Monday, September 12, 2016
The earlier we identify and help kids at risk of doing poorly in education, training and employment, the more we help the community as well as the kids.
It's a social and economic investment. Neglect it and we lose much more later, as people spend more of their life on benefits and add little to the productivity of our workforce.
On the face of it, a report card on our performance, Investing in Youth: Australia – to be released by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development at a forum hosted by the Brotherhood of St Laurence in Melbourne on Monday – gives us a pass.
Our education system "performs well overall, and school completion rates have been rising in recent years".
The labour market situation of youth in Australia is "quite favourable by international standards". Our youth unemployment rate is [a bit] "below the OECD average".
But this is not so terrific when you remember that "Australia was hit much less heavily by the Great Recession than most other countries".
"After continuous decline in youth unemployment rates since the early 1990s, rates have started rising again, while youth employment has fallen."
But the report focuses not on youth unemployment, but on NEETs – the share of youth (people aged 15 to 29) who are "not in employment, education or training". And, at 11.8 per cent, the share of NEETs was higher in 2015 than it was before the global financial crisis in 2008.
That's well over half a million young Australians out of education and work. About a third of those are looking for work, but the other two-thirds aren't.
The first factor driving the high proportion of NEETs is low educational attainment. Quelle surprise.
Youth with, at best, a year 10 certificate, account for more than a third of the NEETs. And their risk of being in that state is three times as high as for those with tertiary education.
Worse, "many NEETs lack foundational skills (numeracy and literacy) and non-cognitive skills, which are important prerequisites for labour market success," the report finds.
But there's hope if we bother helping. "Recent research demonstrates, however, that non-cognitive skills, like cognitive skills, remain malleable for young people through special interventions."
Get this: the risk of being NEET is 50 per cent higher for women, and women account for 60 per cent of all NEETs.
So the biggest single explanation of why so many NEETs aren't looking for work is that many of them are young mothers with a child below the age of four. And don't assume they're all sole parents on welfare.
The report adds that NEET rates are substantially higher among Indigenous youth, who represent 3 per cent of the youth population, but 10 per cent of all NEETs.
And the likelihood of being NEET is substantially higher for youth with disabilities.
In case you're tempted by visions of all those lazy loafers out surfing, or with their feet up watching daytime television, the report says NEETs "tend to exhibit higher rates of psychological stress and lower levels of life satisfaction" than other youth.
In its own ever-so-polite way, the report notes our less-than-stellar performance. The completion rate for vocational and educational training certificates and apprenticeships "remains low by international standards".
That's one way to acknowledge the awful stuff-up we've made of VET.
Australia has a wonderful, very flexible, market-based network of employment service providers that "cover, however, only about 60 per cent of NEETs, leaving around 200,000 youth unserviced". Oh.
"Young jobseekers' participation in training programs increased over the last years, but this trend came to a halt with the recent expansion of Work for the Dole", we're told.
"Given strong evidence on positive employment effects of training, including for disadvantaged jobseekers, Australia should continue promoting training program participation as an effective way of moving young jobseekers into stable employment."
Translation: what's up with you people?
The report praises our Youth Connections program and its effectiveness in improving educational attainment for youth at risk of dropping out of school – before noting it was phased out in 2014.
"The recent tightening of eligibility criteria for unemployment benefits may create additional incentives to actively look for work, but it also bears the risk of pushing the most disadvantaged youth into inactivity and possibly poverty," we're told.
Translation: you mean Aussie bastards.