We need to do more for school leavers who don’t want to go to university

As the holiday period draws to an end,for many thousands of 2015 high school graduates it can be the time when reality strikes –school is over and it’s time to find a job.

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If not contemplating further study, some of our young people will already have secured their place within Australia’s workforce. For many more, their employment prospects are looking bleak in a highly complex and competitive job market.

I particularly worry about those young people who grew up in entrenched disadvantage. In reality, the odds are stacked against them.

Living in financial hardship can severely affect a young person’s educational outcomes and their longer-term employment and life outcomes. While they’re living in our poorest communities, their families may also be dealing with long-term illness, disability, or struggling to cope with long-term unemployment. What they experience daily is mostly hidden from the rest of us, but all young people want to build the best life they can.

One young man I know put it so succinctly, “All kids, no matter their background, their postcode or what their parents do for a living want to be somebody.” Paul, a recent university graduate, was also a student whose education had been supported by The Smith Family over many years.

We can help other young people like Paul to get the futures they deserveby supporting disadvantaged students to develop the skills they need, so when they start school they’re not already behind.

FUTURE: Poor children must be at the forefront of our minds in our national discussions about how to tackle Australia’s highest level of youth unemployment in nearly 20 years.

Then, as they progress through their school years, we can help them be motivated to attend their classes and keep them engaged with their learning so they have the best chance to finish year 12. This means providing long-term financial, personal and educational support to help them overcome the barriers they face.

Right now, however, we’re simply not doing enough to create real change on a national level.There is a huge discrepancy between the number of young people fully engaged in work or study according to their economic status –42 per cent of 17-25-year-olds from the most disadvantaged areas compared to 17 per centfrom the most advantaged areas.

Poor children must be at the forefront of our minds in our national discussions about how to tackle Australia’s highest level of youth unemployment in nearly 20 years.

I’m talking about young people like Paul who, with the right support, has been able to escape chronic generational poverty. He finished year 12, he finished university andrealised his dream of a career in law.

Currently, systemic support for those youth begins when they become unemployed – but this is not good enough. It’s too late to address the issue after the class of year 12 closes the school gates.That’s why we welcome the federal government’s new Empowering YOUth Initiatives – to better enable community organisations to assist vulnerable young people at risk of becoming long-term unemployed.

Many of the businesses and universities The Smith Family partners with feel this responsibility keenly. Theyare providing much-needed support to disadvantaged young people – through offering work experiences and career mentoring. This approach shows students what their futures could look likebefore they finish school.

If by doing this, more young people like Paul can succeed, then we are building a stronger and more secure future for us all.

Dr Lisa O’Brien is the CEO of theThe Smith Family