The latest youth unemployment figures show more than 257,000 young Australians are unemployed.
Before this, the Australian Bureau of Statistics released figures showing the youth jobless rate was double the general unemployment rate, with 12.2 per cent of 15 to 24 year olds looking for work. I’ve just been freed from the category, at 25, and employed, but for different periods of my life, I was also part of this young jobless generation.
In high school, I found that I was almost immediately discouraged by the idea of going to university. Most of high school is spent thinking about your next subject, not your future. Then year 12 comes around and you are suddenly faced with the reality of making momentous decisions about the rest of your life. Journalism was my main choice but I quickly found out that the expected minimum entrance grade was well into the 90 range on the Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank. Instead of being encouraged to work harder and pursue my chosen career path, I was left feeling inadequate, without counsel and decided to not bother going to university at all.
Later, I realised I was going nowhere and there was not much for me to pursue without a degree. I ended up deferring, transferring and eventually graduating from a journalism degree. But on my first day at university, the class was told by the head lecturer that journalists earned next to nothing, we would have to try and intern as much as possible for free (which was still a competitive field), and jobs were scarce. So basically, we had just signed up for three years of possibly wasting our time and $17,000 of debt. Great.
There used to be a perception that university equalled a bright job future. You do the hard yards, study for three, four, even five years and you would soon be released into a world of eager employers just waiting, open-armed, to accept you and your well-learnt skills into their business. In fact, these days, it is a joke. Ask many graduates and they will laugh and say they are still looking for work after their years of study.
It is not just journalism graduates. Lawyers, doctors, teachers, engineers, graphic designers, anyone trying to enter any kind of creative industry, are all finding it more and more difficult to find work upon graduating. The general stipulation is you need experience. But it is the age-old quandary, the chicken or the egg of employment; how do you get experience in the first place if no one will meet you without it?
For many career paths, the answer is internships. Work for free and we will eventually hire you … maybe, possibly, probably not. Head to New York or London and the job market is inundated with those offering up to six months of full-time, unpaid internship-ing, aka coffee-fetching. Look at the job ads and you will see Australia is quickly following suit.
If you are not lucky enough to have made a whole lot of money from working at your weekend clothing store or casual bar job during university or high school, then bad luck. If you have well-off parents who are happy to fund your job search and your future, then kudos to you. But those who cannot afford to work for free are left in the dust, still unable to gain experience leading to employment.
Not to mention the low salaries. Faced with the idea of studying for all those years and then not even getting a well-paid job, or a job at all, it is no wonder young people are starting to steer away from tertiary education. Others I know are even choosing to study for years more than may be necessary in a bid to avoid the excruciating job search. Statistics also show those on Youth Allowance are rapidly increasing.
Many will argue we are a spoilt, lazy generation. But if that is the case, then schools, universities and the government have not done much to stop us becoming that way. We do not suddenly grow up when we turn 18 and know exactly what is best for our lives. We need encouragement and guidance from a young age and most of all, opportunity. Some people may be sitting around not trying, but others are actively searching for work and still finding themselves smart, well-educated, ambitious and stuck on the couch or behind a retail counter.
Australian youth may want more than they did a decade ago. But then, there were also more jobs on offer. The country’s youth unemployment levels may not be as bad as countries like Greece or Spain, but is that really our best comparison? There needs to be an easier transition from school to university to work or we are going to end up with a highly unemployed Australia, not just unemployed youths.
Amelia Moseley is a freelance journalist.