Ararat's employment rates have fared well during the pandemic but the region faces an ongoing battle to ensure this remains the case.
The National Skills Commission produces quarterly regional estimates of unemployment, including the unemployment rate by Local Government Area.
The release of the September 2020 quarter was due in January 2021 but is yet to be released.
However, the commission's estimated Ararat Rural City Council's unemployment rate for the June 2020 quarter was just 4.19 per cent.
Ararat Rural City Council chief executive Dr Tim Harrison said the figures were very encouraging.
"The data represents the first full quarter of the COVID-19 health crisis where lockdowns and restrictions were imposed across the State," he said.
"This compares favourably to an unemployment rate of 5.2 per cent in December 2019, and is extremely promising news as it shows Ararat's economy has been extremely robust with the unemployment rate falling despite the pandemic."
But Ararat has not been immune from employment struggles during COVID-19.
Sureway Employment and Training Area Manager Adrian Koop said Sureway Ararat has experienced a dramatic increase in clients during the pandemic.
"Our caseload of people looking for work in Ararat has more than doubled in the past year," he said.
Mr Koop said COVID-19 has created many new challenges for the unemployed.
"One of the major challenges for our job seekers has been not knowing what is ahead for them," he said.
"For many, this is their first time being unemployed and receiving Government financial assistance.
"Trying to understand and navigate the system, coupled with looking for the right areas to upskill for the current and future workforce can create a lot of anxiety."
Mr Koop said Sureway Ararat has made significant changes to adapt to the ever-changing conditions, including an added focus on its clients' mental health.
"We have been able to offer a combination of phone, digital or in-person assistance, depending on the individual and their needs," he said.
"We have also really focused on training offers to help people that may need to change industries, as well as guidance for those experiencing mental health problems as a result of the Pandemic.
"A major focus for us is to reassure Ararat community members that they are not alone in what they are going through.
"We are here to support them and connect them with services that are right for their circumstances."
Sureway Ararat's experiences during the pandemic therefore seem to contradict the employment figures provided by the National Skills Commission.
But Dr Tim Harrison said a potential explanation for this is that some of those seeking work in Ararat do not reside in Ararat.
"I think there might be an increase in the number of people looking for work who don't live here at the moment," he said.
"We are seeing strong enthusiasm from people seeking to move to the region.
"Since its launch in December 2020, the Ararat jobs portal at www.grampianslife.com.au has received 166 enquires from people who want to come to Ararat to live and work."
Dr Harrison also noted council had aimed to be proactive in creating employment opportunities throughout the pandemic.
"Council moved quickly to roll out an unprecedented capital works program to get the economy moving, supporting local contractors, suppliers and jobs," he said.
"In addition, funding from the Australian and Victorian governments further assisted Council to bring forward capital investment and employ people through the Working for Victoria initiative."
Similar to employment rates, the figures collected through the Ararat Rural City Council Occupancy Survey showed central business district occupancy rates in January 2021 to be higher than those a year earlier.
Yet some parties have suggested the recent "circuit-breaker" lockdown Victoria entered on Friday, January 12 may have since worsened the economic situation.
State member for Ripon and shadow treasurer Louise Staley has suggested these circumstances may have worsened for some small businesses since Victoria entered a five-day "circuit-breaker" lockdown on Friday, January 12.
"We've seen the biggest weekend of the year for florists, Valentine's Day, ruined by this lockdown," she said.
"Restaurants normally full with bookings for Lunar New Year also bore the brunt of this swift lockdown."
Any changes to Ararat's occupancy rates will be seen in the June 2021 survey.
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