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Reform Needed to Address Youth Unemployment

Reform Needed to Address Youth Unemployment

On Tuesday 28th March at Establishment Sydney, TwoPointZero hosted GenHow? Enabling Tomorrow's Workforce - an interactive debate on youth unemployment. Moderated by Steve Shepherd, CEO at specialist youth career coaching firm TwoPointZero, a panel of industry experts discussed the difficulties young Australians face in today's changing employment landscape.


With youth unemployment in February reaching a 40 year high at 13.3% and more than double the national average, according to Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australia is facing a significant youth unemployment problem.


'Neither employment nor education work the same way as they did 20, or even 10 years ago," notes Steve Shepherd of TwoPointZero. 'Parents may mean well, but they are navigating unchartered waters as they try to support and guide their children into the workforce. The world of work is completely different and we are making it difficult for tomorrow's workforce to gain the experience to continue to move Australia forward."


The expert panel consisted of Jan Owen (CEO at the Foundation for Young Australians), Thomas Costa (Assistant Secretary at Unions NSW), Adrian Wicks (VP at Nvoi), Mike Traill (Social Investor and Chair at Good Start Early Learning), and Wendy McCarthy (Chair at Circus OZ and former Chair at HeadSpace). The interactive debate discussed the gender pay gap, the boom of the gig economy, the disappearance of entry level jobs and the underemployment of part-time or casual workers.


Education Reform the Cornerstone of Improving Work Prospects for Young Aussies


The panel discussed the need for education reform to tackle youth unemployment. While tertiary education provides fundamental training, career paths for graduates are not as linear as in previous generations, and employers are seeking all-rounders with experience and passion, as well as education.


Adrian Wicks, VP, Marketing and Communications at Nvoi, believes young Australians don't necessarily want to work in the environment we have created for them and not enough is being done to help them identify their unique skills.

'The days of obtaining a degree and getting a job in that field for 20 to 30 years are over. There are new pathways forward allowing you to use your passion and skills, as well as achieve the work life balance young Aussies crave," said Wicks.


'Not only do students gain valuable technical skills from education, but also build valuable skills through their projects and hobbies. Many of today's youth are not doing themselves justice in promoting skills they have learnt inside and out of tertiary education. Instead, they follow the path we created years ago, focusing on their degree or diploma and their grades. Employers don't care as much about this anymore."


'The skills young Aussies have learnt along the way actually constitute as much value as their degree or diploma. We need to support them to understand just how valuable their skills are,' he said.


Despite a desire to work and acquiring an education, many graduates are currently underemployed - often stuck in casual or part-time roles with little relevance to their industry of choice.


'You didn't go to uni to learn coffee art," said Jan Owen, CEO at The Foundation for Young Australians, when discussing the underutilisation of our graduates.


'We spend our lifetimes learning and upskilling, and we need to provide young people with the option to build a career out of their broad skillsets. We need to help them see where the opportunities are and prepare them for the new world of work, not leave them in roles where their unique skills go to waste," Owen explained.


Is Australia Ready for the Gig Economy and is it the Answer to Youth Unemployment?


The new world of work has drifted considerably from previous generations, with portfolio careers more frequent and a shifting focus towards the gig economy. Thomas Costa, Assistant Secretary at Unions NSW, highlights that the gig economy is designed around consumers and employers, not the workers.


'There is no stability, no security for young people working -gig' roles. When there is no workers' compensation or even sick leave in such -gig' jobs, it adds anxiety to employment. And, are these jobs sustainable? With automation gaining a greater foothold across industries, will -gig' workers end up losing out?" said Costa.


'If we are to transition to the -gig' economy, we need regulations in place to protect young workers. We need to think about how we transition to this form of economy. We need to investigate the challenges. And, we need to think about what jobs are going to move Australia forward."


Inequality Still an Issue Amongst Young Workers


The youngest workers in the economy are often the most disparaged, and many graduates aren't aware of their value, rights or how to navigate the challenges they face. With equal education and skillsets, female graduates can expect to receive on average 7% less on their starting salary than their male counterparts.


Wendy McCarthy, Chair at Circus OZ and former Chair at HeadSpace, believes this can reach as high as 17-23% difference in earnings at entry-level. Wendy notes that even with equality policies in place, the bias is archaic and very little change has been made.


'Even if an organisation boasts male and female employees receive equal salaries, look a little closer," stated McCarthy.


'You'll see men promoted more quickly and receiving additional benefits, and women quickly fall behind. Ten years into a career and there are likely to be 10-15% differences in their salaries, even if they started on equal footing," she said.


Stop Focusing on the Pay Check and Consider Your Purpose


To protect the future of our economy, the panel also discussed the need to provide graduates with the environment and tools they need to develop and succeed. Mike Traill, Social Investor and Chair at Good Start Early Learning, believes we get too hung up on the need for a big pay check, when we should be focusing on what roles means for us.


'Whether young Australians align themselves with a business or start a business of their own, passion and purpose are the underlying drive, not money, though many parents would not see it that way," said Traill.


'We need to provide a constructive and critical voice to encourage their work ethic, and withhold from pigeon-holing young people into outdated employment structures."


'The economy is shifting and we must shift with it. We need to encourage the entrepreneurial spirit that is so widespread in this generation, and provide young people with the support and tools to develop their skillsets and interests into successful careers," he said.


While the future employment landscape remains uncertain for many young Australians, the evening's discussion highlighted the need to reform our education systems and push for equality, in order to motivate and support tomorrow's workforce. The unified focus appeared to be on the underutilisation of the various skills young Aussies possess, and how the traditional workforce needs to adapt for the next generation of workers and leaders.


Though the evening addressed important topics, when it comes to helping the next generation of leaders, there are far more factors at play in addressing youth unemployment. The discussion will be continued at GenHow? Enabling Tomorrow's Workforce in Melbourne on 2nd May, livestreaming on TwoPointZero's Facebook page from 6.30pm.


For more information on how TwoPointZero helps young Australians discover their passion and find their career path, visit


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