Youth skills help build a more just future for all

On July 15th each year, we join the international community in celebrating UN World Youth Skills Day. Jesuit Social Services supports the call to invest in developing the skills of young people, so that they can help build a more just and sustainable future for all.

For the young people who access our education, training and employment programs, the value of developing skills is manifold. It enables young people to begin on a pathway to a bright future – it better equips them to participate in society, helping them to make smoother transitions to work and to reach their full potential. As young people’s skills grow, so does their confidence. As UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says:

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.

In Australia, youth unemployment is at its highest since the late 1990s – upwards of 20 per cent in some areas. 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.

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.

Youth unemployment was one of the top five issues identified among Australians aged 17-24 in a survey by the Australian Youth Affairs Coalition, and 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.

So, what skills are young Australians missing? 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.

Fundamentally, what’s being suggested 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. As Ban Ki-moon suggests, the flow-on benefits for individual students and the wider community are significant.

This holistic, ‘whole person’ approach underpins all our education, training and employment programs at Jesuit Social Services. Our programs engage some of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable 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 and unique skills barriers and have had limited access to learning, training and job opportunities.


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 – such as the ability to follow directions, work as part of a team and adhere to a routine.

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. This training starts with the essential skills and attributes required to work – such as employer expectations, personal hygiene, presentation, understanding routines and work ethic – through to hospitality, customer service skills and first aid. The initiative also provides each young person with one-on-one support, to make sure the skills they develop address their particular barriers to employment

The process of becoming ‘work ready’ is different for each young person. The pathway to employment for young people who experience multiple and complex disadvantage is more challenging than for those who don’t. For the young people we work with, developing employability skills may take significant time and resources to help them mentally and emotionally prepare for work. Our commitment to a holistic, tailored approach to developing young people’s skills 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, and result in genuine change for individuals and their communities.

This post was written by Sez Wilks, Communications Coordinator for Jesuit Social Services