By Christopher Kelly:
During a collaborative workshop held at Western’s 1 Parramatta Square campus, a handful of academics, community workers and youth discussed the issues of youth unemployment following a brief outline of research findings conducted by the population experts.
Western Sydney University (Western) lecturer Dr Sheree Gregory chaired a panel for the workshop, and said that fixing the issue of unemployment will “possibly need more than just adding vocational training to the mix” considering that “there’s evidence to suggest that some youth turn to study as employment opportunities have dried up.”
During her talk, Dr Gregory also spoke about the public discourse on the Generation Y, or millennials, and the generalisations of their attitudes towards work.
“The representation, or perhaps the misrepresentation, is telling us a story that young people like a lot of risk and that they are going to be changing employers and career paths, she said.
“And employers, generally speaking, have been concerned about the ageing population, and also about how to attract younger people to their organisation.”
On the same panel sat Katerina Tahija, a youth development officer at Penrith a City Council, who opened her side of the discussion by rhetorically asking, “what value does industry place on young people’s participation in the work force?”
“We talk about unemployment or underemployment, but the jobs that are available aren’t particularly meaningful,” she said.
“I think there’s a real low level of appreciation of young people’s contribution to the labour force and the labour market. They are put in as a necessity, but not necessarily valued in their role.”
Katerina then spoke out on her concern that there are young people not knowing their rights in the industry they are working in, saying they are “susceptible to being exploited.”
“I certainly know that I have spoken to quite a number of young people where they do free work in a trial sense, one week, two weeks, could be a month, and then they don’t get a job out of it.”
“So all they are doing is working for free.”
In a second panel for the workshop, Western Sydney Coordinator at Youth Action Natasha Lay explored barriers that young people will face when jumping into the workforce.
“We see that employers see young people as risks rather than assets,” she said. “So rather than seeing young people as creative, energetic and hardworking they see things as young people are lazy, their entitled, they don’t show up on time, or whatever it is.”
“On the other side, the individual story is census data only goes so far to tell us about car, internet, family situation, renting and income, but it doesn’t tell you what is really going on.”
Also speaking on the panel was Farah Farouque, a principal advisor at Brotherhood of St Laurence, who said that changes in policy to help young people find work should work at the macro and micro level.
“And I would also say that money spent on investing in the capabilities of young people, particularly disadvantaged young people, in no way would I regard as excessive expenditure.”
“It’s actually an investment.”
Following the two-and-a-half-hour discussion, Paniora Nukunku, who attended on behalf of Western Sydney Youth Action Group Outburst and is a young person himself, spoke up about the under-representation of young people at the debate.
“This conversation is for our future and the future of other generations. What are we doing here?” he asked.
“Because at the moment all I see is a bunch of older people telling younger people what to do.”
Paniora believes that young people need to be taught better life skills in school, to help them prepare for the future.
“For some reason I know what happened to a guy 570 years ago, but I don’t know how to do my taxes, I don’t know how to do car insurance, I don’t know how to do a job interview or my resume,” he said.
“These are life skills, we are not taught life skills in schools, skills that make a difference to someone’s life.”
“From the stats [that were shown earlier], all I know is that if I’m Anglo-Saxon, owned a car, had parents that were second generation [Australians], then yeah, I’ll get a job. But if I don’t? Then praise the lord that he’ll help me.”
Dr Gregory responded to Panoira, defending the debate: “We’re trying to solve some of the transport access that you may not have, or to discover where job growth opportunity is going to be; in which industry, in which LGA (Local Government Area).”
“That’s perhaps one of the reasons why we are here, which is to understand those issues and how we can actually communicate them with you.”
Editors note: This event was run by the University’s Centre for Western Sydney. More information about this research is available on their website.