Are we adequately building the resilience of young Australians as they transition from school to work?

| July 31, 2014

Young Australians experience disadvantage in the labour market for a number of reasons. Alexandra Loftus says we need to connect young people to the working world as early as possible to expose them to the realities of the job market.

Jess is a bright 17-year-old from a disadvantaged background. She often has to stay at home from school to look after her disabled mother and has little time to study. As her school graduation approaches, she worries about future work opportunities; she doesn’t feel she has the marks for future study and doesn’t know what other career paths are available to her other than unskilled labour.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reports that Australia is a top performing country in reading, math and science. However, youth from low socioeconomic backgrounds are disadvantaged, have lower high-school completion rates and are three times less likely to go to university.

Research group The Melbourne Institute recently found that the main reason for the above trends was because these young people had lower aspirations. Young people often are deemed lazy and without ambition. But if they are not exposed to opportunity, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, can we really expect a different outcome?

According to the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, 16% of Australians aged between 15 and 24 are not in full or part time work or study. These figures are alarming with some deeming the issue as a “generational-crisis”.

So we must ask, where are we going wrong?

The International Labour Office has reported why young people experience disadvantage in the labour market. They lack work experience, they lack knowledge about how to navigate the complexity of career options and finally they have fewer contacts to help them navigate towards work.

To make things harder for young Australians, the Government’s 2014 budget has savagely cut funding for many programs that assist young people to gain employment. One such initiative under attack is Youth Connections, a program that offers alternative training, as well as counselling, for kids who can’t go to mainstream schools. It also offers alternate year 10 and 11 classes, trade start pathways and employment and training programs.

Youth Connections CEO Maggie MacFie said there are no other options for these kids once this program is cut. She said more than 93 partnerships were created in three years between 53 businesses, students from 27 schools and training organisations and 80 community organisations. On average it costs about $2,500 for a person to be assisted on Youth Connections, and that is a lot less than the annual cost of an unemployment allowance (approximately $20,000).

Globalisation, a shifting labour market and technological advances means that young people more than ever require new skills, an openness to learning in an untraditional format and flexibility if they are going to excel and succeed.

Knowing this, we need to connect young people like Jess to the working world as early as possible to expose them to the realities of the job market. One such program that is having success is the Foundation for Young Australian’s Worlds of Work (WoW) program – a national initiative that “builds the skills and beliefs young people need to make successful transitions into life beyond school.”

The program provides groups of year 9, 10 and 11 students from low socioeconomic backgrounds with the opportunity to have facilitated conversations with employees from a range of leading workplaces around Australia. This initiative helps young people build on their communication and networking skills, provides them with and understanding of career pathways, while opening their eyes to the various types of jobs that are now available.

This program isn’t just rhetoric, it has clear results. From 2007-2013 the program inspired more than 4,800 15 to 17 year-olds to create better future pathways. The program partnered with more than 50 leading Australian workplaces and engaged over 2,000 workplace volunteers in conversations with young people about work, life and success. Through the WoW program, Foundation for Young Australians also teamed up with more than 300 secondary school teachers to strengthen teacher-student relations and explore more inspiring ways of operating within the classroom.

While WoW is innovative and successful initiative that helps young people from disadvantaged backgrounds make the bridge from school to work easier, more needs to be done in this sector to ensure young people like Jess can feel confident and supported when establishing her journey after school.

Breaking down the silos that prevent the education and employment sectors from forming a seamless journey could drastically help with reducing youth unemployment. We must continue to look for ways to continue to improve young people’s foundation skills for lifelong learning, while providing learning environments that are attractive and relevant to specific communities.

Alexandra Loftus

Alexandra Loftus is a sociology student at Charles Sturt University.