Australia faces youth unemployment crisis in the wake of COVID-19. But this program is helping

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Australia is facing a long-term youth unemployment crisis in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, with experts warning if a young person isn’t in meaningful employment by the age of 22, they’re much more likely to face a future of welfare dependency.

Non-profit organisation SYC said that with young people bearing the brunt of pandemic job losses, the youth unemployment rate was likely to take longer to rebound than general unemployment.

It is promoting programs like its “sticking together” project as a way of engaging young people and keeping them in jobs.

One of the participants is Tarrenga Roberts, who is studying a maritime and aviation course at TAFE SA.

She said she lacked motivation before getting involved.

“It was pretty difficult looking for work, just because I really didn’t have much support,” she said.

“I was very confused and lost. I did not know what I wanted to do. I wasn’t bothered to do anything, I was lazy, and I wouldn’t listen.”

Finding motivation and focus

Ms Roberts said that has changed with the help of youth coach Jenna McIntyre.

For more than a year, the pair have been meeting regularly to discuss Ms Roberts’ goals, and help her overcome any hurdles she encounters along the way.

“Jenna, she’s helped me a lot, she’s helped me keep motivated and just stay on track and just focus,” she said.

“It helped me look for work and find a course I wanted to study.”

Ms McIntyre said the program took a one-on-one, long-term approach to helping young people find and stay in work.

“Whether it’s employment support, we’re utilising tools to increase their self-awareness, setting goals in order to achieve their goals and just supporting them along the way.”

Following a passion

In Ms Roberts’ case, it was about using her interests to find a career path.

“At the beginning, she identified what she wanted to do,” Ms McIntyre said.

“She had a passion for working around water. She’s now doing a maritime course so we set goals, we approach companies so that she can get to the job that she wants to do.”

From being unemployed and lacking motivation, Ms Roberts now has a career path and lofty aspirations.

“I like the water, I enjoy being out on the water on a boat, it makes me feel happy,” she said.

“I want to become a skipper, a captain on a boat, maybe a navy boat.”

SYC chief executive Paul Edginton said the program had been a success, with the young people involved twice as likely to find jobs.

Coronavirus dents prospects

He said employment programs targeting young people were more important than ever, with the coronavirus pandemic putting more at risk of long-term unemployment.

“They’re disadvantaged because they’re young and now they face competition of experienced adults who’ve lost their jobs in other sectors,” he said.

“Young people who don’t get into the workforce within two years lose confidence. They also start losing skills, they start falling behind and their lifetime income is affected.”

Mr Edginton argued government stimulus packages had little impact on the youth unemployment rate after the global financial crisis (GFC), and were unlikely to work this time around.

“In the GFC, teenage and youth unemployment spiked in 2008 and 2009 and general unemployment did too,” he said.

“But general unemployment trended back down through to 2019, youth and teenage unemployment stayed where it was at GFC level and remained there.”

Mr Edginton said one solution would be for targets be built into government contracts on the recruitment of young people.

However, he called for a bolder approach, that integrated paid work and study.

“In Australia, we don’t have a great culture of thinking about youth aspiration. We have a kind of Australian approach of kick them in the bum and get them working,” he said.

“What is our aspiration in Australia to advantage our young people and therefore advantage our economy and advantage our country?”

Industry has a part to play

Clive Allwright is a hairdresser and the founder of a company that helps salons find staff.

He believes his industry has a role to play in engaging young people in work.

“Our industry, like many industries, are struggling to find young adults to take on a trade,” he said.

“It’s a changing world, and we need to work with fresh, new eyes at an age-old problem. The younger people out there are amazing.”

Mr Allwright has helped people find work through SYC’s “sticking together” program and said more businesses should consider new ways to engage young people.

“They turn up and they’re obviously quite nervous, like most people,” he said.

“By the end of the course, they’re just beaming with confidence and enthusiasm and it’s really motivating and it’s an amazing journey to watch.”

By Leah MacLennan (Original ABC Article)

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