs going forward that meet the needs of young people.”
TRC Deputy Mayor Geoff McDonald described the development of the Youth Strategy as a ‘milestone moment’, not just for Council but also the whole community.
“It’s demonstrated for the youth that there are so many opportunities right across our region to get involved and to look forward to a bright future – and the connection with USQ was a key component to that,” Cr McDonald said.
Associate Professor Hickey said the collaboration offered a great model for how universities and local government could work together.
“Building a policy document based on a research informed agenda makes for meaningful impact, and I’m excited to see the effect this strategy will have in our region over the coming months and years,” he said.