Youths struggling with unemployment


“I don’t know why people don’t want to hire me”.

Leonor Aguila, a 22-year-old job seeker on the Gold Coast, has been looking for a job since graduating high school at the end of 2013. Moving from one volunteer position to another, Ms Aguila currently receives Centrelink benefits, as she tries to find paid work.

Leonor Aguila at her desk searching through a job search engine. Photo: Rhys Pemberton

“I’ve volunteered in schools, at Salvos, with the Gold Coast City Council … I’ve tried lots of different things but nothing’s come from it for me,” she said.

Sadly, Ms Aguila’s story is not unique. Many young adults and youths on the Gold Coast and across Queensland are seeking work in a competitive market. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), who conduct monthly surveys on employment, define youths in the workforce as anyone aged 15 to 24 and for young people like Ms Aguila, it has become difficult to find even entry level jobs.

Lachlan Stroule, a seventeen-year-old Gold Coast resident, has been trying to find an apprenticeship as an electrician.

“I was getting work experience as a mechanic, usually unpaid, but that was only after months of handing out resumes … I’ve been hoping to go into an electrician trade but it’s a very desirable field at the moment,” he said.

“A few companies have been unwilling to touch apprentices, myself and friends have both struggled … with some electrical companies”.

In March 2018, the Queensland Government released youth unemployment rates for the state, with the Gold Coast standing at 8.7 per cent. Three months later, the Department of Jobs and Small Business announced that Queensland has the second highest rate of unemployment by state.

Carmen Auer, General Manager at Gen-Z Employment, who help youths find entry level jobs in hospitality, retail and similar occupations, said that many youths looking for work through job seeking programs are early school leavers.

“There’s a big barrier for a young person seeking a job if they haven’t reached a year 12 qualification … Research shows your chances of employment are so much better with an education level of year 12 or above,” she said.

“The majority of young people who come through our service are being referred through the Centrelink system … about 65 per cent of them are on some sort of benefit”.

A lot of young people who finish year 12 and don’t know what to do start a degree or job and find out it’s not what they wanted, according to Ms Auer.

“For us an outcome is employment … but other equally important outcomes are either further training or helping youths back into education,” she said.

“The main thing is our sustainability outcomes, which means a young person has stayed in work for six months or more.”

Approximately 450 youths move through Gen-Z over a 12-month period. Yet people like Ms Aguila, who have completed high school and further education, are still looking for work.

“Because I have depression and anxiety, it makes it a lot harder to find a job. Employers need to be flexible for doctor’s appointments and I think that’s a turn-off to hiring someone. My supervisor at the Gold Coast City Council also said my name may be why I’m not being hired … she said it was a strange name and made me sound like an old woman,” she said.

“I have to log in (to Centrelink) every day and report how many jobs I’ve searched and how many doctor’s appointments I’ve had, I basically put my whole life in their calendar so that they can keep an eye on me.”

Queensland Health reported that one in seven young Australians experience a mental health condition, with roughly half that number having used health services in 2017.

Selena Baillie, the Transition to Work Operations Manager at Employment, Training, Community (ETC) on the Gold Coast said that mental health issues may be a cause for concern for young job seekers.

“The rise in anxiety and depression disorders may in part be to blame, with employers wary of hiring someone who finds it difficult to deal with groups of people,” she said.

ETC deals with youths who have left school early, with approximately 300 youths in the program on the Gold Coast.

“Youth unemployment is everyone’s business and while the onus is on both employers and potential employees to help youths break into the job market, employers should recognise how beneficial youths can be,” she said.

Ms Auer said that there may still be some beliefs that young people are simply lazy.

“I think there’s still a bit of a stigma when you talk to employers, they still have this thing where they believe young people don’t want to work,” she said.

“The majority of young people we see, once they have the right stepping stones put in place … they want to work. Young people aren’t dole bludgers, they’re job seekers, and that’s how you’ve got to look at it.”

But not all Gold Coast youths are finding it hard to get work. Nineteen-year-old university student Alli Zimmerman says the jobs are there if you know where to look.

“I think you need to look in the right places to find work on the Gold Coast … I’d say there’s enough jobs for people, you just have to go about it the right way and be confident … I think if you’re stand-offish or have a negative attitude towards work then employers see that and pick up on it pretty quickly,” she said.

Ali Zimmerman at one of her hospitality jobs. Photo: Rhys Pemberton

“Since I started working, I’ve always had two jobs. I got my first job just before I turned fifteen and then I got an offer for a second job about two months later … I started my first current job February last year and my second one about 3 months ago.”

Ms Aguila, who is currently studying, said that she hopes to find work with beyondblue or Headspace.

“In 2014 I did a course for teacher’s support so I could be a teacher aid in high school … I’ll be finished with my current course in October and I’d like to … go into schools and help kids that need that emotional support,” she said.

“I still remember … I struggled so bad with the two sides of school, learning and socialising, and holding it all together. I just want to be there to help them.”

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