Teenagers desperate to spread their wings post-lockdown may be the answer to Australia's embattled farming and hospitality industries, says celebrity chef and fourth-generation farmer Matt Moran.
Rural businesses are struggling to harvest crops or serve customers in a post-pandemic world because they simply don't have the staff, he says.
Many of Moran's own employees - including one who had worked for him for a decade - had to return to their home countries when COVID hit because their visas didn't entitle them to JobKeeper.
"When a farmer works so bloody hard to grow something, to nurture something and then watch it be spoilt on the ground - it's actually devastating," Moran told AAP from his NSW Central Tablelands farm.
"And we are incredibly short staffed across the board in virtually every one of my (restaurant) businesses, being dictated to as to when we can open and when we can't because we just don't have enough staff."
Meanwhile, Aussie teens have had to adapt to a restricted, home-centric lifestyle over the past 18 months, missing out on traditional rites of passage like finals and formals, footy and festivals.
As the restrictions lift, the borders reopen and life begins to return to normal, it is hardly surprising many young Aussies are looking to reclaim some of their yet-to-be-misspent-youth.
"The worst part is that I didn't really get to finish year 12 properly, I was home for most of it," said 18-year-old Vanessa Raptis from Bardwell Park in Sydney's south.
"I'm never going to get that time back."
Keen to get out of town after the interminable lockdowns, Vanessa jumped at the chance to take part in a GAP (Go-And-Pour or Go-And-Pick) year scheme where she will be offered free training and a job placement in rural or regional Australia.
The initiative, run by Thankful4Farmers and Training Services NSW, is designed to match young Aussies looking for adventure with jobs as fruit or vegetable pickers, or in hospitality or retail - helping to salvage those struggling industries.
"The experience of being out picking fruit and pouring for people that I wouldn't otherwise see in everyday life is really exciting to me," said Vanessa, who hopes to work while studying radiography at university.
"You don't have to pay for these skills which can be quite expensive to gain and you're also getting really amazing opportunities and meeting new people."
Vanessa is passionate about social justice and sees this as an opportunity to 'do her bit'.
"For me, this is all about giving back to Australia where it's most needed," she said.
Moran attributes his own work ethic and appreciation for food to his experiences growing up on a dairy farm.
"You appreciate food more. You learn how hard farmers work and it gave me a very good work ethic," the Thankful4Farmers ambassador said.
"They get the experience and they get to help the farmers in a massive way."
Australian Associated Press
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