Youth unemployment is a global problem, but increased engagement between education providers and the private sector could provide for greater opportunities.
Young people have fresh ideas, enthusiasm, and are willing to be taught.
They are largely free to go places and meet people, network and learn. Whatever it may be, youthful exuberance makes a day’s work a rewarding and positive experience.
Yet the grim reality worldwide for Generation Y – a generation exponentially interconnected, educated and at the forefront of the digital age – is that there just aren’t the jobs to get one’s foot in the door.
If political priority is any reflection on the concerns of society, then the sheer number of panel sessions, lunch debates and keynote speeches dedicated to youth unemployment at this year’s OECD Forum (titled “Jobs, Equality, Trust”) points to a systemic social plague that governments are scrambling to cure.
The 2012 International Labour Organisation (ILO) forecast of 46 per cent youth unemployment across Spain articulates that country’s currently macabre economic woes. A recent IMF report warns of more civil unrest across much of the Middle East if the growing number of unemployed and disenfranchised youth is not mitigated.
Closer to home, Australia’s increasing all-age unemployment level (as of April 2013, at a three-year high of 5.6 per cent) is not as dire as those of Spain, Greece or Tunisia. But this figure masks a much higher percentage of unemployed Australian youth (11.9 per cent), and - more worryingly - unemployment amongst Australian teenagers aged between 15-19 (26.3 per cent).
In fact, certain trends in Australia’s youth unemployment are mirrors of the social constructs and issues felt globally. On one side of the spectrum, there is a higher incidence of unemployment among youth from indigenous, migrant and low socioeconomic backgrounds. The Work Foundation recently concluded that this rather eclectic group of marginalised youths is lacking in even the most fundamental literacy and numeracy skills, leading to their overall disengagement with the labour market. Whilst the social factors may differ, unskilled youths with little prospect of re-emergence into the labour market - or the “Youth Left Behind”, according to the OECD - are of increasing concern to Turkey, Mexico and Italy.
On the other hand, the increasing number of enrolments in Australian universities and vocational trade centres is not indicative of industry demand. According to the OECD, already more than 40 per cent of Australians are overqualified for their current job. Such instances of skills mismatch present yet another conundrum in the youth unemployment crisis: the qualifications obtained by youth are not being adequately transformed into jobs. Even in the rapidly expanding Chinese economy, close to 30 per cent of university graduates face difficulties in securing their first full-time job.
Solutions to youth unemployment in Spain, Algeria or Australia lie in engaging with the private sector, and it is unreasonable to ask governments to bear the total burden of such an immense issue.
If qualifications are going to translate into jobs, businesses must take part in the education process. There should be an early presentation by business of what it considers valuable, and an earlier opportunity for young people to measure their own interests and aptitudes against tasks ‘in demand’.
Germany’s vocational education system contains the best of both worlds. It allows young people to complete both secondary schooling and a trade, which sees business engag
ed in curriculum development, subsidising apprenticeship contracts and even conducting in-house training.
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