Young people will ‘carry the burden’ of coronavirus into the future. How are they coping?

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Raigama Wijeratne’s first year in Australia hasn’t exactly gone to plan.

After moving to Tasmania to start his law degree in February, the 21-year-old quickly found a job and made friends.

But within weeks, the coronavirus pandemic made learning and socialising difficult.

“As soon as we moved to online classes, the only friends I had were the ones I made in the initial few weeks and I lost touch with all the friends of my tutorial groups and such,” he said.

The pandemic also had a huge financial impact on Mr Wijeratne.

The restaurant that Mr Wijeratne was working at closed down because of restrictions, and without that income, he had to rely on financial assistance from his parents in Sri Lanka.

He moved out of student accommodation because a share house was more affordable and because of concerns about the potential for an outbreak at the university accommodation.

“It’s been a huge strain on me because usually I would have my parents and my loved ones supporting me when I was back home,” he said.

“But here it’s a totally different situation and I have to do all of this stuff alone.”

Mr Wijeratne has now found part-time food delivery work and a cleaning job, but he’s just one of the young people whose lives have been disrupted by the pandemic.

Job losses, disrupted study, cancelled gap years and not being able to afford rent are just some of the impacts being felt by young people in Tasmania.

Young people to ‘carry future burden’ of COVID-19

Tania Hunt from the Youth Network of Tasmania (YNOT) said young people had been disproportionately affected by COVID-19.

“Almost one in five young people between the ages of 15 and 24 lost their job in the height of the pandemic, and we know that underemployment is also a significant concern for many young people,” she said.

“And young people are aware that there will be a significant economic impact for them — they understand that they will carry the burden of the financial response to COVID-19 into the future.”

Tasmania has historically seen some of the highest levels of youth unemployment in the country.

Labour force data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show the state’s youth unemployment rate rose 0.7 per cent in August, to 14.3 per cent.

Employment of 15-24-year-olds in August was 7.4 per cent lower than in March, when the pandemic began.

The most recent payroll jobs data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics showed all age groups in Tasmania, except teenagers, had experienced net declines in jobs since March 14.

Apart from a small number of people over 70, Tasmanians in their 20s and 60s had the biggest decline in jobs.

Workforce demographer Lisa Denny, who is an adjunct associate professor with the University of Tasmania, said young people had already been experiencing underemployment and insecure work before the pandemic.

“And that’s just been exacerbated further by COVID,” she said.

“What we’ve seen in many young Tasmanians lose their jobs and many of them have not been able to access JobKeeper, because they haven’t been employed for the period of time required.”

Ms Hunt said while the Government’s new JobMaker program might help some young people into work, it was concerning that employers would only need to employ young people for 20 hours a week to be eligible.

“So we’re concerned that young people may not be offered full-time opportunities and still really struggle to cover the cost of living,” she said.

‘I was able to afford to live for once’

Tyler Bakes will soon finish his diploma of community services course at TAFE.

The course transitioned online because of the pandemic, which Mr Bakes, 24, found challenging.

He said the social impacts of not seeing classmates, on top of the communication and technical issues that come with online learning, had been difficult.

“Some people really thrived, for me personally, I didn’t,” he said.

Mr Bakes said he believed he had managed to get through the course, but was a little concerned about job prospects.

“I know with my diploma I’ll have a good step up over other people that are a bit less qualified, but it’s still very competitive and there’s going to be a lot of young people, in particular, going for community work, particularly around support work,” Mr Bakes said.

Mr Bakes has been receiving the JobSeeker payment and said the increase to the amount during the pandemic had had a significant impact on his quality of life.

“I was able to actually afford to live for once — buy the food that I need, keep myself healthy, being able to buy clothes, some cookware that I needed so I won’t have to replace that after like six months,” he said.

“It’s been a really massive change … now [the amount] is being reduced, that’s a bit unfortunate.”

Plans in limbo, but young people optimistic

Charlie Potter, 19, started a full-time university course and a full-time TAFE course this year, both of which moved online because of the pandemic.

With such a large workload, Ms Potter enjoyed the flexibility of being able to study whenever she wanted.

But she also had a hospitality job, which she lost for several months.

“I was able to cope OK, but I had to really think about how I spent my money and dip into savings to get through that period of time,” she said.

Ms Potter, who is studying natural environment and wilderness studies and adventure tour guiding, had also planned to spend the coming summer working as a bushwalking guide.

Tasmania’s borders will open to most states and territories in late October, but Ms Potter said most guiding companies would usually be hiring summer staff now.

“And because of the uncertainty of borders and whether there’ll be tourist bookings, they’re not hiring new guides, and just making do with the guides they currently have employed,” she said.

Ms Potter said many young Tasmanians’ plans had been thrown into limbo by the pandemic, but there was the potential for new opportunities.

“I think young people often have quite insecure job plans and ideas of what they want to do in the future, but also with that comes a lot of flexibility and adaptability that we can cope with what happens.”

Will young people stay in Tasmania?

Associate Professor Denny said Tasmania’s economy was dominated by part-time employment, with many low-skilled and low-paid jobs and many, often over-qualified people, competing for them.

“While Tasmanians want to work and young Tasmanians actually want to work in something that they’re passionate about, we know that there has been a significant mismatch between their career aspirations and employment opportunities in the state,” she said.

Associate Professor Denny said young Tasmanians also knew little about the state’s labour market and the educational pathways to jobs with good career prospects in Tasmania.

“So then they find there aren’t any jobs in what they’ve studied, and they have to leave,” she said.

It’s a problem that’s plagued Tasmania for years: thousands of ambitious young people moving away to pursue jobs and education opportunities in bigger cities, contributing to stagnant population growth.

“We need a much greater alignment with industry and our education systems, in both vocational and tertiary educations as well as the school systems to be able to create those education and career pathways for young Tasmanians,” Ms Denny said.

Despite a challenging year and the distance from his family, Mr Wijeratne plans to continue living and studying in Tasmania.

“The friends I have here have given me so much support and I have managed to push through all the difficulties because of that support,” he said.

“Although it was tough at the beginning, I’ve found time to travel around once the restrictions eased we’ve gone to places like Orford, Port Arthur, Eaglehawk Neck and it has been amazing, it has been really beautiful.

“I love the atmosphere and I plan to keep studying in Tasmania.”

By Ellen Coulter (Original ABC Article)

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