With COVID-19 disrupting the global economy, youth have been particularly affected. Even before the recent pandemic, Australia had an existing youth unemployment problem caused by the Global Financial Crisis. NCVER predicts that what happened back then will repeat itself now – with young people extending their tertiary study to delay entry to the workforce, but having to face greater competition for jobs later when they enter the job market at the same time as school leavers. A number of other factors also contribute to the problem of youth not in education, employment or training (NEET), including socioeconomic disadvantage, a lack of skills-matched opportunities and extended periods of unemployment.
Before COVID-19, the rate of youth unemployment in Australia was three times higher than that of the 25-64 year-old workforce. Persistent youth unemployment hotspots and youth underutilisation has been a risk to Australia’s productivity for many years, as young people’s employment experiences shape the rest of their working lives.
Before the pandemic, Indigenous Australians of all ages were found to be 2.3 times more likely than other Australians to have been continuously unemployed for two years, while also being more easily discouraged from participating in the labour market than other Australians. With over 4 million Australians only having access to the internet through mobile devices, this vulnerability is amplified as this is significantly relevant for Indigenous Australians and Australians with disabilities, with 35% and 31.2% being mobile-only users respectively. Not having a computer not only restricts remote working and learning, but is also less affordable due to data costs.
Young people with a disability are also vulnerable to the changes the pandemic has inflicted, being twice as likely to be unemployed than people without a disability before the pandemic. They also face barriers to accessing education, including online learning.
All of these issues can be somewhat attributed to the substantial digital divide. When young people are prevented from engaging in work and study remotely, or are part of the 2.5 million Australians who don’t have access to the internet, or have poor digital literacy, their employability is disadvantaged from the start.
It’s no surprise that women face disadvantages when it comes to the workforce. During the early stages of the pandemic, from March to June 2020, the employment-to-population ratio, the labour force participation rate and hours worked all decreased more for female workers than male workers. With young women tending to experience greater scarring effects from periods of unemployment than young men, these stats are concerning.
Young women were also more likely to report negative mental health during the pandemic than young men. However, the pandemic has taken a toll on all young people’s mental health, including high levels of psychological distress, concern about employment and income, and anxiety about education.
As it’s still too early for a good analysis, we will see over the coming years how the JobMaker Hiring Credit Scheme and JobTrainer, both targeted at youth, has affected young people’s opportunities to gain skills in areas in demand, and their employability.
VET will play a key role in addressing youth unemployment, with the Australian Government predicting that around 45% of jobs growth up until 2023 will demand skills that VET delivers. Workers with VET qualifications have been found to have improved and sustainable employment, income, hours worked, and job quality outcomes. Essential industries such as healthcare and social assistance have the most increased demand for skills due to COVID-19.
NCVER asserts that VET should refine and resource the approaches with the best employment outcomes to support the most vulnerable young Australians to rebound during and after the pandemic. Providing a supportive training environment, especially for online training, is integral for helping young people complete their training and connect with lasting work opportunities. Training providers need to better understand the connection between VET qualifications and employment to successfully provide this supportive educational environment for their learners.
Work-based learning (WBL) (also called work-based training, work-integrated learning or work placements) is one of the best ways to achieve good employment outcomes for learners, and for creating an attractive and leading training organisation. Work-based learning is encouraged by the Australian Government due to beneficial enabling factors such as:
Additionally, apprenticeships and traineeships have strong employment outcomes for young people in Australia, with 76% of 18-19 year old and 90% of 20-24 year old apprentices and trainees employed after training in 2019.
It’s incredibly important for training organisations to provide work-based learning where possible to tightly link training to work experience. This increases VET graduates’ work-readiness credibility, as they will have already been able to apply their new technical skills in the context of real work.
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Overall, VET can achieve successful work-based training through
Read more about why work-based learning is the future of VET here.
VET in School, Parental Influence and Career Guidance
Another critical point for VET is to support and increase the relevance of vocational pathways available in schools, and improving the transferability of the skills gained in those pathways following school. More support is also needed for supporting parents to help young people navigate career choices and complete VET study that’s linked to lasting employment opportunities. It’s no surprise that parents are generally found to have the greatest influence over young people making decisions about their futures. Erica Smith from Federation University Australia found parents were most likely to advise young people about what they knew about – if someone’s dad was an apprentice, they’ll probably become an apprentice too. For apprenticeships struggling with retention rates, Smith found one effective strategy was to go through the details of the apprenticeship with parents, removing the parents’ conscious or unconscious biases and discouraging perceptions of VET.
Overall, NCVER has found that VET is set to play an integral role in improving youth employment and work opportunities following the COVID-19 pandemic.
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