Australia should move towards a model of free tertiary education and universal basic income, along with paid work internships and improved ‘pathways’ between education and work.
These suggestions for action came out of a meeting of community members and researchers from the University of Melbourne. In the second of a series of Public Interactive Learning Labs held by the Melbourne School of Government, researchers from diverse backgrounds worked with community members to explore ways to improve outcomes for young people.
Youth unemployment rates are generally of concern for the broader public. Dr Dina Bowman explained the statistics that are used to provide unemployment rates can be presented in a variety of ways. The groups that we traditionally see as youth, 15-24-year olds, may be expanding as young people find it harder to gain full-time employment with an undergraduate degree.
Shirley Jackson showed that it takes an average of four years and eight months to find full time work after education. While participation rates for teenagers is quite low at just over 50 percent; the number of those who want to work but are unemployed is quite high, at just under twenty percent.
Professor Paul Kofman explained that underemployment and media negativity is affecting young people, and specifically that Australian youth are amongst the most pessimistic in the world about their chances of having the future that they want. He indicated the level of gloom amongst our young people contrasted sharply with the statistics showing that we are in a better situation than most other countries.
While there are jobs being created in Australia and there are jobs that young people can take up, many of them are not in areas that are considered to be ‘lifetime trades’ but are more likely to be insecure retail and hospitality positions.
While it is uncontroversial that young people want employment, Dr Dan Woodman has been exploring what sort of employment young people want. His results indicate that young people are most concerned about having secure work and would prefer full-time jobs to part-time employment.
This generation is less concerned with positional status than previous generations but are demanding more flexible work hours. The surprise is that for a generation who are concerned about job security and pay and conditions, they have little truck with the unions that might bring about the conditions that they want.
While many young people are working and studying at the same time the reward for investing in tertiary education takes a long time. The audience noted that there seems to be an unrealistic expectation by employers of not needing to train young employees and that they will arrive with all the skills that they need.
On this basis, and in reflecting on the rise unpaid internships as a ‘rite of passage’, the audience decided that an education to employment pathway that included paid internships would be a positive step forward in policy. This would also avoid the trap of only those young people who can afford an unpaid internship getting a continuing secure position.
Ms Jackson discussed the Active labour market policy which aims to reduce structural unemployment, grow skills and increase social inclusion. This model is applied in many of the Nordic countries. While these countries have higher youth unemployment rates than Australia currently has, the length of unemployment period tends to be significantly shorter with young people generally unemployed for less than six months.
These countries have a pattern of skills matching, free tertiary education and adequate (rather than austere) living allowances for the unemployed, paid for through higher taxation.
The model of active labour market policy appealed to the audience, despite the higher youth unemployment rates experienced under this model. It was seen that having the skills to work, and therefore being employable and maintaining good self-esteem and mental health could be key factors in avoiding long term unemployment.
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