How to politicise Aussie youth?

Kevin Rudd’s victory speech highlighted the importance of re-engaging young people in the political process. He referred to the energy and ideas they can contribute.

But with official unemployment figures for young Australians exceeding 15 per cent – not including the under-employed and those who have stopped looking for work – our nation’s youth could be forgiven for feeling sceptical of the invitation.

The recent International Labour Organisation report – ‘Global Employment Trends for Youth 2013: A generation at risk’ – identifies youth unemployment as a global phenomenon. More than 73 million young people are expected to be out of work in 2013. The report warns that the long-term impact of a youth employment crisis could be felt for decades.

Common concerns being expressed by the world’s youth include a belief that education is not preparing them for employment. There is a feeling among young people that governments are not prioritising job creation and that bureaucratic obstacles need to be removed and incentives created to reduce youth unemployment. There are concerns that young people have great ideas but no access to capital.

These concerns ring true for Australia.

Mission Australia’s Youth Survey last year suggested that the economy and financial matters were of significant importance to young people.

Schools Business Community Partnership Broker Program understand that school must prepare young people for the transition to further education or work.  The program provides the link between schools and employers.

Some in the program believe that the government is getting it wrong because schools need regular interaction with industry so that young people are developing the right employability skills. On top of that there is nothing happening with young people between the school exit point and the point at which they’re entitled to unemployment benefits in their own right at 22 years of age.

A large number of young people are not entitled to Centrelink benefits and they’re not entitled to job service provider assistance (they’re entitled to actually go there and access the resources, but they’re not entitled to the assistance) when their parents earn over a prescribed amount.

When high school students graduate, those who don’t go on to university or further study often end up working in low-paid, part-time jobs, often retail. By the age of 18 or 19 these jobs often peter out because the wages become too high and uncompetitive for employers.

That’s the nature of business: people in business who are struggling to stay afloat themselves can’t keep them on paying that level of wage.

So the development of a young person’s skills base is also restricted.

In other cases, many young people don’t work at all until they are about 22, an age when they are no longer restrained by parental income and become entitled to Centrelink benefits.

The outcome is demoralising: a source within a Schools Business Community Partnership Broker Program says, “When you look at youth suicide rates, you put yourself in their shoes, we see high suicide rates in adults who think they’ve failed at something. You give that to a young person with no life skills and of course it’s part of the impact on this issue. Quite often it’s because the system is set up in such a way that they fracture from their families because that’s the way around the system”.

The system is failing our young people because the government is yet to grasp the difference between careers advice and careers counselling. Careers advice is about what subjects to take in school to get a young person to where they think they might want to be but proper careers counselling is about identifying personal traits, strengths and weaknesses and building a young person’s education upon them. Careers counselling is about life development, developing a young person along with their education. Moving teachers into the role of careers advisers falls short of providing students with assistance from appropriately qualified career development professionals.

Gonski funding is unlikely to resolve this issue unless conditions are attached to school funding that makes it a requirement for schools to access the services of qualified career development professionals to implement programs which bring teachers, businesses and parents together.

Apprentices fare little better.

A final report from the Government’s expert panel ‘A shared responsibility – Apprenticeships for the 21st Century’ found that the Australian Government spends $1.2 billion per annum to support Australian apprenticeships but that current investments aren’t being targeted as effectively as possible. It also noted that completion rates for Australian apprenticeships are unacceptably low because of workplace or employer issues, lack of support, low wages and not liking the work; that employers investing in skills development through apprenticeships and traineeships require more government support, and that we have no National Custodian to provide advice, maintain a national framework and overcome difficulties in system mobility.

In other countries young people are being offered unsecured business start-up loans, mentoring and access to networks and resources.

In Australia, on the other hand, an increasing number of aspiring young entrepreneurs are being forced to look overseas for financial backing because of Australia’s reluctance to invest in start-up businesses.

Australia’s young people need to be developed. With the right support and guidance they are a tremendous asset with a productive capacity that the country will desperately need as the population ages. Current policies may be well intentioned but in practise they leave young people in a limbo where they suffer personally and risk becoming a social and financial liability.

They deserve better.

If our Prime Minister Elect is serious about re-engaging them he will have to focus on the introduction of new policies and the more effective implementation of existing policies to address the needs of the young people he is calling upon.


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