December 16, 2019

Building Change for Young People

Faced with a government that pledges to create ‘jobs and growth’ but doesn’t have a national strategy to tackle rising youth unemployment, the National Youth Commission has stepped up to run their own national inquiry.

Today’s young Australians are in danger of being the first generation in recent history to have lower living standards than their parents. While being accused of wasting their money on smashed avocado breakfasts, in reality they are hampered by an industrial relations system that sets lower rates of pay for younger people, the dominance of precarious work and a government that continues to cut penalty rates.In addition, they face wage stagnation, rising underemployment and a youth unemployment rate that continues to hover around 12.5 per cent, more than twice the national rate.

The National Youth Commission Inquiry into Youth Employment and Transitions aims to inject fresh thinking into the creation of policy to tackle the challenges faced by young people preparing for and seeking work now and into the future. It is an independent, non-partisan grassroots inquiry that is seeking the expertise and lived experience of young people, educators, employers and communities to help create innovative policy solutions.The Commission is holding hearings around the country and will release a report in July 2020. As a strong public TAFE sector is an absolute necessity if we are to ensure that young people are able to access high quality qualifications leading to good jobs, the AEU has engaged with the Commission in multiple ways.

National TAFE Council Executive member, Simon Bailey presented at the hearing in Tasmania which has the highest youth unemployment rate in Australia at 36%. Mr. Bailey called for proper funding for TAFE programs that met the needs of students, industries and communities as a key driver of a future reform agenda. He pointed to evidence of a reduction of the number of pathway / CERT II programs across the State due to either a lack of staff to deliver the programs or because the programs had been moved to other locations.

His examples included:

  • 120 people wanting to do the construction CERT II (pre-employment) in Hobart however as the teachers were reduced from two to one most of these students had to be turned away.
  • Construction & Allied Trades no longer offering a Cert II in Plastering, Bricklaying, Tiling, Painting & Glazing (pre-employment).
  • Certificate II in Electro Technology (pre-employment) no longer being offered in the North or North West even though there are teachers available to deliver the course. In addition, the South of the State is turning away students due to not having any capacity to meet demand.
  • At Burnie / Devonport TAFE there were a number of courses which did not commence at the beginning of the year: Certificate II in Engineering Pathways (pre-employment), Certificate II in Plumbing (pre-employment),Certificate II in Automotive (pre-employment),Certificate II Information Technology course

Mr. Bailey said at the hearing “It is hard to understand that, when we have growth in the building, hospitality, tourism and agricultural sectors and high youth unemployment rate why these pathway programs are not being offered. The logic behind the reduction in programs seems to be linked to a lack of foresight and planning which has meant that in many cases there are no teachers to run the courses as well as a lack of funding required to deliver the programs in the first place.

“TAFE needs to be recognised as a public provider of VET education and not a business which is expected to provide programs based on financial viability rather than student outcomes. Unless the TAFE sector gets the support required to run these programs we will not see the educational outcomes of our youth improved nor our communities and industry prosper.”

Thanks to Mr. Bailey’s presentation and similar evidence provided by other stakeholders, education and training has now become the Inquiry’s central concern.

Building the Case for Change in the Fourth Industrial Revolution

The National Youth Commission was invited to attend the last meeting of the National TAFE Council Executive to deepen their evidence gathering. The executive advocated for the central role that TAFE could play in successful youth transitions and employment and explained that when TAFE is diminished so are opportunities for young people. Without action soon, Australia’s youth risk being left further behind as the fourth industrial revolution takes hold and we see an increasing reliance on emerging technologies including artificial intelligence and robotics to fulfil jobs.

The meeting followed the release of the Government’s Vocational Education and Training Review led by Stephen Joyce which was commissioned to ensure that more young people have the real-life skills to match the changes to our rapidly changing economy – the same remit as the Inquiry being undertaken by the National Youth Commission. Yet, the Government’s review not only omitted to mention TAFE, but it also didn’t include the voices of any young people, further highlighting the urgency of an independent inquiry.

Mental health issues were also discussed at the National TAFE Council Executive meeting, with the executive building a case for change for access to mental health support for both teachers and students. The Council outlined that a higher number of students are now presenting with mental health issues and noted the increased risk of suicide, particularly amongst apprentices, with students from regional and rural areas more likely to suffer than those in the city.

Mental health issues significantly affect a student’s short-term and long term success and students who face the most disadvantage are most likely to need mental health support, yet are least likely to receive it.

Federal TAFE Secretary, Maxine Sharkey spoke for the students who are falling through the gaps explaining that “as public educators, TAFE teachers take on pastoral care responsibilities in addition to their workload while trainers in private training organisations don’t see it as part of their remit, however this increased practical and emotional support can often be the vital extra help that young people who are struggling need to make successful transitions”.

This article originally appeared in the Spring issue of the Australian TAFE Teacher Magazine.