In his Budget night speech, Treasurer Scott Morrison highlighted that twelve per cent of young Australians are growing up in jobless households.  That’s more than one million homes in our country where there is no connection with the world of work.  The reasons for this are complex.  Yet many people living in these households form the more than 700,000 Australians who are actively seeking work.  And the long-term impact of these jobless households on the economic productivity and social prosperity of our nation cannot be denied.

In recent years, the issue of youth unemployment has gained currency around the world, as young people have found themselves disproportionately represented in the cohort seeking but unable to secure employment, particularly amid labour market downturns in developed countries.  Australia is not immune from this challenge, with a statically high youth unemployment rate for many years.

So it is pleasing to see the Turnbull Government’s Youth Employment package announcement.  The PaTH program announced on Budget night will seek to provide dedicated support for young people who have not been able to secure a job.  And whilst it will contribute to solving the complex puzzle of how to improve employment opportunities for young Australians, it must form just a part of what needs to be a whole of community response – employers, young people and their families, governments and local communities – working together to create entry points for young people into the world of work.

Young people are highly exposed to local labour market dynamics.  They are often the last to be hired and the first to be fired, in light of limited work experience.  They are disproportionately represented in the casual workforce where seasonal work and lack of permanency of employment, places them at higher vulnerability when labour market downturns occur.

Whilst the PaTH program will be available to those young Australians who have been unable to find work for six months or more, there is an inherent paradox at trying to ‘fix’ youth employment only at the time a young person finds themselves unemployed.

A young person without work represents a systemic failure of a successful school to work transition.

What are we saying to that young person about the world of work, if their first experience of trying to connect with it is at best a lack of opportunity to enter it, or at worst, outright rejection by it?

The next step in a comprehensive youth employment strategy must support young Australians at school – particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds – to successfully navigate the pathway from school to further learning and working.  We must embed career conversations, VET in schools and flexible learning options in schools to provide a range of pathways to work for young people.  Put simply, it’s a prevention rather than cure approach that seeks to avoid a young person experiencing unemployment in the first place.

Schools have a substantial role to play in improving youth employment outcomes in Australia.  This doesn’t mean increasing workload or responsibilities for schools, but rather looking to schools as a community hub where a pathway to employment can be supported holistically.

With an ageing population and diminishing taxpayer base demanding quality public services, action on youth employment has never been more important.  It’s in the best interests of every single Australian.