With youth unemployment rising in Australia, it’s harder than ever for young people to land their first job. SEZ WILKS argues for employment programs that teach not only technical skills, but life skills, too.

On July 15th each year, Jesuit Social Services joins the international community in celebrating UN World Youth Skills Day. For the young people in our education, training and employment programs, the value of developing skills is in a class of its own.

Getting skilled-up for work puts young people on a pathway to a bright future. It equips them to participate in society and helps smooth the transition to work. And as young people’s skills grow, so does their confidence. In the words of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon:

“Skills development triggers a process of empowerment and self-esteem that benefits everyone… it strengthens young people’s capacity to help address the many challenges facing society.”

Investing in young people’s skills is a sure way to help build a more just and sustainable future for all. So why are job prospects for young Australians getting worse?

Rising youth unemployment in Australia

In Australia, youth unemployment is at its highest since the late 1990s – upwards of 20 per cent in some areas. Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows long-term unemployment for young people has more than tripled since 2008, and underemployment is also growing. On average, 282,000 young people are unemployed across the country at any given time, and the average trend unemployment rate for people aged 15 to 24 looking for full-time work is 15.7 per cent.

What’s even more striking is that living in a particular postcode can make unemployment worse for young jobseekers. Our Dropping off The Edge 2015 report found that in Australia’s most disadvantaged locations, the long-term unemployment rate is amplified. For example, the top three per cent most disadvantaged areas in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland had more than double the rate of long-term unemployment, compared with the remainder of localities in these states. This trend was even more pronounced in other states – long-term unemployment was more than five times higher among South Australia and Western Australia’s most disadvantaged communities.

It’s no wonder, then, that youth organisations are finding that getting a job is a major stressor for young people. Youth unemployment was one of the top five issues identified among Australians aged 17-24 in a survey by the Australian Youth Affairs Coalition. Similarly, a recent Mission Australia survey found that more than half of young Australians feel there are barriers impacting on their ability to achieve in life.

To overcome these barriers, young people need to approach the workforce with a full suite of skills. What skills are young Australians missing?

Training beyond technical skills

In addition to the technical skills needed to maintain a specific job, recent research by the Foundation for Young Australians suggests that young people must also develop an essential set of employability skills. These skills include communication, basic problem solving and interpersonal skills, as well as confidence, team work and enthusiasm for learning. A recent report by Vic Health echoes these suggestions, framing them as resilience skills:

“The capacity to be autonomous, regulate our emotions, have self-confidence and empathy, and be able to problem solve, are all resilience assets that the community as a whole should have. For young people, the millennials in particular, these skills and assets will be essential to navigate a rapidly changing economic, technological, social and global environment.”

What’s being suggested here is a more holistic approach to skills development. By supporting young people to develop these foundational skills, we can help them function in society across a range of interactions – not just transitioning to work. And as Ban Ki-moon acknowledges, the flow-on benefits for individual students and the wider community are significant.

Job skills programs that can help

This holistic, ‘whole person’ approach underpins all of Jesuit Social Services’ education, training and employment programs. Our programs engage some of the most disadvantaged young people in our community – for example, young people who have not completed high school, or who haven’t been able to live at home in a supportive environment. Having experienced multiple and complex hardship, the young people we work with face significant skills barriers and have had limited access to learning, training and job opportunities. Here’s how we help them mentally and emotionally prepare for work:

Jesuit Community College

One of our key education initiatives is Jesuit Community College, a registered training organisation that helps people gain real skills for life, learning and work. Our College offers an inclusive, holistic and tailored alternative for students who are on the margins of mainstream education. Through a suite of courses, we provide access to hands-on experience that teaches young people both technical and employability skills – like the ability to follow directions, work as part of a team and stick to a routine.

Industry Employment Initiative

We’re also involved in a youth Industry Employment Initiative trial, with Social Ventures Australia, Brotherhood of St Laurence and Mission Australia. Through the collaboration, we work with major employers like Coles to ascertain their needs and then train disadvantaged jobseekers and place them into roles. Training starts with the essential skills and attributes needed for work – such as employer expectations, personal hygiene, presentation, understanding routines and work ethic – and continues through to hospitality, customer service skills and first aid. The program also provides each young person with one-on-one support, to make sure the skills they develop address their unique employment barriers.

Work-ready for everyone

The process of becoming work ready is different for each young person, but the pathway to work is even more challenging for young people who face complex disadvantage. For these young people, developing employability skills can take significant time and resources. But our commitment to a holistic, tailored approach to skills development means we’re prepared to support them every step of the journey. We know from experience that employability skills provide youth with more than a job or an income – they also provide a sense of identity, empowerment and purpose.

If you want to see genuine change for individuals and their communities, join us in supporting the call to invest in developing youth skills. With a holistic approach, young people can help build a better, more equitable future for everyone.