Youth representatives advocate for generational jobs and skills

Many Australian voters have come to associate Parliament with petty political divisions and infighting. Surprisingly, the recent Jobs and Skills Summit was pleasantly different.

Influential figures from government, business, labor and civil society have come together to set the jobs agenda, respectfully voicing their opinions and collectively acknowledging that existing systems are broken and need fixing.

The Jobs and Skills Summit represents a critical moment to change our future. As the two youngest participants, we spent the two days of the summit advocating for reforms to support young people which were widely supported. Now we need concrete policy change from the government to improve the lives of our generation and future generations to come.

The Jobs and Skills Summit kicked off just as the unemployment rate hit lowest level in nearly half a century. However, current employment figures do not reflect the work experience of most young people. The youth unemployment rate is more than double that of the general population and the experience of too many young people is casual, precarious and low-paid work.

Young people from disadvantaged and unsupported backgrounds face additional barriers. Young people who cannot afford higher education typically face poorer employment outcomes compared to their peers. The sharp reduction in the number of entry-level jobs available also means that it is more difficult to find employment for those without connections. And young people from all intersectional communities, including race, gender, sexuality and disability, are also at risk of discrimination based on their identity.

The summit produced encouraging results for young people. We welcome government commitments to increase funding for free TAFE places and to criminalize wage theft. We also hope that the introduction of multi-employer bargaining will benefit young people who otherwise might not have the power to negotiate higher wages and better rights at work.

We call on the government to implement the following employment, education and training outcomes to create a strong and equitable foundation for young people.

1. Prioritize young people

The government will continue to make employment policy changes over the next year and this must include a special focus on young people to be successful. The unique experiences of our age group with barriers to job search, precariousness and discrimination require a specific policy response. The best way to do this is to work directly with young people.

2. Increase youth allowance

The government should ensure that there is a strong safety net for young people by increasing the youth allowance. The maximum weekly youth allowance rate for persons without children is $265.20. The rising cost of living means that this amount is unlikely to cover basic expenses such as rent, utilities and food. Without action, the gap between rich and poor youth will widen. Young people from low-income backgrounds are more likely to be trapped in precarious work and unable to make ends meet, which affects their ability to study, pursue professional opportunities and find a graduate position.

3. Remove the 110% fee increase for humanities degrees

The government should also scrap the 110% increase in tuition fees for humanities degrees introduced under the previous government. More than ever, interdisciplinarity and critical reflection are essential to respond to the problems of tomorrow, climate change technology. Treating universities as rigid ‘job factories’ misses the importance of critical and creative thinking that will help Australia lead the way in adapting to complex challenges.

4. Establish a job guarantee for young people

The current system of employment services is failing to meet the needs of young people. It is now possible to implement a job guarantee for young people which better helps young people to find a job. This model would ensure that every young person has access to support, free training, a paid internship or a job after becoming unemployed. A Youth Employment Guarantee is a evidence-based and internationally proven alternative to current employment services that will better support disadvantaged young people.

Beyond these recommendations, young people must be in the room where decisions are made. The Labor Party’s commitment to establish a Youth Steering Committee under the Youth Minister is an important first step. Young people, from diverse backgrounds, should be present in all government consultations and negotiations. Our lived experience reveals gaps in systems that are often overlooked by decision-makers who have not lived our reality. Jobs and skills reform can change the trajectory of our generation, and our voices must be at the heart of that change.

The government has embarked on a different and inclusive policy. Young people will watch to see if they are following the march. We are ready to contribute our voice.


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