By Mary Malak, CEO of Humanity Matters
THE pandemic over the past year saw young members of our communities among the hardest hit. Young people, especially those already marginalised, were met with heightened pressures across different aspects of their lives.
We saw reports revealing high unemployment among our youth higher than any other age group, spikes in mental health challenges among children and an additional 18,000 children trapped into poverty and perpetuated cycles of disadvantage. These issues are just a small glimpse of the many issues young people across Australia continue to front in 2021.
More than ever, our youth population need all the support they can get to break free from potential cycles of disadvantage.
This Federal Budget was the prime opportunity for the government to show compassion and care for our future generations. That is, investing in the right measures to ensure that adequate support and critical services are provided to help young people recover from the disruptive impacts of the pandemic, as well as overcome its ongoing effects.
Retraining program for young Australians
As part of the Federal Budget announced for 2021-22, the government unveiled a number of initiatives targeted at helping young communities get their lives back on track. The largest focus being an ‘intensive support’ initiative, which seeks to retrain Australians enter the workforce and push young people to sign up if they struggle to find work.
This measure to retrain young people includes a commitment to extending the JobTrainer program with the promise of creating 170,000 opportunities including new traineeships and apprenticeships for young people.
While supporting our young people to gain the right skills is a positive step, it cannot be relied on as the key solution to supporting young people. Directing young people to sign up for training doesn’t solve their immediate needs to pay their bills or secure stable and safe accommodation. The new positions promised also come with no guarantee that young people will be kept on the job once their training or the subsidy ends.
Better linkage between training programs and jobs
Young people living independently or in families unable to financially support them, need jobs not just training. There needs to be more measures to ensure skill development opportunities are linked directly to jobs. Many young people being funnelled through training opportunity after training opportunity, are equipped with multiple certificates and qualifications but still don’t have work.
Among those young people fortunate enough to get work, there are many whose jobs are insecure or that have so few hours that they are unable to cover their day to day living expenses, let alone consider saving for their future. Since the last budget, we saw the government’s promise of 450,000 jobs through JobMaker only create 1,100 jobs for our Australians. As part of this budget, the government announced that the youth-focused JobMarket hiring credit to incentivise businesses to hire young people, is only expected to support 10,000 jobs over the coming two years. This is hardly enough when the end of 2020 saw one in every 3 young Australian unemployed.
Complimentary to the training programs for our youth, must be a more solid job creation plan to ensure the availability of secure jobs for our future workforce. In addition, it is a missed opportunity that there wasn’t a focus in workplace training and mentoring young people, which would effectively help address the skills shortage while enabling young people to earn a living while they learn.
Challenges young people face extend beyond unemployment
Consideration needs to be given to the complex and entrenched issues many long term unemployed people are struggling with. While the government positively announced increased mental health support as part of the training program and an investment of $278.6 million to expand and improve Headspace centres, the troubles young people face do not stop at unemployment and mental health.
Domestic violence, insecure housing, limited access to transport and living below the poverty line are among other issues that present insurmountable challenges for young people in getting trained or securing employment.
Our government must collaborate with the youth community sector to look into the issues more deeply and bring support to where young people are to address these complex challenges. A one size fits all approach won’t cut it. We need greater investment in reaching the hard-to-reach young people where they are. Expecting that all young people will turn up to agencies for training opportunities is unrealistic and fails to recognise underlying problems that may get in the way of access for those marginalised.
Many young people who have had negative or disappointing prior experiences with education, support services and training providers are reluctant to engage with these services. We need to re-establish the confidence of these young people to re-engage. We have seen over the years, cutting young people off income support when they fail to meet the training obligations only serves to push young people towards illegal activities in order to survive.