Australia’s unemployment rate is six per cent, but it’s almost three times as much for under-25s. In 2014, Mission Australia and the Brotherhood of St Laurence warned that young people face becoming the ‘jobless generation’, and The Smith Family is among organisations calling for a national program to bring schools, employers and the community together to help young people into jobs or training when they leave school.
But perhaps the solution lies further back, while young people are still at school. This is the suggestion of Dr Anthony Mann, research director at the Education and Employers Taskforce in the United Kingdom and an international expert in the prevention of youth unemployment.
When Mann was in Australia last year, he said that the more young people are exposed to career contacts, meeting people in their workplaces and accessing job advice and information, the more career paths are suggested to them.
Even during primary school, learning is made more relevant if the career value of subjects such as maths, English and information technology is explored. Young people who get career exposure are 20 per cent less likely to become disengaged from finding work, says Mann.
The Partnership Brokers (PB) program has been one of the most successful Australian initiatives to date for bringing school students and businesses together. It was brought in by the Howard government, but it was due to lose its federal funding at the end of 2014.
The program has helped set up nearly 1500 self-sustaining partnerships between businesses, community agencies and students to support the transition of young people into work.
Stockland Property Group is one of those businesses. PB has provided invaluable leads into the education system that the company previously struggled to forge, says Lauren Cassar, its national community development manager for sustainability.
“We wanted to be involved and invest in education in our local communities,” says Cassar, “but when we approached schools directly, they often weren’t sure or just wanted money.”
Based on the highly successful Work Inspirations model in the UK that has seen more than 500 companies offering inspiring and career-enhancing work experience to young people, Stockland set up forums with businesses, school principals, career advisors and teachers to see how they could work together.
“At first we just listened and learnt from the schools about what was and wasn’t working in terms of work experience for young people,” she says. “On the business side, we were hearing they were getting kids who weren’t job ready. We wanted to see how we could join the dots.”
Working within the national curriculum framework, Stockland was invited to make presentations in schools to showcase careers available in the property, retail and construction industries. Employees outlined their own career paths and explained what they do each day. From there, interested students were taken on site visits to meet people in a range of roles and learn, for example, how a shopping centre operates.
“Often young people don’t realise how broad the opportunities are,” says Cassar. “They could be a customer service person, or work in IT, or be a lawyer, or the CEO. There’s a wide range open to them.”
In the bigger picture, the number of traineeships and apprenticeships is shrinking because employers don’t believe they can offer young people long-term work. The National Centre for Vocational Education Research reported in August 2014 that the number of trade commencements had declined for three consecutive quarters. Non-trade-related apprenticeships and traineeships (in sectors such as business, beauty and health) have fallen from a 10-year high of 71,800 in March 2012 to 28,800 in June 2014.
Nevertheless, young people who participate in any form of vocational education and training achieve better long-term outcomes than those who don’t.
Many vocational education and training courses in schools help to prepare students for the world of work by including work placement and providing a head start towards a career or further study.
Prospects are particularly bleak for students who haven’t completed or are at risk of not completing Year 12. The Youth Connections program that was providing transition to employment and further training to these particularly vulnerable 15-19-year-olds has also had its federal funding cut. Instead, the government has encouraged businesses to tackle youth unemployment themselves.
While many small to medium-sized businesses are retrenching, two of the big guns have teamed up in a nationwide initiative. Woolworths and News Corp launched Generation Success earlier this year to create jobs and enable other employers and young job seekers to find each other. Online resources for employers also include advice on work experience, establishing traineeships and apprenticeships, and tips on making recruitment more youth friendly.
The Brotherhood of St Laurence report states that the shift to a knowledge and service-based economy has left many school leavers ill-equipped to secure their first job. They lack the skills, work experience and qualifications the modern economy requires.
Apart from the obvious social harm to individuals, there are severe implications for an already under-performing Australian economy. The question now is, can Australian business afford not to take responsibility for its young unemployed?
This article is an edited version. The full article was first published in the December 2014/January 2015 issue of HRMonthly magazine as ‘Preventing a jobless generation’. AHRI members receive HRMonthly 11 times per year as part of their membership. Find out more about AHRI membership here.
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