Generation Y and Millennials cop a lot of flak for being lazy and narcissistic – we barely go a week without throwing barbs to a generation of perceived whiners and slackers.
It’s easy to group all young people together and suggest a collective tendency to shirk responsibility, an addiction to smartphones and generally self-absorbed attitude. What’s a lot harder is to consider the unique challenges that young Australians face today which make them the first generation in 20 years which may actually be worse off than their parents.
Claims young people are self-entitled and unwilling to work fail to recognise that youth unemployment has remained stagnant since 1985. Research from the Foundation for Young Australians’ (FYA) New Work Order report series highlight that a third of young people are actively seeking more work, with underemployment 3 times higher than it was over twenty years ago.
The proportion of higher education graduates who have found full-time work after graduating is declining too. On average it now takes young people 2.6 years to transition from full-time education to full-time work. So even though young Australians are paying much more for their education than previous generations it is not properly preparing them for work.
As a parent myself, this reality has hit close to home with one of my own children, who having completed a double degree and MBA was still unable to find full-time work. And they’re not alone – many of their graduate friends are in the same boat, hobbling together pieces of casual work to make ends meet while living with the stress of tens of thousands of dollars in HECS debt and nothing to show for it.
Consider also that young people’s incomes have risen only minimally in comparison to their older counterparts in the past 30 years. 15-24 year olds have had a 20 % increase, whilst 45-49 year olds have seen a 37% increase.
Young people now need to take on a home loan that is 134% of their disposable income as opposed to 32% in 1988 to get into the housing market. For these reasons it now takes the average homebuyer 15 years to save a deposit compared to the 6 years their parents had to save for.
Simultaneously we are facing massive global challenges.
The sustainability and long-term survival of our planet. Rising inequality where 1% of the planet own 99% of the wealth, and in Australia an ageing population which will see our workforce decrease to 2.7 workers for every retiree in the decades to come.
In the face of these challenges, we need unfettered thinking and ideas which can change the course of the future. Australia’s young people are the engine that will drive this change – and many, already hungry for the chance to create a better world, are contributing to and leading the way forward.
I have spent decades working with children and young people. I have never encountered so many with the heads and hearts to make the world a fairer, more equitable or more inclusive place. Which is no doubt why they are increasingly being referred to as Generation Compassion.
Allow me to introduce you to just a few of these dynamic young pioneers:
Ally Waton’s initiative, Code Like A Girl, is all about encouraging young women to learn coding, and to take up leadership roles within the tech industry. The program and events Code Like A Girl delivers offer interested women with the tools, knowledge and support to enter and flourish in the world of coding.
Rona Glynn MacDonald’s passion is to create a united Australia. Rona founded Common Ground, an online platform that shares Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, histories and lived experiences. It’s a space where Australians can access knowledge that will help bridge gaps in understanding, and ensure that First Australians across this country are heard, acknowledged and valued.
Usman Iftikhar is the co-founder of Catalysr, a startup incubator working with individuals from migrant and refugee backgrounds, by supporting them to break down barriers to employment and starting their own businesses. They’ve worked with 40 entrepreneurs from migrant/refugee background in their first year, which has led to 10 new businesses. These businesses have created over $300,000 in revenue, and 25 full-time jobs and are continuing to grow. Catalysr’s vision is to create a “migrapreneurial” revolution in Australia. Its mission is to create 10,000 jobs in Australia in the next 10 years.
There’s so much we can learn from these young people, and the thousands like them across the world. Unleashing the potential they possess is not just an important endeavour, it’s an urgent one.
There are 4.6 million young people in Australia today, and by 2053 this is predicted to rise to 6.3 million. Our young people are our most significant untapped resource – brimming with ideas to drive change, but not in the driver’s seat.
So what will it take to get 6.3 million young people with the optimism, ideas and drive to contribute and rise to the challenges that confront them?
First, a national commitment and investment in Australia’s young people with the purpose of accelerating the equitable intergenerational transfer of power, wealth, knowledge and resources;
Second, rethinking education and schools to become incubators for learning and experimentation to increase the knowledge, enterprise skills, entrepreneurial capability and resilience in Australia’s young people and build a new nationwide learning eco-system.
Third, accelerating connections between young people locally and globally to enable them to find each other, share ideas and build solutions, together. Demonstrated, evaluated and replicated models of collaboration and innovation, with diverse youth people, to redesign the solutions, systems and institutions which shape our communities and nation.
This is what FYA is working to achieve, through our programs such as $20 Boss, Australia’s largest in-school student entrepreneurship program; our Young Social Pioneers program for young changemakers, innovators and social entrepreneurs; and YLab, our youth-led social enterprise focussing on consulting, co-design and impact storytelling services.
FYA is relentlessly optimistic about the capabilities of all young Australians – no matter who they are or where they live. We back young people to develop both small, and big, ideas, build enterprise skills and find connections.
We need their fresh ideas and new thinking to create a strong future. We can do this by investing in the diversity, ideas and talent of our nation’s young people – back their play and ensure they have the opportunity to build a stronger future.
Jan Owen AM
CEO, Foundation for Young Australians