Building the resilience of our young people

Ita Buttrose joins the chorus of employers saying our young people aren’t resilient, but are young people being given the opportunity they need to build their resilience in a modern workforce?

Even before the impact of COVID-19, more young Australians had never held a job than ever before. In November 2019, over 100,000 Australians aged 15-24 had never been employed. Add in COVID-19 and many who would otherwise be connected to work are at risk of falling into long-term unemployment (young people made up 45% of the decline in employment in May this year).

It’s hardly fair to criticise without giving them a chance to prove their mettle and take their first steps onto the career ladder. Identification and earlier intervention will help young people exit the JobSeeker payment queue before their unemployment becomes entrenched.

In recent years, state and federal governments have tried a range of programs targeted at helping young people into work with mixed success (like Youth Jobs PaTH, Out for Good and Transition to Work). Learnings from these programs should be used to implement community-focused experiential work programs. For example, the Green Army was a hybrid form of Work for the Dole very popular in local communities. It fostered soft skills like teamwork and communication as well as skills participants needed to develop a long-term career. A new environmentally-focused program would support local groups, bridging the gap between young people needing experience and the community. Local councils, Landcare and Catchment Management Authorities are the obvious choice for partners to deliver such a program.

Local partners often produce the best results because they know their local communities. The existing services of the state’s Jobs Victoria Employment Network and Jobs and Skills Centres should be brought front and centre. These Local Careers Centres would be located within our community hubs and shopping centres, focusing on connecting and delivering services beyond referral to TAFE. Local Careers Centres would deliver targeted support in a welcoming environment, including information on careers prospects, training and education options and assistance with resumes and applications.

There are already many organisations – like Brotherhood of St Laurence – saying and doing great things to try and support young people to develop successful and sustainable careers. Much of the support young people require at the moment is in untangling and understanding the plethora of government-backed programs and opportunities to find a new path. Their tech skills can then pull them through where they need them. Local Careers Centres could also help with organising local jobs fairs, a great model for connecting employers and job seekers face-to-face by providing an environment of guaranteed opportunity.

In transitioning communities (such as Geelong after the closure of the Ford factory), Local Employment Facilitators have led these activities with success in supporting retrenched workers to connect with training, job opportunities and other existing support. They work with a broad spectrum of other organisations and establish communications with employers in their region to improve opportunities for retrenched workers and other job seekers.

Additionally, Victoria will need significant skills development to locally meet our infrastructure commitments and demand in coming years – particularly as government spending ramps up post-COVID-19. Inspired by NSW’s successful Infrastructure Skills Centre model, the Victorian Government could create one-stop-shops for infrastructure jobs and skills training. This model brings together employment services and training providers to craft pathways and provide skills for major projects. It means tailored screening processes to choose the most appropriate candidates for entry-level roles and opportunities for accredited pre-commencement training. Providing a pipeline of workers for local employers and the industry, Infrastructure Skills Centres help young people to develop the skills employers need, particularly for those facing extra barriers to successful employment and include mentoring and one-on-one support,

Finally, with diminishing employment opportunities, it’s time to support young people who are entrepreneurial and want to make a go of it themselves. The New Enterprise Incentive Scheme (NEIS) is Australia’s longest running employment program, helping countless small businesses get started. The Victorian Government could turbo-charge offerings and provide business support to a wider audience. For example, tailored programs targeted to those in hot spot areas, including migrants and refugees and working with the Local Careers Centres to provide short courses and support to start a business.

Supporting our unemployed young people into sustainable careers is one of the best ways we can build resilience for post-recession. Let’s take steps now to help our young people set up their own long-term successes.