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No 'one size fits all' solutions to youth unemployment



In an election focused on 'jobs and growth' both major parties have addressed youth unemployment. But the proposals of neither party will meet adequately the needs of the most severely disadvantaged young jobseekers. They ignore the human reality.

Map of Sydney shows areas of disadvantageYouth unemployment is now at its highest peak since the late 1990s. The average number of young people unemployed across the country at any given time is 282,000, and over 15 per cent of people aged 15 to 24 are looking for full time work.

In its May Budget the Coalition introduced the Youth Jobs PaTH (Prepare, Trial, Hire) initiative. It aims to assist up to 120,000 young jobseekers (aged 25 and below) in skills training and will support them in voluntary internships of up to 12 weeks. Job seekers will receive a modest payment in addition to existing Centrelink benefits. Employers will receive incentives of up to $10,000 to employ eligible jobseekers after the internship.

Within days of its announcement welfare sector representatives criticised the program. and employment law experts also claimed that the proposed program would breach current minimum wage standards and might allow interns to sue for recovery of unpaid wages.

Opposition leader Bill Shorten has promised to introduce an apprenticeship quota in the party's priority infrastructure projects. He says that this policy would create 2600 apprenticeship places in the short-term and tens of thousands over coming years.

He has also promised an initiative which will allow 20,000 young people to access six weeks of training followed by six weeks of work at award wages. The government would pay participants' wages, a significantly higher sum than Youth Allowance or Newstart payments.

The initiatives promised by both parties recognise that hands-on opportunities that teach both the basic skills needed to maintain a job and also the ability to follow directions, work as part of a team and adhere to a routine are the best way to help young people move into work. They may serve well many young people.

But in one respect the schemes of both major parties are fatally flawed. Both offer 'one size fits all' approaches to addressing youth unemployment. This ignores the huge difference in experiences — and employability — between a young person who has completed high school and lives at home in a supportive environment, and a young person who is not fortunate enough to have either of those things and has experienced multiple and complex hardship during their lives.


"After being unemployed for 18 months, Patrick developed deep social anxiety that meant even picking up the phone to call a potential employer seemed overwhelming."


For those at risk of homelessness, those experiencing mental illness or substance abuse problems, or those who have had contact with the criminal justice system, the initiatives of both parties simply won't be effective.

Patrick (not his real name), a former participant of one of Jesuit Social Services' programs, recalls that after being unemployed for approximately 18 months, he developed deep social anxiety that meant even picking up the phone to call a potential employer seemed overwhelming.

For young people like Patrick, part of the five per cent of the Australian population who experience multiple and complex disadvantage, the pathway to employment is challenging. It would involve having someone spend time with Patrick to help him be prepared (mentally and emotionally) for work, and then making available significant resources to support him on every step along the journey.

The importance of providing young people like Patrick with both education and employment pathways cannot be underestimated. Without the right investment and support they are more likely to cycle in and out of homelessness services, mental health services and prison systems. This small but significant group of young people needs individualised and holistic approaches in order to take the important first steps towards work.

Labor's Youth Jobs Connect scheme, which will help 3000 young people under 24 who are disengaged from education and employment, begins to recognise the challenge. It will be piloted in 15 locations where youth unemployment is higher than the national average.

The local character of the program recognises the findings of the Dropping Off the Edge 2015 report: that a small number of communities is dealing with entrenched social disadvantage, where issues like family violence, criminal convictions, child maltreatment, low levels of literacy and numeracy and low family income are more prevalent than in other communities. Such locally targeted programs are also needed to deal with long-term unemployment.

Disadvantage is not limited to these communities, of course. Young people all over the country — in metropolitan, regional and rural areas — are at risk of slipping through the cracks of society unless more targeted investments assist them into work.

Initiatives taken by community organisations suggest a way forward. Jesuit Social Services, Social Ventures Australia, Brotherhood of St Laurence and Mission Australia for example, have a trial program that works with major employers like Coles to ascertain the needs of disadvantaged jobseekers, and then to train and place them. This training starts with the essential skills and attributes required to work — such as employer expectations, personal hygiene and understanding routines — through to hospitality, customer service skills and first aid. Thus, as any effective program must, it works with each individual to address their barriers to employment, and so results in genuine change.

Genuine change on a larger scale will only be possible when our next government understands that a 'one size fits all' approach will not work with our most disadvantaged young people and commits itself to targeted investments to help them reach their full potential.


Julie EdwardsJulie Edwards is the CEO of Jesuit Social Services which, with Catholic Social Services Australia, released the Dropping Off the Edge 2015 report.

Topic tags: Julie Edwards, youth unemployment



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Existing comments

We need more "jobs" without more "growth". Australia's population has surged in recent decades and we are in overshoot of jobs, and what our economy can produce. Why are we still inviting up to 200,000 migrants, mainly to fill "skills" when we are overloaded by unemployment?

VivKay | 23 June 2016  

Abolish compulsory wage rates for youth, and the disparity between youth unemployment and whatever the general rate of unemployment is will disappear. Similarly for people with other disadvantages. The market will pay them at their level of productivity. It has every economic incentive to do so.That's pretty much standard economic theory. Sure, we should do all we can to increase the productivity of youth and other relatively disableds. But if their market wage is not enough to sustain them, then the community should rally round to supply the deficit. Why should it fall to the employers only - those who are the only ones in the community actually giving them real experience of employment - to supply the gap, as the compulsory wage level implies? All the "minimum wage" mentality means is that the lowest rungs of the employment ladder become illegal. Crazy, and tragic.

HH | 23 June 2016  

An excellent article. Having worked for a number of years with the long term unemployed of all ages in areas such as Mt Druitt, NSW, an area with many people suffering all sorts of disadvantages, I can affirm that the 'one size fits all' approach, crafted by bureaucrats in Canberra in circumstances very reminiscent of 'Yes Minister', does not work. I think the approaches to education and training we use in the Anglophone world are both outdated and inadequate. A much better model would be that of Germany where they are both far more thorough and far less centralised than us. There they have real apprenticeships in all sorts of fields, some we would never think of. They also see their national industries as being valuable social assets and providers of employment and training, which should neither be destroyed nor exported to low wage countries in the interests of 'rational economics'. They also have a cooperative approach to industrial relations which seems to work and something we could well emulate. What we badly need in Australian politics from all parties is some real insight which leads to real solutions targeted at specific needs, not the 'blunderbuss approach'. Time is running out. We do not want to be discussing this same, unresolved problem in another 20 years time.

Edward Fido | 24 June 2016  

It's especially cruel for young people growing into adulthood to be faced with complex problems. When the support of a stable family life is missing, competing in a crowded job market would be very daunting and disheartening. This is a time of life when love and support are greatly needed and it is a marker of good and compassionate government to care for our young, disadvantaged citizens. They are our future and treasure.

Pam | 26 June 2016  

I totally agree with Julie's analysis. HH your solution will take us back to the bad old times that Charles Dickens wrote about so well. Do we really want the society of the 18th Century for our young people? The scandals over underpayment and exploitation of young people and immigrants by so called franchises continue to multiply yet nothing is being done. The so called "Market" is a absolute joke and does not work ! The myth of "Jobs and Growth" peddled about by the Turnbull mob totally ignores the reality facing this fragile country and the planet. Endless 'growth' is impossible without horrendous environmental degradation .The total ignorance about Climate Change and its impacts on the world's biodiversity by both sides in the election campaign deeply concerns me. Scientists continue to warn us to no avail-the vested interest response? gut the CSIRO ( shoot the messengers) . Meanwhile the "canary in the coal mine" ie; the Great Barrier Reef is warning us, but we continue to ignore reality at our peril. When are we going to wake up? I hope before it's too late.

Gavin | 27 June 2016  

Julie, I guess you didn't aim to stir up such a discordant response. Nevertheless from the perspective of Alice Springs you have raised a critical issue. In this town there are many youth who come from the multiple disadvantage who lack both academic skills and social skills but where there are a declining number of apprenticeships and a floundering labour market. Wonderful programs, such as the St Joseph's Flexi Centre [an Edmund Rice Education initiative] seek to provide an education for teenagers that prepares them for the future. Three Indigenous students in the program work three hours a week cleaning the OLSH Catholic Church in an effort to instil a work ethic, pride in outcomes and a small independent income for the students. The students have faithfully presented every week that the Flexi operates. But the question remains, as you suggest, about what sort of future there is unless very significant adjustments to the labour market are achieved in Central Australia.

Mike Bowden | 27 June 2016  

So pleased to hear someone name "mental illness"' instead of using the euphemistic and trivialising terms "mental health issues". It would be even better if we could get rid of the descriptor, "mental". Most the illnesses in question have just as much a physical base as has type 1 diabetes, but they affect a different part of the body. The young people affected suffer great torment or pain. The illnesses are extremely debilitating and are life-threatening, but the young people receive very little sympathy and are often demonised.

Sheelah | 27 June 2016  

I'd like to thank both Julie and Eureka Street for this excellent and extremely timely article. One size solutions certainly won't work and I agree with Edward Fido that, "What we badly need in Australian politics from all parties is some real insight which leads to real solutions targeted at specific needs." The German examples also sound very good. Solutions will involve more Government spending but if we wait for the 'market' to fix the problem I'm certain that nothing much will change. Our unemployed young people deserve all the assistance we as a society can provide. If this means that those of us with meaningful, properly paid work need to pay more tax then I have no hesitation to do so.

Robert Van Zetten | 27 June 2016  

Gavin, 1. If minimum wages don't cause unemployment, why not raise the rate to $1000 or more an hour? 2. While Dickens was penning his novels, the standard of living of the English worker was rising at a rate unprecedented in history. So much so that pessimist prophets such as Marx and Engels were forced to fudge the stats. The rise had nothing to do with minimum wages, but everything to do with enterprise and innovation. Many capitalist regimes witnessed the same unprecedented growth of living standards for the poor - The U.S., Sweden after 1860s, Hong Kong from 1950.

HH | 28 June 2016  

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